Great example of social marketing by Brunswick County

I always talk about how part of social marketing is trying to understand your audience - knowing the barriers they face when trying to change their behavior. How do you do that? Surveys and focus groups. Kudos to Brunswick County for surveying its residents about recycling. Read more below.

Brunswick County surveys interest in recycling
Brunswick weighs net cost of service, residents' interest
By Steve Jones - sjones@thesunnews.com

Brunswick County residents answering an online survey about curbside recycling show a shift in thinking from a similar survey 10 years ago, said Stephanie Lewis, assistant director of the county's Operations Services Department. In 1998, the county's residents weren't interested in recycling. In the current survey, the majority of those who've answered so far would be willing to pay $5 a month for curbside recyclables pickup.

"I think we've had a marked change of attitude," Lewis said.

If the trend holds through the June 15 deadline for filling out surveys, Lewis said county personnel will ask commissioners to start curbside recyclables pickup countywide. The county's household recyclables program now relies on goods collected at drop-off locations.

Lewis said the county either breaks even or loses a little money on the sale of the household recyclables it gets now through the drop-off program as well as municipal curbside and school recycling programs. But the savings from recycling come on the back end, when a smaller volume of trash means a longer life for landfills.

Commissioners understood the value of saving space when they approved an expansion of the recycling effort at the county's construction and demolition landfill. By setting up the recycling operation, the county added a couple of years before it will have to invest in a new landfill.

The county's household trash, though, goes to a landfill outside of the county, and the same economic incentive doesn't apply. Bill Sue, Brunswick County commissioners chairman, said curbside recycling doesn't make much sense to him if it's not going to generate enough money to pay for itself.

In other words, if there isn't a customer willing to pay more for the collected recyclables than it cost to collect them, it doesn't look like a good financial deal.

"We looked into it once," Sue said. But there were no buyers for what would be collected.

Brunswick County residents pay for their curbside garbage pickup when they pay their property taxes. The countywide system, which serves about 75,000 homes in both incorporated and unincorporated areas, is run through the county, although some cities may have a separate curbside recycling program.

Lewis said Brunswick County took in 1,200 tons of recyclables between the first of this year and the first week in May. Routing them back into useful products saves energy, creates jobs and boosts the economy, she said.

"Things made from recycled materials are made more cheaply than things made from raw materials," she said.

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