Wallpaper for recycling: New York’s “Recycle Everything” campaign

Wallpaper for recycling: New York’s “Recycle Everything” campaign

New York City’s simple message in campaign ads points to the importance of integrating advertising, infrastructure and support.

New Yorkers are recyclers at heart and have always looked to new uses for everything.

They’ve recycled fads, bands, clothing, buildings, storefronts, apartments, restaurants, music … Now the city is tapping into that New York state of mind to expand recycling of paper, glass, metal and plastic. That’s the thinking behind the new “Recycle Everything” ad campaign that the city just launched.

On the surface, a message of “Recycle Everything” could be wildly misleading – and under different circumstances, I think it would be. After all, with very little explanation in the simple campaign executions, it would be easy for someone to assume they actually can recycle everything. Without the right kind of support, a generic message like this could have disastrous results for recycling centers.

Perhaps New Yorkers will get the connection hoped for with this message – that New York has always been about recycling everything and now it’s time to expand on that mindset. But that’s asking a lot of the audience.

Thankfully, the key to success for this effort doesn’t rest on just the ads. It’s not a creative idea that will change behaviors or cause someone to rethink recycling in their lives. It’s an idea that will serve one purpose: eye candy. A visual for the mayor to point to as he lays out the real reasons for the program’s likely success: infrastructure and support.

Success for this new program will come through the largest expansion of New York’s recycling infrastructure in 25 years. The City’s expanded program includes the recycling of plastics for the first time ever. The new plastics recycling program will keep 50,000 tons out of landfills every year, saving taxpayers $600,000.

The City’s state-of-the-art, solar-powered household recycling plant will open later this year in Brooklyn. The number of blue and green recycling bins in public spaces will rise to 1,000 by 2014. That shows serious dedication from the city.

The ad campaign will certainly have the media support to be seen, and is certain to raise awareness about recycling, but it’s just too shallow a concept to cause an impact on its own. So does this mean it’s a bad campaign for the program? Not at all. It serves the role it needs to – making recycling more top-of-mind. Most of the heavy lifting will come in the form of decals sent to homes and placed on public bins, and in apartment and public buildings. They’ll do what the ads don’t – connect people to opportunities for recycling behaviors and provide the information New Yorkers need about how/what to recycle. And while there’s been no mention of it, the campaign should also drive them to an engaging online site to learn more.

With so much support buoying this effort from the city and city partners, simplicity is not a bad direction. Yes, it could have done more. It could have pushed harder for behavior change and been more entertaining and engaging. But it still works well as colorful wallpaper for a recycling effort that has a deep story.


Posted on

September 9, 2013

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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