Athens Georgia Embraces Creative Strategies for Successful Public Outreach

Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division in Georgia demonstrates incredible innovation and dedication to meet waste diversion goals.

On November 3, 2010, Nancy Denson, Mayor of Athens, Georgia set the following waste diversion goals:

  • 40% by 2015 
  • 60% by 2018 
  • 75% by 2020

Suki Janssen, Waste Reduction Administrator, has led the initiatives by implementing creative public outreach strategies. It has not only proven effective but garnered local awards and broad attention.

One of the most notable efforts has been the “Zombie Video” part of their successful Recycle More Campaign. The campaign found it’s tagline from the existing strength of community participation. The message has been to “do even more.” The county is dedicated to adding more recycling containers and more action from community involvement.

Suki Janssen explains how the video came about. “Humor worked for us in the past. You have to catch the public’s attention in ways that are different or unique. I’m a walking dead fan. A huge walking dead fan. The Walking Dead Season opener was coming up at the same time of Halloween and the release of our new branded recycling bins.” One of two grants the county received from Curbside Value Partnership Program was for a test to see what happens with non-traditional marketing. Much of the CVPP grant covered traditional marketing methods: billboards, radio, bus signage. So the agency took some of their own funds,  to pursue the unconventional approach. 3 months of advertising was slotted on a variety of cable channels and their government channel. Janssen explains how their DIY approach requiring fast turnaround and on a shoestring budget could be accomplished. “We did it all in an afternoon. Picked up clothes in the thrift shop, tore them up and used a local videographer. All of our staff is in the video or part of the crew. We had a Rollergirl, popular in Athens, play a zombie adding a personal touch. It was shot in a day and all edited in a week.” A great moment came when the advertisement played during the season opening of Walking Dead.

As part of the Recycle More Campaign, recycling bins were going out before the largest football game season opener in 20 years, the Georgia-Ellis U game The video was released in time for the Walking Dead season premier, Halloween and the big game. These action oriented strategies resulted in an award for the Recycle More Campaign. You can read more about their campaign on Resource Recycling or get details on their Athens-Clarke County website.

The Athens-Clarke Recycling Division also knows how to make less more. For one landing page on the local Government website, the Recycling Division packs a lot of punch. 

In one place residents and business owners can easily find calendar of events, FAQs answered, list of recyclable items, forms, programs, drop-off sites, budget information, and other general multimedia content of value. Notably the division actively uses social media for real-time public outreach

The Recycle on the Go EPA program and other outside organization initiatives help them gain public awareness but government goals have been the driving force behind their recycling programs and strategies. Thinking out-of-the-box and using creativity has been the secret of their success.