MARKETING: Lions and Tigers and Marketing ... Oh My!

The waste industry has made considerable advances to improve its image, but a little positive marketing never hurts. To that end, the Solid Waste Division of Lawrence, Kan., devised several image-boosting projects that, seven years later, still are felt throughout the community.

In 1994, the city set out to promote its new fleet of sanitation trucks. To create a good feeling about the investment, the city commissioned art from a children's class at the Lawrence Arts Center. The children painted “critters,” a menagerie of monkeys, birds, spiders and other creatures, onto an 8-feet-by-5-feet metal panel. The art was hung on a new garbage truck to attract attention.

After a few months, the mural was removed and stored so that the Midwest's extreme weather wouldn't ruin it, explains Solid Waste Division Manager Bob Yoos.

The city's Waste Reduction and Recycling Division (WRRD) rediscovered the folk art mural in 1996 and began using it in its educational and outreach materials as a way to promote recycling locally.

WRRD's first critter project was to build enthusiasm for its household hazardous wastes (HHW) program. To broaden the program's support, WRRD developed a corporate sponsorship plan. For example, Hamm Inc., the owner of a 400-acre Lawrence-area landfill, donated battery bags for citizens to bring used batteries to HHW collection events. WRRD distributed the bags to schools, camera stores, etc. This year's battery bag program increased by 45 percent.

In return, WRRD included Hamm's name on all advertising, press releases and the highly visible marquee sign at the collection facility. And thanks to an initial grant from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Topeka, Kan., the program's volunteers received a gift, including critter T-shirts, canvas tote bags and mugs.

The critters also proved to be helpful on WRRD's website, which was created to educate Lawrence's schoolchildren on recycling and conservation issues. When developing the site, the agency knew it had to offer information that would appeal to children's interests. Consequently, WRRD met with local schoolteachers to discuss how computers are used in the classroom, what information was relevant to different age groups, etc.

With grant funding from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Topeka, Kan., WRRD launched, which features an animated storybook using the critters, a concentration game and a virtual “home” tour. Students who correctly complete the quiz are eligible to win a critter T-shirt.

WRRD promoted its interactive website by distributing flyers to all third- through fifth-grade classrooms. WRRD also suggested that teachers incorporate the website's recycling activities into their lessons.

The division followed-up the school activities with visits from staff members who handed out critter bookmarks, stickers and posters as participation rewards.

Now, seven years after the initial critters mural marketing plan was introduced, “the critters have been positively accepted by the community,” Yoos says. “The original mural now hangs in the conference room at the city's materials recovery facility,” he adds.