San Mateo County

Too Toxic to Trash

Household hazardous waste (HHW) by definition is dangerous stuff. Anything you use around the home that contains corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients is considered HHW. Paints, solvents, cleaners, oils, batteries and pesticides all fit the bill. The trouble not everyone knows how to get rid of it. So they pour HHW down the drain, onto the ground, into storm sewers or put them out in the trash. The County of San Mateo wanted to stop that behavior and clearly educate residents on how to dispose of HHW properly at a HHW collection center.

The campaign

The County of San Mateo had a robust HHW pollution-prevention program called Too Toxic to Trash. Over the years, the county had created a new brochure and materials for each recyclable HHW material and things had become a little unwieldy. In 2012, SGA helped the county develop a one-stop shop to showcase all the materials and serve as a template for future materials.

Our strategy

One of the tricks to behavior change is to put the right information in front of the right person at the right time. For Too Toxic to Trash, we would need to consolidate all of the existing HHW information into a few simple cards, making it easy to read, understand and find information. Those cards would also need to be attractive enough so residents would keep it prominently located in their homes or workshops for quick access.

What we did

We created a set of 10 graduated cards inside a custom-designed box. Inside the durable box, the cards stack so each title is visible. That means residents can quickly identify the category of HHW they are interested in. Stuck with two dead AA batteries? Simply flip to the batteries card and follow the instructions.

The cards were designed with innovative iconography to communicate a wealth of information at a glance. The limited text was translated into English, Spanish and Chinese to ensure that they were accessible to the largest populations in San Mateo County. Finally, each card was designed so that standard-size stickers could cover the card. If information on the hours of operation at a collection center changed, for example, the county would send out a sticker and residents could update their own cards with the new information. This easy update process meant the Too Toxic to Trash cards would remain a one-stop shop for years to come.