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Using social media to inspire consumers into reducing waste

Using social media to inspire consumers into reducing waste
Tom’s of Maine challenges consumers to reduce 1 pound of waste a week from their lives in its Less Waste Challenge program.

The power of social media as an influencer is undeniable, so much so that maintaining a social media presence is a necessity in today’s corporate environment. Most of the American population uses social media in some capacity, and the ability to instantly interact with millions of individuals has changed every aspect of communication, marketing and social activism.

At my company, TerraCycle, we wanted to know if it could also motivate people to reduce packaging waste.

For years, we have used social media as a tool to help shift commonly held perceptions about product and packaging waste. Whether that means sharing pictures of “upcycled” art made with product packaging, promoting the sustainability efforts of a recent partner or sharing with our users intriguing “Eco-Facts” about their waste, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have given us a variety of platforms (and access to different audiences) to inspire change and motivate people to recycle traditionally difficult-to-recycle waste streams.

For example, one of our recent campaigns in April for Earth Month, with long-time partner Tom’s of Maine, challenged participants to pledge to reduce 1 pound of waste a week from their lives. Called the Less Waste Challenge, individuals make their pledges by sharing the hashtag #LessWasteChallenge on social media. Throughout the month, we shared tips and easy methods to reduce waste at home, as well as collection tips from other collectors. It’s a fun way to open a conversation with our program participants, connect similarly “sustainably minded” individuals to each other and share packaging waste-reduction tips with a wide and engaged audience.

The value of social media during this challenge was clear. We saw a great deal of engagement across our social media platforms during the campaign, and the results speak for themselves: thousands of consumers took the Less Waste Challenge pledge, pledging to keep more than 128,000 pounds of waste from landfill.

Other actors in the packaging industry are making waves on social media as well. The How2Recycle Label system continues to expand and attract new partners, thanks in no small part to its growing visibility and extensive use of social media. Visibility is critical for such a platform, one that depends on consumer recognition to see success (that is the proper recycling or disposal of packaging waste). How2Recycle’s Twitter page even directs users to a “Check Locally” webpage, allowing consumers to check if a material or package is recyclable in their area.

Waste clean-up events and campaigns are making great use of social media as a promotional platform as well. American Rivers, an organization that protects river systems across the country, even offers tools, social media tutorials, templates and other resources for citizens interested in starting their own clean up events. For highly localized conservation events like this, reaching people on the ground and getting them excited and engaged to participate is a must.

Maintaining a presence on social media continues to elude some organizations, but for us and countless other sustainable companies, using it effectively is a necessity. The success of our recycling programs hinges on an excited, active participant-base, and social media gives us the opportunity to craft highly engaging relationships with our users—or better yet, reach new consumers and help transform them into committed environmental activists.

How is your organization or company using social media effectively today? Let us know in the comments!

Author Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, has won more than 50 awards for entrepreneurship, also writes blogs for Treehugger and The New York Times, has an upcoming book called "Make Garbage Great" and is the star of the television show "Human Resources" on Pivot TV.


Learn about the latest developments in sustainable packaging at EastPack 2016, June 14-16, in New York City.

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