2017 Summary


Food Diversion Cart Tag Study
Food Diversion Cart Tag Study

Food Diversion Cart Tag Study

Cart tags increased food scrap composting by 38% and food scrap diversion by 24% in pilot area.

In 2016, Waste Management participated in the Food Scraps Diversion Cart Tag Study coordinated by the King County Solid Waste Division The study took place over 18 months in three pilot areas throughout King County in late 2015 through early 2017. It evaluated whether placing educational tags that encourage food scraps composting on residential curbside garbage carts would increase household participation in composting. The study also assessed whether the frequency of cart tag application (quarterly or twice per year) affected the impact of the cart tags on resident behavior.

For households in many parts of King County, including unincorporated areas serviced by Waste Management, participation in food scraps diversion and yard waste collection is voluntary. However, increasing household participation is essential for reducing environmental impacts and achieving countywide waste diversion goals. So, with that in mind, the tags were designed using community-based social marketing principles to prompt households to put their food scraps and food soiled paper in their yard waste carts.

As part of the study, households on three of Waste Management's residential organics routes in unincorporated King County (including one route each in the Redmond Ridge, Sammamish and Woodinville areas) received up to four tags in 2016-2017, depending on the frequency assigned to their address. Only households that already subscribed to organics collection service and that had either a garbage or yard waste cart set out during tagging received tags.

Three waste audits were conducted as part of the study: one prior to cart tag placement, one six months into the tagging activity and the last after the placement of all tags (approximately one year later). Waste audits involved sorting waste samples collected from randomly selected households on each route.

The study found that household participation rates in food scrap composting increased by 38 percent (from 40% to 55%) on Waste Management routes. Food scraps capture rates, which describe the percentage of all food generated by a household that is placed in the compost bin for diversion, also increased among households on Waste Management routes who received cart tags by 24 percent (from 59% to 73%).

These findings indicate that cart tags can be an effective strategy for increasing food scraps diversion, both by prompting participation by households not previously composting food scraps, and by increasing diversion among households already participating.

Foodcycler Program
Foodcycler Program

Foodcycler Program

Waste Management's Foodcycler program has converted thousands of residents into active composters since 2013. In 2017, the program successfully recruited 167 new King County customers to join the online Foodcycling community through Facebook ads and community events. Two Facebook recruitment ads encouraged WM customers in King County UTC areas to begin their foray into curbside composting by taking the Foodcycler pledge in exchange for 10 compostable bags and the chance to win a countertop food scrap collection bin. The two ads ran for one week each and resulted in 83 new pledges. Using Facebook to recruit new Foodcyclers proved to be a more cost-effective recruitment method compared to sending direct mail to yard waste subscribers, which was completed in the second half of 2016 and resulted in only 32 pledges with the same incentive.

King County's community of Foodcyclers is now 5,090 strong across both King and Snohomish Counties. To continue to keep the community engaged and motivated, Waste Management sent out a quarterly e-newsletter to the group in 2017. Topics provided readers with a variety of helpful tips and tricks on how to improve their composting skills and included ideas for dealing with confusing items and pesky fruit flies, packing a compostable picnic and composting during the holidays. The Foodcycler e-newsletter was highly effective at capturing subscriber attention with an average open rate of 40 percent (roughly double the industry benchmark!) and the most popular email had an open rate of 53 percent.

2017 Foodcyler Newsletter Schedule:

Open Rate
Compost Life Cycle
Compost Quiz on Confusing Items
Planning a Compostable Picnic
Holiday Composting

The e-blast addressing top composting misconceptions had a 53% open rate, more than double the national average!

Organics Contamination Focus Group
Organics Contamination Focus Group
In November 2017, Waste Management conducted an online panel focus group to inform educational efforts aimed at decreasing curbside compost contamination. The objectives were to discover the primary barriers and motivators to reducing contamination and gain insights on how to best educate customers on the highest priority materials to keep out of yard waste carts: glass and plastic.

The study was conducted online over a one-week period in November with 28 participants within unincorporated King County who are subscribed to yard waste service and of diverse gender and age. The discussion guide was designed to help better understand composting behaviors, knowledge and uncover key points of confusion. It answered questions like: "Do customers know where compost goes? Are they using the service? Do they buy or use compost at home? Which items are trickiest for them to categorize?" The study also provided feedback on specific messages that might motivate customers to reduce contamination, how they would like to receive those messages and tested images used on guides to ensure they are easily recognizable.

The focus group helped identify two different composter personas with different levels of knowledge, habits, concerns and preferences: savvy composters and convenience composters. Key composting barriers were limited space in kitchens for containers and concerns about animals getting into outdoor compost carts. The research showed that reasons for keeping glass out of compost were well understood, but reasons for keeping plastics out are more challenging.

Key takeaways were that educational information should continue to be provided in multiple formats (cart tags, guides, brochures and online) with varying levels of information. In terms of messaging, information about the lifecycle of compost - from bin to farm and garden, and ultimately more food - was compelling to participants and a good tool for highlighting the negative impacts of contamination. Potentially rebranding yard waste carts as compost carts would also help solidify this connection.

Study designed to test different messaging approaches for reducing curbside compost contamination.

Organics Contamination Reduction Workgroup
Organics Contamination Reduction Workgroup
Waste Management participates in the regional Organics Contamination Reduction Workgroup to tackle contamination in the organics stream from a variety of angles. For example, Waste Management brings expertise to the Education and Outreach subcommittee and the Policy subcommittee.

In 2017, Waste Management continued to support the workgroup through participation in meetings, feedback on best practices and working with the City of Kirkland to refine strategies for cart tagging. The workgroup created a report and toolkit that will guide the state in creating best practices and reducing contamination in organics.

New report will guide Washington state best practices.

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