I’ve worked for several years now as a “Love Food Hate Waste Champion” for Oxfordshire County Council. However, earlier this year I left Oxfordshire for pastures new and was very sorry not to be continuing with this role. I met up with Becky from the waste management team to share some of the issues I’ve dealt with and share some of my tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years. As we talked, I realised just how much information there was in my head about engaging the public with waste reduction. I wished I had a memory stick I could download it onto. So we agreed I’d try and put together my “top 10 tips”!
So, in no particular order… here they are!
- Location, location, location!
Ideal locations are where people are relaxed and having fun.
No one learns anything when they are stressed or anxious or in a hurry. For example, when I was working in Oxfordshire I was asked to do a stand outside Homebase on a Wednesday – the aim was to find somewhere to talk to more men, and particularly older men. Whilst it wasn’t a total disaster, it didn’t feel like a good use of my time. I spoke to about 20 people in a 4-hour stretch. I normally do double that. People were stressed and in a hurry to get what they needed in order to get back to their DIY project. A much better location turned out to be a Fathers Day Food Fair at a local Victorian Manor House. Lots of men, all relaxed (it helped that the weather was amazing) all open to learning something.
Great locations include play day events, food festivals, and if you can get yourself next to the health people running a bouncy activity for kids that’s really helpful.
- Watch your freebies
Please don’t ask me to give out plastic tat! Unless it is really good plastic that serves an important purpose. E.g. measuring spoons, pasta measure, dry goods measure all fab.
But freebies are really handy – it gets people to come over to talk to you and while they are gently noseying at the freebies you can get the conversation started.
The recipe cards are a great freebie as we’ve got backup information on the reverse, so you can give people a recipe card that has information relevant to what they are specifically having a problem with.
- Let people talk about their problems. “I wasn’t hired to be a social worker but…”
Letting people talk about what they are struggling with in life gets you some rapport and gives you a starting point. If you can then get them onto specific problems of what they waste, this is a good way in to find them a tip or trick that will solve that problem.
A really good way in to get people talking is just to ask how they are getting on with their recycling. You need to follow up rapidly with what the struggle with most – that is a more inviting non-judgemental way of asking them what they waste most.
- Be a team
Make sure when you have champions you look after them. Give them the opportunity to meet. Make them feel part of a team (this is a bit more than just sending a newsletter!).
- Real life knowledge – the seen it for myself advantage
Give your champions as much “real life” knowledge of the waste management processes. They will be out there defending the bad press stuff with people saying “there’s no point recycling because it all gets shipped to Malaysia.” Or “I put all my plastic in my general waste bin, because I know it gets burnt, so can’t end up in the ocean.”
If you can arrange visits to recycling centres and waste processing facilities then this is really helpful.
Monitor and measure and be specific
Make sure you regularly monitor what your champions are doing and where and create good news stories that are specific. E.g. Mary spoke to people about keeping their bread in the freezer. Sarah told us her family would save about £1.50p a week just from knowing that.
- No green washing!
If there are bad press stories, then share these with your champions and give them the reasons and the planned solutions.
- Talk money!
Calculate the impact of not dealing with waste properly and make sure your champions know this. For example it is very useful to know whether it is more expensive to dispose of general waste that contains food waste. For goodness sake tell people how much cardboard recycling is worth!
- Food glorious food!
Events about food waste reduction ideally need food! Make sure you provide Food Hygiene training for your waste champions. Food on offer is a real hook. If there’s something for people to taste it is like magic. People will stop and look, have a taste and then they want to know what you’re doing and why!
- Small change – big impact!
Keep telling people that their small actions really count when lots of people join in. For example, just by turning the tap off while brushing our teeth the UK would save 1.3 billion litres of water a year.
The best thing is that if you can get people to take one small step, to reduce something specific, it will feel good and so they are likely to do it again. They’ll be hungry for more. I get people coming back over and over again to my stands, because they want to take it further!