City of Irvine Environmental Programs

Used Oil Recycling Program

In a world dominated by computerized everything, it’s refreshing to think of someone at home, in their garage, changing their own oil. But it’s absolutely critical that do-it-yourself (DIY) auto mechanics recycle their oil and oil filter. Just one gallon of improperly disposed oil can contaminate one million gallons of drinking water. That’s enough to supply 50 people with water for a year. Recycling the oil filter is equally important. One filter can contain 10 ounces of oil and one pound of steel.

The campaign

In 2012, SGA helped City of Irvine create a multi-faceted used oil campaign that targeted DIY auto mechanics that would result in an increase in recycling rates throughout the city.

Our strategy

Begin with the end in mind. It’s our mantra for every community based social marketing campaign we do. In order to achieve our goal of increasing motor oil recycling, we had to understand the audience that would be doing the recycling. Our program would need to engage those DIYers and create a new habit that would persist beyond the life of the campaign.

So we surveyed them. Through our interviews and historical data, we learned that doing things right and doing it yourself was a big part of the car culture identity. That was good news. We also learned that, for the most part, Irvine DIYers already recycled their used motor oil. But the majority of them weren’t recycling their used oil filters. Many admitted they just weren’t motivated to do it. We also learned that our audience liked to communicate in more old fashioned ways: in person, via billing inserts and email. Social media wasn’t their thing.

Armed with research, we set out to develop a campaign that focused on recycling used oil filters. We also chose fellow car enthusiasts to deliver the message, which helped create a sense of community doing the right thing.

What we did

We started by creating a brand that would resonate with DIY auto mechanics and would fit in at auto parts stores, car clubs and car shows. We made posters, set up a branded email marketing campaign and created a raffle for a $50 gift card.

With our look and feel in place, we set out to create partnerships with local O’Reilly Auto Parts stores. These stores would be instrumental in promoting the recycling effort and recording and reporting the number of oil filters collected. In addition, we staffed car shows and reached out to car clubs to deliver our message. All of our outreach included an opportunity to participate in a monthly raffle. The raffle had a dual purpose. It helped motivate DIYers to recycle their oil filters, but it also provided the campaign with email addresses of our target audience and pledges to continue recycling in the future.

Pledges are an important step on the way to behavior change and email addresses allowed us to continue to deepen the communication with DIYers. Everyone who signed up for the raffle received our monthly e-Newsletter, which contained information about upcoming car events, car news, used oil collection centers and the winner of the monthly raffle drawing.

In addition, we partnered with Waste Management to distribute via billing inserts a coupon for a free oil filter when you brought in a used one for recycling. Coupons were always given in pairs so a DIYer could give one to a fellow DIYer, allowing our message to be passed between peers.

To further broadcast the message about recycling used oil filters, we created a humorous and informative 30-second PSA, which aired at local gas stations, on television and YouTube. And we renovated the City of Irvine’s used oil webpage to tie all of the various outreach materials together.