Zero Waste Task Force hears hard-learned lessons about persuasion

Arcata's Zero Waste Task Force (ZWTF ) meets tonight, Feb. 4 at 5 p.m. at the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center, 569 South G St. Agenda items include waste reduction in Construction & Demolition (C&D) and Economic Development, an HSU Student Capstone Presentation on C&D, staff reports, committee communications and more.

Below, a summary of last month's ZWTF meeting.

Ray Olson & Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Recycling, as we all know by now, is indispensable. It’s also insidious in that it gives the average waste-creator a sense of having responsibly dealt with their discards, when in fact, it’s a gravely flawed and inefficient last resort of marginal value.

The real waste reduction solutions lie in prevention - not creating future garbage to begin with – and reuse. As the captains of industry continue to pump out landfill-bound packaging and containers, the reuse component falls to consumers to bring about. 

But there’s the rub – it requires behavioral change. Change by local consumers who know full well that single-use containers are heinous, even though someone is buying up those mountains of plastic water bottles stacked up at local supermarkets.

Naturally, this conundrum is of interest to Arcata’s Zero Waste Task Force, whose mission is – wait for it – zeroing out waste.

And that’s why waste-reduction savant Margaret Gainer addressed the task force on the subject of “How to Increase Public Adoption of Desired Behavior Change” Tuesday, Jan. 8 at its monthly meeting at the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center.

Gainer, representing Zero Waste Humboldt, said proven tools of persuasion are well identified, and bombarding people with masses of data alone doesn’t necessarily result in meaningful action.

What does work, as shown by the mental mode shift involved with curbing public cigarette smoking, is exposure to the concept, seeing influencers such as friends and family modeling the behavior, then trying it out and getting positive reinforcement to seal the deal.

Gainer and Zero Waste Humboldt have single-use plastic bottles squarely in their sights. the group’s “Refill Not Landfill Project” has awarded a dozen water bottle refill stations for installation in local government and school buildings. 

According to Gainer, this is a good example because the hydration stations that are installed in high traffic public places are:

• Observable and have high visibility for people to model the behavior of using refillable water bottles. “Everyone wants to be cool,” Gainer observed.

• The hydration stations increase the convenience of refilling your own bottle and “Remove the Barrier” of perceived inconvenience.

• People who refill their own bottles at the hydration stations save a significant amount for the average household by not purchasing single use plastic water bottles.

• Tryability is an important behavior change tool; it’s easy to give refilling reusable water bottles a try without a major investment of time, learning, or money. 

According to Gainer, Zero Waste Humboldt and its participating local governments and schools will soon begin promoting the locations of the installed stations and monitoring their use. At a press conference just before Earth Day on Friday, April 19, Zero Waste Humboldt will announce the impact on the waste stream and the public’s adoption of this new habit. Zero Waste Humboldt’s “WE CHOOSE TO REUSE” social media campaign will start in August to reinforce the use of the water bottle refill stations.

Following Gainer’s presentation, task force members discussed key strategies that should be included in zero waste outreach and education efforts based on what they learned. The main strategies discussed included the following:

• Determine the main barriers to program participation

• Develop precision education and outreach rather than “blanket media blasts”

• Provide explicit detailed instructions on how to participate

• Make it fun to participate

 The group voted to adopt a time schedule that would provide a draft report of recommendations by end of August this year for public review. A final report is expected to be completed for City Council review by year’s end.

Staff liaison Juli Neander clarified that the Task Force’s role is to determine how to effectively implement the city’s existing Zero Waste Action Plan, rather than create a new plan. She also suggested the task force may want to prioritize their recommendations on the two largest waste streams: construction/demolition waste, and organic wastes.  Task force members also discussed possible additions to the existing plan such as banning some single use plastics such as plastic dishware, and water bottles in certain venues.  

The Zero Waste Task Force will continue to meet monthly.  The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 5 p.m. at the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center to discuss construction and demolition waste diversion. Students from HSU will present information about construction and demolition waste minimization and recycling strategies.



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