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Why NYC Needs a Massive Ad Campaign to Support Zero Waste Goals

Testimony presented to the New York City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management by Jacquelyn Ottman

Zero Waste Oversight Budget Hearing

September 18, 2017

Good afternoon, Chairman Reynoso and the other members of the Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Committee. My name is Jacquie Ottman. I’m an expert in the area of green marketing. My 40 years of experience includes over a decade of experience working on consumer campaigns in NYC advertising agencies.

Massive Advertising Campaign Needed to Support Zero Waste Goals in NYC

The Department of Sanitation has in place many laudable programs to make it easy for residents to divert a host of recyclable items from the waste stream — packaging, clothing, electronics and organics among them. However, infrastructure alone cannot guarantee compliance. And neither can the stick of enforcement. New York City’s 8.5 million residents must be motivated to recycle and take other steps to reduce their waste. Only a massive outreach and education campaign can make ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ the core value of our consumption culture needed to make our goal, as laid out in the 2015 OneNYC plan of  ‘zero waste by 2030’.

Market Research Must Underlay

Planning for such a campaign must begin with an updated understanding of what New Yorkers know and feel about the City’s recycling program. No large scale market research has been conducted to track New Yorkers’ recycling-related awareness, attitudes, understanding and habits since 2005. In the interim, much has changed. Many more items are now being collected for recycling, including organics. 400,000 NYCHA residents and employees of large firms have access to recycling but very little relevant education. And a new generation of recyclers has grown up without the social force of a public campaign about why and how to recycle.

Meanwhile, attitudes have changed that challenge our efforts. Market research conducted by others shows that skepticism runs high, especially among Millennials (31%), that whatever is collected for recycling will actually be recycled into new materials. Research also shows that recycling can lead to greater wasting behavior. Want to feel less guilty about buying bottled water? Easy! Just remind yourself “The bottle is recyclable!” Most consumers do not appreciate that recycling in most instances is preferable to using virgin materials but it is still an industrial process with its own environmental impacts. Reduce and reuse are strictly preferred.

Budget for a Fraction of $400 Million in Waste Export Costs

We here in NYC have what it takes to develop a compelling marketing and outreach campaign for a fraction of the $400 million it costs the City to export our waste each year. Our advertising and media community is capable of tapping into New Yorkers’ pride and beliefs that theirs is the greatest city in the world. The long running “I Love New York” campaign is just one example. The creativity and environmental passions of today’s Millennials can be enlisted to create cost-effective viral videos, hashtags, images and more that can make the daily and sometimes unseemly aspects of sorting our waste, cool.

Convene a NYC Zero Waste Marketing and Advertising Advisory Board

I believe the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability GreeNYC group would be ideally suited to overseeing such a campaign. It can all start by convening a high level Zero Waste Marketing and Advertising Advisory Board composed of senior (active and retired) executives of major advertising and branding firms capable of helping to tap into the best talent in the City.

Thanks for your time to submit this testimony. I’d be happy to take any questions you may have.

Jacquelyn Ottman is a native New Yorker and author of five award-winning books on the subject of green marketing. Since 1989 she has advised Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. EPA (Energy Star label) and USDA (U.S. Certified Biobased label) on strategies for credible green marketing. She is certified as a Zero Waste Professional by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council. She founded WeHateToWaste.com in 2012, a platform for exploring a new consumption culture based upon resource efficiency and zero waste.  She is a member of the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board and chair of its Residential Recycling and Reuse Committtee.   Views expresssed are her own.