Vicky is programme co-director for Connected Local Government Live and the Boilerhouse series of Digital Innovations Showcases. She is programme director for Socitm - Better Connected and a board director of Boilerhouse Communications Limited@vickysargent
Rubbish and its disposal loom large in the lives of households – even the Prime Minister’s, apparently, where thanks to a prime time TV interview, we now know that putting out the bins is a ‘boy job’.
And Rubbish probably looms even larger in the consciousness of elected members and management teams in local authorities, with English councils set to spend £3.6bn in this area in 2017-18, accounting for around 8% of all council expenditure, at a time when councils are under continuing pressure to reduce costs because of austerity.
As if that wasn’t enough, councils need to meet an EU target of 50% of household waste to be recycled by 2020. From a peak of 45% recycled in 2014, reports suggest performance has been dropping away, making it likely that a significant number of councils will face fines for non-achievement of this goal.
The national obsession with bins does, however, provide an opportunity to change the behaviour of local residents in ways that could enable recycling goals to be met and council costs to be maintained or even reduced. The audience is engaged at least, with many aspiring to ‘do their bit’ to stave off climate change. Councils should apply their shoulders to this at least half open door.
One other reason to do so, according to “Five ways to improve waste & recycling services using digital communications”, a new report from Granicus, is that digital technology is now making it a whole lot easier to educate, inform and nudge householders in the direction of travel that councils need them to go.
An important first step in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of waste and recycling services is to ensure householders know what bins or bags to put out on different days. Now that kerbside collections have become so complicated, what with household waste, recycling, garden waste, food waste and more, all in differently designated bins or bags, it is easy for householders to make mistakes.
Councils need to reduce costs associated with missed bins (whatever the reason and whoever is at fault, there is always a cost to the council), but they also need to reduce calls from residents (at an estimated cost of £3 a time) asking what bin to put out when. Relying on council-provided calendars or expecting everyone to visit the council website to look for the information is not realistic.
Timely email and text reminders work really well, are popular with the public and have long been in use, but the growing complexity of kerbside collections has meant correspondingly large amounts of time being spent by communications teams building and scheduling reminders – unless the process is automated.
In one example cited in the report, Wrexham Council, which sends weekly alerts to 6500 residents about bin-related matters, has found that automation – which can cover management of mailing lists and delivery of SMS and/or email alerts based on specific audience behaviours or criteria - has saved a whole day a week in officer time.
Wrexham’s communications toolkit includes means of testing bulletin content to optimise messaging and currently 60% of their collection reminders are opened, achieving the objective of fewer residents calling the council with bin-related enquiries. In fact, for messages such as collection reminders, they’re able to get their message across in the subject line alone, making it even easier for residents to comply.
As well as sending automated reminders, Granicus’ technology offers councils the opportunity to integrate their communications with existing databases and systems so that SMS/email notifications can be triggered automatically if collection issues are logged on the council CRM system by the waste team(using Granicus’ open APIs). So, for example, if a resident has contaminated their recycling bin with non-recyclables an alert can be sent advising them why their bin was ‘missed’ – pre-empting a phone call and saving customer contact costs and staff time.
With contamination rates running at 3% of recyclable waste collected, and the cost to local authorities of re-sorting this estimated at as much as £50,000 a month, councils also need to be doing more to educate residents about what can and can’t go in the different bins and boxes they provide.
Five ways to improve waste & recycling services provides evidence to show that targeted email campaigns, focused on neighbourhoods with high contamination rates, do actually work. The report cites a campaign by Kirklees Council in 2016 that led to a 50% reduction in contamination across two different bin rounds as the result of a targeted educational email campaign about what can and can’t be recycled.
The report also reminds us that while dramatic shifts in behaviour over the last two decades mean most people are now happy to separate their household waste for recycling, it is also the case that recycling rates have dipped recently.
Households need ongoing encouragement if they are not to slip back into old behaviours, so campaigns about the local recycling scheme, and why it is important, need to be regular and engaging. Access to digital tools that make campaigns easy to set up, manage and deliver make it much more likely that this will happen.
As for messages, says the Granicus report, these should be clear, concise and actionable; be kept fresh with seasonal and topical content; recognise good behaviours and achievements; and be transparent, providing feedback and results.
Hackney Council has used email campaigns in this way to encourage residents to throw away less and recycle more. More than 32,000 residents have subscribed to the council’s “Greener Hackney” email bulletins to stay up-to-date with recycling services, including a rewards scheme.
Every three months, Hackney measures the amount of rubbish and recycling produced by each ward in the borough, providing vouchers for local shops or funding for local charities to the winners. By sharing details about the take-up of the scheme and its results through regular email bulletins, Hackney is successfully boosting engagement with the programme.
Download your copy of “Five ways to improve waste & recycling services using digital communications” at http://bit.ly/2usUtX6