Tips for Speaking with the Public about Waste Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling

This handout provides tips and examples regarding how to speak about what you learned in the Master Recycler class, with the general public, in your outreach work. It is written to apply most directly to public outreach such as tabling, but with a little thought, we hope you find these tips useful in your conversations with people you know as well.

General Tips

Possible Scenarios and How to Address Them

  1. Scenario: Your hook (the question or verbal prod you use to invite people to speak at your booth) doesn’t work.
  1. Tip: Test out different wording and phrases a couple times to see what is most effective.
  2. Example: If you’re tabling and educating people about recycling, try different introductory and identifying questions, such as: “What do you recycle at home?” “What city do you live in?” “Do you have curbside recycling at home?”
  1. Scenario: People decline to speak with you.
  1. Tip: Respect their decision, remain positive, and thank them. Also, if people are simply saying “no” to your “hook,” then consider changing your hook so that it is not a yes or no question.
  2. Example: If your hook is “Have you heard about Corvallis’ mixed organics program,” and people are saying no and walking on by, consider using a hook that is not a yes/no question, like, “How do you dispose of food waste at your home?”
  3. Example: When someone declines to speak you you, remain positive by using phrases like: “no worries,” “have a good day,” and “take care,” and then thank them.
  1. Scenario: People disagree with you or your message.
  1. Tip: Demonstrate that you hear them (listening, nodding, paraphrasing back to them, etc.). Use your own facts and talking points if you have them. If you are spending a lot of time debating, consider if you should thank them and move on to someone else.
  2. Example:
  1. You:  Hi there!  Do you want to play a game to learn a little bit more about recycling?
  2. Patron: Oh, I don’t recycle, I just burn everything
  3. You: Oh really?  there are much better ways to handle these materials; why do you choose to burn?
  4. Patron:  Why would I pay for service when I can just burn everything for free?
  5.  : While there is a cost to processing materials such as recyclables or yard debris, the benefits far exceed that of landfilling these items.
  6. Patron: There is no benefit to me personally to recycle, as opposed to burning it all.  I’m not going to pay when I don’t have to.
  7. —[At this point, you could try and steer the conversation to a less heated topic but if the person has an agenda or seems intent on being in disagreement, you might bid them adieu and move on to another patron.]
  8. You: Well, we’re here if you change your mind and would like any information on recycling. Thanks for stopping by, have a good day!
  1. Scenario: People are not that interested in what you have to say or appear to be in a rush.
  1. Tip: Cut to the chase - emphasize just one thing (your main goal/message) in very concise, but not rushed terms. In other words, instead of telling them everything and talking really fast, just tell them a boiled down version of what you’re trying to communicate.
  2. Example:
  1. You: Hi there, can you tell me how do you dispose of food waste at your home currently?
  2. Patron: Uh, I’m kind of in a rush right now.
  3. You: No problem, I’ll make this quick. We’re out here today to let Corvallis residents know they can compost food scraps in their curbside organics carts. Here’s a handout you can take with you for more details. Have a great day!
  1. Scenario: People who think they already know everything (in terms of what you’re trying to communicate with them).  
  1. Example:
  1. You: Hi there, would you like to play a sorting game to test your curbside recycling knowledge?
  2. Patron:  Oh no, I already know about all that, I recycle everything.
  3. You:  Wow, that’s great. [Then move on to clarify what they mean and open a discussion with them, such as the 2 examples below.]
  1. Example: What do you do with your [mention an item that’s hard to
    recycle, or item that shouldn’t go in the cart, such as medicine bottles, beer bottle caps, etc.]?
  2. Example: What are some of the things you recycle besides these items (on display)?
  1. Other response ideas:
  1. If you want to be less “confrontational” you could respond with more in-depth information to give them resources they might not be aware of or find some other things you could educate them on (talk about the first 2 R’s for example).
  2. Or, if you don’t have more info to give (curbside was all you were talking about), then you could move on to the next patron.
  1. Example: “Well thanks for stopping by to talk with us.  Feel free to take any educational materials you’d like.”
  1. Scenario: People who want to talk about something else (other than the topic you are focused on for that day).
  1. Tip: Redirect the conversation back to what you are focusing on. If it is particularly difficult to transition to refocus the conversation, thank them for their time and shift your focus to the next person who is passing by.
  2. Example:
  1. Patron: What’s the deal with the plastic bag ban? Aren’t they perfectly recyclable?
  2. You: They can be recycled if sorted out separately, but they cannot go into a home commingle bin. Can I tell you more about what’s accepted in the commingle?
  3. Patron: But what I don’t get is, why are paper bags better?
  4. You: I’m sorry, I’m not an expert in the ban or comparisons of paper versus plastic. I have lots of information about what’s accepted in curbside recycling, which is what I am educating people about today. Is that a topic you're interested in learning more about?
  5. Patron: [Continues conversation off topic]
  6. You: I’m sorry I don’t have information to share with you about that. I do need to focus on educating folks about curbside recycling today, but thanks for your interest in waste reduction. [Consider turning away from the individual and initiating a conversation with another passersby.]
  1. Scenario: When you don’t know the answer.
  1. Tip: Admit you don’t know and offer to follow-up (and exchange contact info).
  2. Example:
  1. Patron: I was wondering how exactly a tetra pack container gets recycled?
  2. You: You know, that’s a really great question and actually I’m not quite sure how they get recycled. If you wanted to leave your phone number for me, I could find out and give you a call about it.
  3. Patron: That would be great, thank you so much. [Take phone number]
  4. You: Were there any other questions about curbside recycling that I could answer for you?
  1. Scenario: People who already agree with what you are promoting.
  1. Tip: If they already know about something or agree with what you are encouraging, be sure to cut to the chase (i.e. there’s no need to give them the full “spiel”). Offer more in-depth information or opportunities (to further their knowledge or involvement).
  2. Example:
  1. You: How are you disposing of food waste at your home currently?
  2. Patron: I use my curbside yard debris cart in Corvallis. I’m so glad we can do that here!
  3. You: Awesome! Glad to hear you know about the curbside program and are diverting your food scraps that way. Here is a handy guide of what can go in, should you need that for your household.
  4. Patron: Thanks, I think my house is on board. I’m always getting my spouse and kids in line with the program.
  5. You: Nice! You seem really interested in this kind of thing. Have you heard about the Master Recycler class?