The Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful have reunited for the first time since the breakthrough “The Crying Indian“ campaign brought a dose of environmental reality to Americans indulging in escapist fare such as “Bonanza” and The Ed Sullivan Show” more than 40 years ago.
The “I Want To Be Recycled” campaign, which broke July 10, features such trash as wayward plastic bottles and aluminum cans that aspire to be more than they appear to be. Bring tissues: In the end, they fulfill their destinies and become one with the universe again as plastic benches and grand arenas such as Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.
“If people knew what their garbage could become, they’d recycle more” is the message in another spot that opens with the grandfatherly Gerry Schnepf, executive director of Keep Iowa Beautiful. As he sits on one of those handsome recycled-plastic benches, Schnepf tells us that “my throwing away a shirt, or a shoe, or a sock, or anything that you’re throwing away, you cannot visualize how that comes back into the system. If people don’t understand that visual, then they are not going to recycle.”
Indeed, only 52% of Americans say that they are “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about how to properly recycle, according to results of survey recently conducted by C + R Research and released simultaneously with the campaign by Keep America Beautiful. Only 38% say they are “avid recyclers,” which is defined as “recycling as much as possible and willing to go out of their way to do so.” The most common reasons given for not recycling, among several, are that respondents did not have enough information about where to recycle or what types of materials they are able to recycle.
To that end, the campaign direct consumers to IWantToBeRecycled.org, which offers information about the benefits of recycling, takes some “myths” to the Dumpster, offers information about “starting a recycling movement in your community,” and has a ZIP code-based directory to find local recycling centers.
The campaign was created pro-bono by San Francisco-based Pereira & O’Dell, and funded through Keep America Beautiful by Alcoa Foundation, American Chemistry Council, Anheuser-Busch Foundation, Nestlé Waters North America, Niagara Bottling, Unilever and Waste Management.
“The core idea is to tell people to recycle and give their garbage another life. Showing that a bottle has dreams seems like a very powerful yet delicate way of doing it,” PJ Pereira, chief creative officer at Pereira & O’Dell, says in the release announcing the campaign.
“This campaign is the emotional push needed to raise awareness and positively change people’s behavior to recycle more,” says Keep America Beautiful SVP Brenda Pulley. “Our intent is to increase recycling rates, which translates into measurable benefits including waste reduction, energy savings, natural resource conservation and job creation.”
Interested observers who spoke to the New York Times’ Jane L. Levere give the effort mixed reviews. Candy Lee, a professor of integrated marketing communications at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, finds the approach “very attractive.”
But Melissa Goodall, assistant director of the office of sustainability at Yale University, wonders if “anthropomorphizing cans and bottles is going to inspire people to recycle,” and suggests that the campaign is preaching to the choir.
Allen Hershkowitz, director of the solid waste project of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that it would be more effective to put the squeeze on consumer products companies to be more proactive in recycling efforts that are wholly financed in the U.S. by already overtaxed municipal governments.
“We are wasting millions of tons of valuable resources in landfills and incinerators because consumer product companies do not pay a nickel for the recycling infrastructure needed to be developed,” he tells Levere.
There is a precedent for featuring errant and windblown recyclable material as the star of the show.
Ad Age’s Karen Egolf draws our attention to a 3:59 mockumentary produced by DDB Los Angeles in 2010 for the environmental group Heal the Bay that features a voiceover by Jeremy Irons. With muted awe, Irons recounts the lifecycle of a “most clever and illustrious creature, the plastic bag,” as it wends its way through “the open planes of the asphalt jungle” of L.A. to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is “said to be twice the size of Texas.”
But in the end, and despite the many unnatural perils it faces (such as parks rangers and tree branches), it makes its way to that great garbage heap in the water. “Plastic bags are not indigenous to the Pacific,” we are reminded by a graphic.
The new Keep America Beautiful PSAs end on a more upbeat note, realizing no doubt that we like happy endings. All we have to do, they suggest, is to individually play our parts in getting there.