The US produces about 220 million tons of garbage every year, according to the EPA. But most Americans spend little time thinking about all that waste once it's tossed into a trash can.
Waste management, though, is not only a big business, but also a huge environmental issue. Thanks to the public's growing green awareness, garbage and recycling are getting a lot more media attention these days.
"There's never been a better time to put issues like recycling to the media," notes Lena Davie, Hill & Knowlton VP, who represents the Aluminum Association. "Recycling had lost some of its luster, but because of the green focus, it's gone from a city beat story to the environmental reporter, who tends to be more knowledgeable about the issue."
Because recycling programs have been around for decades, says Howard Lalli, SVP with Edelman's Atlanta office, it can be a challenge to come up with new angles for these stories.
Edelman represents the automotive parts recycling business Pull-A-Part, and Lalli says, "We pursue any environmental stewardship awards on their behalf that we can, because if there's an award winner in Tennessee or Atlanta, that's a reason for the media to write about it."
But the green surge is becoming a bit of a double-edged sword for recycling companies - it does keep the issue top of mind for reporters, but now any recycling or waste management story also has to compete for media attention with a host of other products touting environmental credentials.
"Right now the press is sick to death of being pitched green," says Julie Gross Gelfand, EVP with HLD/Blankman Public Relations, which represents Changing World Technologies, a company that turns farm waste in oil. "So we had to turn this into a much larger story by stressing the energy component, as well as the environmental angle."
Surprisingly, one thing garbage does have going for it is a great opportunity for art. "It's very visual," notes Steve Caulk, president of Westminster, CO-based ProConnect Public Relations, which represents Alpine Waste & Recycling. "All the motion that goes on in the recycling plant is very compelling."
Jude Schneider, account manager at Weber Shandwick, says that while many of the big-picture environmental issues can be very complex, any messages involving recycling should be kept very simple.
"You need to explain recycling in ways that are comfortable for most people," Schneider notes. "Don't make people jump through hoops, and stress how they can be more environmental without dramatically changing their lifestyle."
Recycling programs have been around for decades, but there's plenty of consumer education still needed on the issue. Tip lists are a great way to work with the media to do that
There's a lot of innovative recycling technology that has to be seen to be appreciated, so do all you can to get reporters out to a recycling center or landfill
To combat media skepticism, look to partner with groups like Keep America Beautiful to lend third-party validation to your clients' recycling efforts