MARKETING: Information is the Main Course at a Landfill Lunch

It's just you, your staff and your Chamber of Commerce enjoying lunch atop a 111/42 millionton closed landfill cell. The ambiance at this planned event, hosted by the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, Dover, wasn't typical, but it gave local leadership the one thing that they need regularly: information about their solid waste operation.

If you haven't previously established open lines of communication with your community, it will be more difficult to allay concerns and build confidence in the midst of a solid waste problem. Details about solid waste operations are important at all times, and should be shared with everyone, whether they want the information or not.

Consistent, positive information will lay the groundwork for interaction and trust. Solid waste managers should communicate frequently and openly about what is occurring and why.

Don't know what to say? Here are some tips to overcome the obstacles.

Build good media relations. Dispel myths. People are likely to believe what they hear and read, particularly if no other information exists. Tell news reporters covering your activities what you are doing and why.

Get to know media contacts to understand their degree of knowledge, perspective, communication protocol and deadlines.

Provide consistent, concise, factual information about current and proposed activities. Include purpose, costs and direct community benefits, when possible. Use fact sheets, press kits, news releases and media advisories. Let the media know when something good is happening, such as a civic group tour or school program. A visually exciting activity may receive television coverage.

Respond to inquiries quickly and find press briefing opportunities at your facility or their offices at least once a year.

If you are facing "hot" issues, be prepared. Have an internal communications plan. Learn every issue aspect and understand where possible misconceptions are driving fears. Anticipate the questions you will be asked. Agree on the messages you want to send.

Make the messages short, factual and solution-oriented. You may wish to work with the media in advance to inform the community of important changes or additions to their waste management programs.

Communicate facts as they relate to the individual. The public can understand complex issues if you simplify the process and personalize costs and benefits. Use terms and examples that relate to daily life.

Charts and graphs can simplify the approach. For example, if you are dealing with a tipping fee increase at your landfill(s), relate the daily average cost per household to a cup of coffee or hamburger.

Provide detailed information "capsules" to facilitate comprehension. For instance, when preparing for landfill expansion, illustrate remaining landfill capacity as it relates to a football field. Then, define the time period left and the planning cycle needed, given proposed community waste generation.

Be calm in the face of adversity. Your approach to questions or conflict should be receptive to what others feel and say. View concerns as opportunities to share information. Even if what you are saying is not what the public wants to hear, it can be accepted as the best solution to a problem if it is presented in a positive, factual manner.

Hold a town meeting or informal community "roundtable," and get interested community members and leaders to help set the agenda. Make sure that the people involved with the daily operations are present and have responsible roles.

Be prepared. Provide copies of the agenda with contact names and numbers for people who prefer to ask questions privately. Listen intently, and if emotions are fueled with aggressive, negative comments, don't react. If you respond without being defensive, your calm will be noticed.

Be creative and proactive. Create diverse, interactive channels for sharing information. Brainstorm ideas with your staff. Empower people to get involved with outreach activities in ways that are important to them. Reach out to schools, elected officials, the media, community groups and senior citizens by conducting tours and offering educational presentations.

Kids are sponges for information. At a local elementary school, teachers can create a miniature landfill construction project from edible materials in the classroom.

The Luscious Layered Landfill [see recipe on page 8] uses Fruit Roll-ups for a liner, peanuts for gravel, graham crackers for sand, a Twizzler stick for a leachate collection pipe and Oreo cookie crumbs for soil. The trash comprises Skittles, sprinkles and pudding. The edible landfill is topped with whipped cream as foam for daily cover with, if the teacher alows, a candle as a landfill gas flare on the top. The activity is fun to make and eat, and participants learn about modern landfill systems.

Another good educational tool is a visual model of your landfill to help people understand complex issues such as leachate collection and management.

You want your community to see what you do, so find opportunities to bring your story to them. When complex issues need to be explained, use visual aids such as slides or overheads, and incorporate demonstration tools into your program.

Create a newsletter or column in your local paper to provide a forum for sharing information.

Work with as many organizations and individuals as possible to create partnerships for special projects and public awareness programs.

Finally, the next time you plan a business meeting with community leaders, why not hold it at the landfill? With a positive approach to education, most people who want to learn will learn.

Acquisitions Harding Lawson Associates Group Inc., Novato, Calif., has acquired ABB Environmental Services Inc. It will operate as Harding Lawson Associates ES.

Eastern Environmental Services Inc. (EES), Mt. Laurel, N.J., has signed an agreement to acquire a 450-acre Subtitle D landfill in southern Georgia. EES also has signed a purchase agreement to acquire Kimmins solid waste collection operations and transfer station, Jacksonville, Fla. And, EES has acquired All-Waste Systems, covering Orange County, N.Y., and Ulster Sanitation Inc., servicing Dutchess Counties, N.Y.

Heil Environmental Industries, Chattanooga, Tenn., has acquired the inventory and product lines of Oregon Western Industries Inc.