CAMPAIGNS: Eco-Depot effort to educate RI citizens enjoys clean start

PR Team: Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (Johnston, RI) and RDW Group (Providence, RI) Campaign: Eco-Depot Campaign Time Frame: July 2001-ongoing Budget: $132,000

PR Team: Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (Johnston, RI) and RDW Group (Providence, RI) Campaign: Eco-Depot Campaign Time Frame: July 2001-ongoing Budget: $132,000

Many often wonder why Rhode Island is called the Ocean State when the majority of its coastline borders Narragansett Bay, while neighboring Massachusetts has more Atlantic beaches. But RI's culture and economy relies so heavily on the bay that it's been adopted as the state's own ocean - one that must be protected. As nonprofits such as Save the Bay have shown, Rhode Islanders will do a lot to keep the bay clean. So when the Department of Environmental Management found itself understaffed, it transferred its Eco-Depot program, which collects household hazardous waste (HHW) to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), which manages the state's solid-waste programs. In turn, the RIRRC turned to PR firm RDW Group to educate the public about the correct ways to dispose of HHW, which includes motor oil, pool chemicals, oil-based paint, and cosmetics. Residents had been improperly disposing waste in storm drains, in the trash, and on the ground. Charged with educating Rhode Islanders about the proper way to dispose of HHW, RDW had a big job to do. Disposal of the waste was by appointment only, and at a specially built facility. Strategy Led by SAE Beth Bailey, RDW looked to target homeowners with young kids, who would be concerned with child safety as well as the environment. From there, they developed a multifaceted campaign that would motivate residents through newspapers and radio, as well as nonprofits such as Save the Bay. Tactics RDW partnered with local radio stations B101 and WSNE to enter anyone who made an Eco-Depot appointment into a contest to win a trip to Aruba. "When we were brainstorming," says Bailey, "we also realized that we had to create a logo, tagline, brochure, and refrigerator magnet," taking a similar approach as poison-control centers. The materials were placed in kits distributed to families at Women & Infants Hospital, a local fair for children, and Babies 'R' Us. Working with the local weeklies, RDW pitched story ideas to include information about drop-off spots and collection dates. It also created a pitch letter for other journalists with a quiz testing what they knew about HHW. "We informed Save the Bay of the program change and the chance to offer a community relations initiative," says Bailey. That kicked off a grassroots element, as public-service groups began marking storm drains with the Eco-Depot phone number to direct would-be polluters to the right way to get rid of HHW. Results "It was a rewarding drive," says Bailey. "Thousands of Rhode Islanders made appointments." In all, the Eco-Depot booked 1,878 appointments between July 1, 2001 and March 31, 2002, collecting 27,711 gallons of liquid HHW, 2,900 pounds of friable asbestos, 656 propane gas tanks, and 115 pounds of mercury. PR staffers distributed 2,000 safety kits, and 1,800 people entered the contest to win a trip to Aruba. Future Collection appointments continue to get booked up in advance, and the RIRRC has asked RDW to develop a long-term plan to educate and announce additional collection dates. The firm will also help the RIRRC enable its website to handle appointment bookings online. "This year, we're going to do off-site collections in other counties because some people just won't travel," Bailey says.

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