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Making the Most of Local Media: How to Talk to The Press about Your Local Recycling Program

By Tricia Tiedt

(Note: This blog is directly addressed to community recycling coordinators, but the principles apply to anyone working in the industry looking to better communicate with the media regarding recycling.) 

Fact: Your residents want to recycle. 

Fact: Your residents want to recycle right. 

Fact: Your residents watch the news, read the paper, and/or get news online. 


How can we bring these three things together? 

Let’s talk about how to talk – specifically, how to talk to the press. The media is a crucial outlet and communication tool. If used correctly, your local media can actually help teach your residents how to recycle better.  

So, how do you harness the power of your local media to ensure the correct message about your recycling program gets across? 

Here are our top three tips for talking to your local press about your recycling program in 2019. 

Speak in Sound Bites.  

A sound bite is a short clip of speech extracted from a longer piece of audio (like, an interview or conversation).  

Most stories on your local evening newscast run between 15 seconds and a minute and a half, depending on the format. The average sound bite is between eight and 12 seconds. That’s not a lot of time to get your message across! So, prepare what you’re going to say beforehand. Make sure your point is clear, concise, and targeted. Understand that whatever you say may be cut down or edited for time or clarity, so present your message as a full statement to avoid any confusion or miscommunication. This is often called “repeating the question.” 

For instance: If a reporter asks you,  

“What is the number one thing residents can do to recycle better?”  

your response should be… 

“The best thing residents of (insert your community name here) can do to help our recycling program is…(insert your targeted ask here).”  

Know your audience. 

We tend to think of “the media” as an audience in and of themselves. But…who watches the news or reads the paper? The reporters who are interviewing you or writing the story? No – your residents 

“The media” is simply another touch point you can use to reach your top audience –your residents. Consider the microphone (or notepad, or camera, etc.) your vehicle to drive home your #1 recycling message. If you could tell your residents just one thing about recycling, what would it be? Identify your top message and stick to it.  

Always stay positive. 

The state of recycling in America is facing economic challenges, which makes it easy to get defensive about your program or actions taken to preserve it. However, it’s crucial that you stay positive when speaking with reporters regarding the state of recycling in your community.   

In a story about recycling, a reporter could choose to include a sound bite from you (the local recycling coordinator), the PIO or other official authorized to speak on the matter, the MRF, the hauler, and/or residents. You can’t control what those other sources may say, or how the reporter writes their story – but you can control how you portray recycling and why it matters in your community. 

Here are a few relevant talking points to consider using when making a positive statement about recycling as we enter 2019: 

  • Recycling Matters! Recycling creates jobs and has enormous positive economic impacts for the United Sates. According to a 2017 ISRI study, $117 billion domestic economic activity is created annually by the recycling industry.  
  • Recycling is a long-term, sustainable approach to diverting waste away from landfills. 
  • Recycling is a business: with any business, there are periods of prosperity and periods of hardship. We are in a period of hardship, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to close up shop. 
  • We are doing our due diligence as a solid waste management to ensure that recycling is available to our residents. We ask that, in turn, residents help improve our recycling program by placing only the accepted items in their bin. 
  • Recycling is a government service, like police, fire, water or sewage. Those services have a monetary value, and so does waste management. 
  • Recycling markets have ebbed and flowed for decades – while China’s National Sword policies seem drastic, the markets can and will recover. It’s our job to stay the course and ensure residents have the tools they need to recycle correctly. 

Tricia Tiedt is the Conference and Workshop Manager at The Recycling Partnership. She’s also a communications guru with a knack for public relations and media training. Questions about how to talk about recycling? Email Tricia at ttiedt@recyclingpartnership.org