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community engagement

Keeping it Clean
the Groundswell Community Engagement Strategy
Simone Dilkara, January 2010

There is no doubt that physical contamination The two councils have been providing a combined
of organic waste directly impacts on the cost of food scrap and garden waste collection to 10,800
processing and the value of the end product. But how households for almost 16 months as part of the
do we successfully engage the whole community Groundswell City to Soil project funded by the
in organics collections? How do we get universal NSW Environmental Trust. The Jan/Feb 2009 issue
participation while keeping glass, metal and plastics of Inside Waste highlighted the low contamination
out of the organic waste stream? rates achieved by householders in the project.
Contamination rates have ranged between 0.076%,
With almost universal participation and contamination
0.4% and 0.2% over the past two years.
rates around 0.2% the systems for collection
established by Goulburn Mulwaree Council and The Groundswell City to Soil community engagement
Lachlan Council as part of the Groundswell City to program is based on the assumption that to get people
Soil project are leading the way in Source Separation to do something, you need to give them the right
of household organics. The community engagement tools, information and motivation.
strategy adopted by the councils is simple, cheap
and effective however it does challenge entrenched
approaches to waste education and the usual way of
doing things.

 The Groundswell Community Engagement Process


Right Tools
Fundamentally we need to make it easy for people to
do what we want them to do. The challenge here is
to find tools that are universally desirable to use.
More importantly, the tools need to pass the ’nanna’
test. Basically, if you can’t get your granny to use the
tools, then you haven’t got the right tools. One of
the main reasons why people don’t compost is they
don’t like that smelly kitchen bucket. So we need a
system that does not produce odours and does not
need washing. People are used to placing food scraps
into plastic bags, tying them up and placing them in
a wheelie bin. So it makes sense to replicate these
existing behaviours.
The best tools we could find are vented kitchen bins
and compostable bags. They work because they
emulate and improve on what people are doing
already. Compostable bags improve on the existing
system because they eliminate odours in the kitchen
and in the wheelie bin. And yes, my 75 year old
mother happily uses her vented bin and compostable
bags to this day.

 The Groundswell Community Engagement Process


Right information
Information about the collection needs to be
provided in ways that reach everyone in the
community regardless of literacy. We need to let
people know exactly what we want them to do
and why we want them to do it. Thought needs
to be given to the tone of information as well as
graphics and medium.
The Groundswell project has developed humble
two colour graphics in preference to glossy
photos and kept information relentlessly upbeat
and as simple and inclusive as possible. Pictures
of specific people with specific kitchens and food
scraps will alienate anyone who can not relate to
that image.
Rather than worry about multi lingual brochures,
information about City to Soil has included
drawings which explain what we want without the
need for words or literacy. The project has purposefully
chosen cheap or free forms of media including
council mail-outs, press releases, updates in rates
notices, word of mouth, a blog and steered clear of
glossy advertisements to maintain the simplicity and
‘normalness’ of the collection.
Our simple, constant message is “if you put your
food and garden waste into this bin, we will
compost it and get it back into agriculture.” It is
a simple and powerful message.
The result is people KNOW that everything they
put in the City to Soil bin is going to end up on
a local farmer’s paddock. The collection becomes
about food and food production rather than
waste and garbage.
For this message to work however, you need
to convince the community that this is what
you are doing . You need to show them the
compost and show them the occasional farmer
and the occasional load of compost made from
their food and garden waste being applied to a
paddock.
A photo of one of the more photogenic of
your customers preferably out in the paddock
with some rolling hills, a truck full of beautiful
compost, a few sheep and a short press release
with a nice juicy quote from the farmers saying
how wonderful the community is and how lovely
the compost is, is always a winner.

 The Groundswell Community Engagement Process


Motivation In summary, the Groundswell City to Soil Community
Engagement Strategy taps into known motivators and
What gets people to source separate their organics?
transcends the requirement to change people’s values.
Why would people do this? For me this is the most
Education messages and materials have been kept very
interesting and contested area of the waste industry.
simple.
I strongly believe that councils, waste companies
and the government consistently underestimate the The use of drawings and social marketing strategies
community. People assume that universal participation ensures people do not have to be literate to correctly
is unachievable and as a result design non compliance participate. The program transcends conventional
into their systems. education strategies which rely on values change or
environmental awareness. It is also notable for its
Obviously there is no single universal motivator to
ease of implementation, simplicity, affordability and
get people to correctly source separate. Our research
effectiveness.
showed that there were actually six. Specifically we
trawled through the NSW DECCW Who Cares about The success of the education program is dependant on
the Environment? research and found that there were making sure that the right tools have been provided,
six reasons why people might participate and different and that the right motivators have been identified.
people would respond to one, some or all of those six. People need to know what you want them to do as
well as why. Strengthening the link between people
The six motivators are: and where their food comes from is integral to keeping
} Help address climate change physical contamination out of the organics stream.

} Reduce waste to landfill A good community engagement strategy builds


positive links between households, councils, processors
} Reduce waste costs and local farmers. And that can only be a good thing.
} Improve agricultural soils This article first appeared in the 2010 Jan/Feb edition of Inside
Waste magazine.
} Support local farmers
} Win prizes
By consciously using combinations of all six
motivators in media releases, article and letters, we
are able to reach the whole community. For example,
someone who has no interest in climate change may
be motivated by the prospect of reduced waste costs
or reduced waste to landfill.
The purpose of running a prize program for zero
contamination is to reward people for doing the right
thing, generate positive messages about the program,
generate community conversations and to reinforce
the message that City to Soil is about food production
rather than waste or garbage. Wherever possible, take
a photo when presenting the prizes and get a short
quote from the prize winner for a press release.

For updates and more information on the Groundswell project go to: www.groundswellproject.blogspot.com

Written by Simone Dilkara, 2010. Graphic design/illustration by Carolyn Brooks The Groundswell Project
was assisted by the NSW
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Government through its
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia Environmental Trust
License. It can be downloaded and shared with others, but
it can not be changed in any way or used commercially.

 The Groundswell Community Engagement Process