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Does low budget have to mean low volume?

Budget cuts have been at the forefront of public sector minds in light of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Communications tend to suffer when cuts are demanded, so how can you communicate wisely to maintain or even improve performance?

You need a good plan. The best guide is WRAP’s Improving Recycling through Effective Communications. Find it on WRAP’s website and use it.

Intelligence and planning are crucial, so marshal your information, interrogate it efficiently and use it sensibly to make a plan. First, work out what your targets are. What must you achieve and when? Use this to guide your planning.

Do a quick cost/benefit analysis. What will be the true cost of not continuing to invest in adequate communications? Non-investment will at best see recycling rates plateau but more often they stagnate.

Then do some research. Find out tonnage data from collection rounds, participation rates and other practical information, such as anecdotal feedback from crews. What are your issues? Low participation, contamination, differing capture rates across materials collected?Where are the areas of high and low performance? Decide where to focus effort. This will help to get spending in the right places.

Next think about people. Don’t target those who are already doing well. Work out who need extra help and support. Where are they? What’s their socio-economic profile - try the online tools Acorn or Mosaic. Think carefully about what you need to say to people and how to get the message across so they notice it.

Finally, balance resources, available budget and likely communications needs; where best to spend and where best to cut. Prioritise ruthlessly. If the axe falls, decide on your ‘must haves’, ‘nice to haves’ and ‘sacrificial lambs’. Build evidence to support the things you really need and be prepared to give some up without a fight.

Some of the ‘must-do’ activities will be:

  • Website - ensure it is up to date and information is easy to find, read and understand.
  • Basic annual information leaflet/calendar - focus on the essential information to increase the clarity of your message.
  • Train crews to be unofficial ambassadors for the council and the service.
  • Recycling ‘wardens’ - could they be used more effectively or better targeted?

Some other ideas that may work for you:

  • Partnerships with neighbouring authorities - can you replicate activities that worked for them? Work with local community groups to doorknock/drop leaflets or posters into shops, post offices, libraries, pubs, chemists and so on.
  • Cheap and effective PR - think about getting good stories and images out there: children, people dressing up, topical and seasonal issues.
  • Monitoring and evaluation - can you afford not to do it? Are there cost-effective ways of doing it? Find out and use WRAP information to guide you.
  • Outside help. Seek advice and funding from organisations such as WRAP on what has worked elsewhere and what is most likely to work in your case. Speak to consultants who do this every day and can share their experiences of what is effective on a shoestring budget.
  • Other regular council communications - how about putting something short and sweet with the council tax bill?

Councils are facing some hard choices, so you must focus on what you need to achieve and the best way that communications can help you to achieve it. This way you should protect enough of the budget to keep recycling in the public mind and materials rolling into the correct containers.

Gareth Morton is a principal consultant in AEA’s waste management and resource efficiency group where he specialises in waste communications and behavioural change projects


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