City of Culver City

Multi-Family Recycling Program

Recycling is at the heart of every city’s waste management plan. For good reason. Recycling in the US prevents 60 million tons of garbage from ending up in landfills every year. Putting one ton of paper in the recycling bin saves 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water. One year of recycling keeps an estimate 48 million metric tons of carbon emissions out of the air. That’s equivalent to taking 36 million cars off the road for 12 months. It’s a powerful environmental tool. The trick is to get people to do it.

The campaign

In 2011, Culver City set a serious goal. The city wanted to turn 2,000 multi-family units that did not already recycle into recycling power houses. The campaign would need to identify the units, enroll them in recycling services, set the units up with the right bins and get residents on board.

Our strategy

The devil you know is often preferable to the saint you’ve never met. So we had to make recycling easy for residents. The real gatekeepers, however, were the property managers who make decisions on waste for their units. Initially, they weren’t interested in participating, stating concerns over cost. We had to address that barrier. Studies and our own experience have shown that providing information isn’t enough to encourage long-term behavior change. So we set out to lower barriers and raise motivators by creating materials that were accessible, easy to understand and follow and inspired action that made the property managers and residents feel good about recycling. We also wanted our audience to hear the message from their peers, rather than the city.

What we did

We took on the heavy lifting. The city started us out on a good foot by making everything in the recycling program free, including new recycling bins, pickup and collateral materials. Property managers only had to agree to participate and all materials would be provided. The early adopters became our most powerful messengers, hailing the program as a money saver in promotional materials. We worked directly with the property managers to help them find a recycling service and choose bins that fit their properties. Then we turned to the residents to make sure they recycled properly. We created clear and simple materials that let residents know what they could and couldn’t recycle, and posted them in highly visible areas. We also provided a limited number of units with nifty under-the-sink plastic bins with handles to make it easy for residents to collect and carry their recyclables to the larger bins. In addition, we identified resident champions, who also appeared in the program brochure, saying how easy and rewarding it was to be a part of the recycling community.