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How I learned about marketing from recycling

Setting up recycling across the University of Guelph campus and promoting recycling behaviours taught me a lot about marketing when I was the Recycling Coordinator in the late 2000’s.

Recycling is interesting from a branding point of view. It is something we want happening across huge geographical areas, across political boundaries and in communities everywhere. What’s important is that people recycle, not just at your office, but everywhere!

Recycling is a process that requires participation and behavioural change to succeed. So branding has to be consistent across all places so that anywhere people go, they easily recognize where they can recycle things. This really makes me proud of the recycling industry - getting the colors coordinated as much as they are is a huge feat!

🟢 Compost is recognized as being the green bin,

🔵 Recycling the blue, and

⚫️ Garbage is the black bin.

The shades or exact colors doesn’t matter so much, but the general color is really important.

When I was the Recycling Coordinator, I would see people get really confused if a black bin had a recycle sign on it or had a blue bag in it. They weren’t sure where the material would be heading and wouldn’t know what to do.

🧍They would literally be standing there, item in hand, staring at the bins in confusion until they finally thought “#$%@ it”, and tossed it in whichever bin was closest to their hands.😑🤦🙈

If lots of people were using those poorly labelled/branded bins, the bins would end up with a mix of recyclables and non-recyclables -> the contents of the recycling bin would likely get contaminated with food waste and then not be recyclable.

Also, recycling taught me about greenwashing. Now, recycling and municipal composting is totally essential, and TONS of products are recycled DAILY across the planet.🌏 So, don’t get me wrong. But, people get the impression that recycling doesn’t work when they see examples of it going wrong and not diverting waste, like this bin at Starbucks (3rd image in carousel).

To me, this bin indicates that either Starbucks is greenwashing by trying to show that they are green, even though they have no follow through, or, a staff person just didn’t set it up properly the day this picture was taken! Either way ,unfortunately, when this happens people can get the idea that recycling doesn’t work anywhere…which isn’t true at all.

I probably missed some lessons, but those are the big ones! Can you think of other ways that marketing is important for municipal recycling and composting?

Also, do you love recycling as much as I do? Please let me know, I always love collecting more recycling friends! (hehe, “collecting”...get it?!)

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