IMPORTANT – Recycling Update Meeting Preferences Survey

We want to know what you think!

Recycling Update 2021 will be held on October 5. As always, the NCRA Board and RU Committees are working to set up an engaging and informative event.

This year, we want to be particularly sensitive as we navigate the COVID transition. To better serve you, please fill out this short anonymous survey ASAP or before August 15:

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Plastic Free July – What Actions Are You Taking?

Plastic Free July 2021 …
… to foster sustainable behavior change?
By Bonnie Betts, NCRA Social Media Coordinator

For folks passionate about Zero Waste, recycling and protecting Earth’s delicate ecosystems, Plastic Free July (PFJ) is a time to rally and learn about the movement to break free from plastic. We get to show our network that living without plastic can be done!

The initiative originated in Australia back in 2011, spearheaded by the Plastic Free Foundation. The vision of PFJ is to see a world free of plastic waste. Despite the turmoil and uncertainties of the pandemic, July of 2020 had an estimated 326 million people across the globe who took part in the challenge from 177 countries. Overall, PFJ participants have reduced their household waste by almost 5% per year, and 8.5 out of 10 people have permanently changed their behavior.

The PFJ challenge uses elements of Nudge Theory by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein, and Community-Based Social Marketing by Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr (CBSM) to intentionally encourage sustainable behavior change. Both are based in social psychology and draw from the idea that sustainable behavior change is most effective when it involves direct contact with people, in their community. Most importantly, this method encourages that the desirable action (i.e. stop using plastic) be met positively, rather than discouraging harmful actions.

The point to having a PFJ challenge is to positively change people’s relationship with plastic in order to make more sustainable choices and ultimately stop the reliance on plastic all together. Here is a quick snap-shot of the social psychology elements at play:

Social Norming – Exemplifying the desired behavior for others to adopt:

This could look like shopping with reusable bags, bringing reusable utensils, containers when dining out, refusing straws and single-use to-go items, refilling your water bottle…

Restaurant owners can display a blurb – on their window, website or ads the percentage of customers who opt out of single-use to-go items (utensils, napkins, straws, etc.).

Social Diffusion – Quickly scale the desired behavior throughout your personal sphere:

Whatever the action is, utilize strength in numbers to get the message out. At the community level – This could look like having neighborhood green teams, compost-food scrap collection collective, Zero Waste champions at work or, local Zero Waste business collectives. Individuals can utilize social media to build awareness and share actions to their immediate networks.

Prompts – Visual or auditory reminders closest to the desired behavior:

In the community we see this most often with visually appealing receptacle signage. Restaurants can include prompts on their ordering menu to forgo single-use to-go items.

Incentives – Reward positive behavior, include promotions, gamify the challenges:

Business initiatives could strategically promote deals that encourage multiple sustainable actions like recycling + composting instead only recycling. Work teams and friends can take part in friendly competitions. Business, and community organizations can offer raffle prizes.

Convenience – Make doing the right thing easier, or the unsustainable action less convenient:

We have seen this with centralized receptacle stations. Green events can make reusables more appealing. Municipalities like the City of Berkeley, include single-use to-go item fees.

When it comes to fostering sustainable behavior change it is important to understand the underlying psychology that perpetuates our decisions.

What actions do I want people to take? What are the barriers? How can I overcome those barriers? These are important questions to ask.

Looking for Plastic Free July Challenge Resources?, based in Berkeley, has a great weekly step-by-step challenge and other great examples of what individuals can do in the home and community.

Also, the Berkeley Ecology Center has free stellar resources and events available throughout the month.

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Why Isn’t Everyone Composting Yet? Part 3 – Telling the Story

By Tim Dewey-Mattia, Public Education Manager, Napa Recycling & Waste Services and NCRA Board Member, 4/1/2021

Part 3: Telling the Story        (Part 1)       (Part 2)      (Part 3)

Former NCRA President Arthur R Boone recently posed a question to me via email on “Why the conversion of the yard debris green cart into the full-service organics cart has stumbled badly in getting rolled out? Would love to understand all that resistance better.” Here were my thoughts, which we both thought would be valuable to share with the rest of the NCRA News readers.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we talked about behavior change and uneven access to programs. For the third and final article, we’ll look at how we can “tell the story” of composting in a more compelling and effective way.

Organics program branding has also been an ongoing problem. Recycling is recycling… but in this case, is it the compost cart, or the organics cart, or the green bin or the yardwaste (+) cart, etc? I think this brings up the larger issue that customers don’t value organics; not like they would an aluminum can or cardboard box, which provides some perception of value because it can be made into a new can or box. There is a solution here – call it one thing. In Napa, we call it the “compost cart” since we make compost from it all, just like the “landfill cart” is the stuff we take to the landfill.

You also need to aggressively educate the community about making compost, and why making compost reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and adds nutrients back into the soil… while also reminding them of the bad stuff that happens when it goes to landfill. I think facility tours (or videos) are key here. Nnot being able to give tours of our composting facility during the pandemic has been a big bummer. There is still a lack of perception of why it’s important to compost – but the reasoning is compelling, so we need to tell the story more powerfully and effectively.

We definitely need more data to figure out exactly where we are – we’ve found it’s really hard to measure participation in curbside organics programs, since if you look in the compost cart the food is often hidden in the yard trimmings. Meanwhile, if you look in the trash, everything is hidden in bags. This is one of my big hopes with SB 1383 – the law requires us to sample all routes, and facility streams, each year. This could give us really powerful data on what is ending up where, and how it progresses over time. Also, while San Francisco and Alameda County have had mandatory programs for a while now, this will be the first time in most places that it will be illegal to put organics (or recyclables) in the trash…up to now, you really only got in trouble if you contaminated your recycling or organics streams.

One silver lining from the pandemic is that we do seem to be seeing more participation in the residential curbside organics collection… but it’s still not where it needs to be. I will say that, as a whole, I’m much more optimistic about organics than recycling at this point… so even with all of these hiccups I think things are generally going in the right direction with organics programs, so there’s that!

Questions or comments? As always feel free to contact me at… or follow up with a Letter to the Editor or article of your own in the NCRA News!