Don’t Waste Our Forests: Mountain bikes, wombat poo & working together for community-driven change

August 3, 2018

How do mountain bikes and wombat poo help shape a behaviour change strategy to prevent illegal dumping??

In 2015-2016 we managed a behaviour change campaign in Orange, NSW to tackle the problem of illegal dumping at a local hotspot – Kinross State Forest. The impetus for change came from the Orange Mountain Bike Club (OMC), who regularly used and maintained its awesome mountain bike tracks and were sick of continually cleaning up after people ‘trashing the forest’. But illegal dumping in the area was not just an issue for the club, people across the community were fed up with rubbish being dumped in the local area.

The Social Deck partnered with the OMC, Forestry Corporation NSW (the forest managers) and two local councils (Orange and Cabonne) to develop a preventative behaviour change strategy, targeting the reasons why people were dumping in the forest.

We secured grant funding from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) NSW through the ‘Waste Less Recycle More’ program that was targeted at preventing illegal dumping in NSW. Our social marketing approach was based on using Kinross Forest as a focal point, with flow-on effects for dumping behaviours in other parts of the community.

But, before we started developing the strategy we needed to understand what it was that drove the dumping behaviour. We know that people are complex and there can be many and varied reasons behind why people behave as they do. Instead of trying to tackle the problem using only negative or punitive actions that had been tried before (e.g. hidden cameras and fines), we tried to look at the issue through a different lens. We took a community-driven approach focused on changing behaviours of people who dumped illegally (or may in the future) and promoting positive action to the wider community.

We used a combination of design thinking and community-based social marketing techniques to better understand the specific barriers, ‘pain points’ and motivators for dumpers, as well as the extent of the problem and local conditions facilitating illegal dumping in the forest.

The collaborative strategy was multi-pronged and included actions that could be implemented by a range of project partners and stakeholders. It was complemented by a grass-roots campaign by community members to change the perception of Kinross Forest from a ‘dumping ground’ to a place that the whole community could enjoy as a free, natural and unstructured area to play or be active.

Background: the problem

Illegal dumping is a problem affecting urban, regional, rural and remote communities throughout Australia and costs local governments (and therefore ratepayers) millions of dollars each year. Although the problem is almost ubiquitous, it occurs to different extents and in different ways depending on the community context. For example, many cities have a major issue with illegal dumping around high-density apartments and multi-unit dwellings. Dumping around charity stores is a problem in most towns and cities that have them. And dumping in forests and bushland is more common in regional, rural and remote areas.

Because the factors affecting dumping are different depending on the local context, we know it’s important to identify how issues specific to a community affect people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviours around dumping illegally.

In Orange, Kinross State Forest is recognised as a particular hotspot for illegal dumping. The types of material dumped include household waste, clothes and other personal items, larger waste such as white goods and electronic equipment, mattresses, dead animals, cars (mostly burnt out), green waste, building waste and general rubbish such as bottles and cans. There has also been at least one instance of asbestos-containing materials being dumped.

Typical dump site
Discarded children’s toys make up significant amounts of illegally dumped was

Illegal dumping is a particular issue for recreational forest users – particularly mountain bikers, walkers, trail runners and 4 wheel drivers, as well as Forestry Corporation who managed the forest and were responsible for health and safety in the area. Besides the ‘yuck factor’, the rubbish can be dangerous and there are environmental pollution risks.

Despite some clean-ups by volunteer forest user groups the problem appeared to be getting worse.

Our approach to tackling the problem

Supporting the Orange Mountain Bike Club, The Social Deck developed a collaborative behaviour change strategy, taking into account the factors influencing dumping in the region and targeting the motivations and barriers causing people to dump illegally.

We applied our strategic behaviour change approach, which combines design thinking and community-based social marketing to:

  1. Explore the issue, understanding all the factors that could be playing a part using active research in the community.
  2. Define the issue and the target segments in the community – who is dumping and why?
  3. Identify the barriers to managing waste in a sustainable way for individuals as well as motivators for dumping and what behaviour change tools might work.
  4. Hold a number of collaborative workshops to develop ideas, design the strategy and develop an implementation plan.
  5. Implement actions by multiple stakeholders, test and apply messages and behaviour change tactics, and measurechange.
Our strategic behaviour change approach

Research insights

Our active research phase included interviews with stakeholders and community members, informal discussions, surveys and analysing media and social media sentiment about the problem in the community.

We also mapped and classified the waste dumped in the forest, including identifying the type and extent of the dumping. Surprisingly, the rubbish people left behind gave a multitude of insights into dumpers’ interests, jobs, family structure, residential location and plenty of other data about them. This also allowed us to build archetypal ‘personas’ of dumpers and some of their motivators, which was complemented by interviews, informal discussions and an online survey to gather data about the problem in the community.

It was interesting to note the reasons for dumping were varied and often unexpected.

  • Costs were a factor. Some people felt that the fees for the tip were much higher than what they actually were and they wouldn’t be able to afford it. In fact, around 60% of the waste that was illegally dumped could have been taken to the local tip – less than 3km away – for free.
  • Other issues that led to illegal dumping were around housing. People were being evicted from housing or needing relocate quickly because of family issues or landlords and family members were left with waste to dispose of after people have moved on.
  • Attitudes of dumpers were important. Some people dumped simply because they were against the idea that they should have to pay anything for their waste – holding the belief that it was Council’s responsibility as part of rates and other charges.
  • The forest environment was also a key factor. People chose the forest to dump their rubbish as it was accessible, convenient to town and private. Some didn’t think their dumping mattered because they thought as others were doing it, it was acceptable and the forest wasn’t utilized for anything else.
  • Often stolen cars were found in the forest and some dumps were of unwanted stolen material. A particularly interesting insight from the research was that many of the dumped animal carcasses weren’t hunted and killed in the forest at all. Instead, they were dumped because hunters wanted to show carcasses around town after they’d been out bush and then needed to dispose of them in the most discrete place close to town, which was Kinross Forest.

Strategy Development

We used tools such as fishbone diagrams, empathy maps, stakeholder maps, developed personas and analysed people’s interactions with waste and their waste ‘journeys’ to understand and make sense of the data we collected – exploring the issue at both the system and individual behaviour levels. For example, we used the empathy maps to question the negative assumptions about ‘dumpers’ and instead sought to understand behaviours without judging.

Empathy map compiled from active research and surveys.

We were able to gain an understanding of some of the motivations and barriers to responsible waste disposal behaviour and the ‘benefits’ of dumping. Importantly, the tools and methods enabled us to look at how to tackle the issue from a number of different angles.

Fishbone diagram exploring and categorising factors (and underlying contributors) to illegal dumping in Kinross Forest.

Journey map exploring how residents interact with waste and the choices available to them

With these insights, we were able to bring partners together for a collaborative workshop where we presented the research, and work to validate and better understand motivators and barriers with these key stakeholders. We were then able to collectively decide on tactics and specific actions to discourage dumping and encourage responsible waste behaviour using social marketing tools that are known to influence behaviour, e.g.:

  • Convenience – making responsible waste behaviour
  • Communication – increasing awareness and education by creating consistent and engaging messages on social media, the council website and collateral such as drink bottles, stickers and posters.
  • Prompts – placing creative and engaging signs at the forest and along the roadside in hotspot areas to catch attention (targeting both positive and negative behaviour).
  • Social norms – revitalising the forest area to build community support and use of the forest, while also encouraging increased reporting of illegal dumping.
  • Incentives – encouraging responsible behaviour through ‘free waste days’ at the tip and a competition on social media.

Implementing the strategy

And here’s where the wombat poo comes in! At the beginning of the campaign development, we designed a creative, titled ‘Don’t Waste our Forests’, including logos, colours and other assets (such as this cute wombat mascot) to help the community and partners get behind a consistent ‘brand’ for getting rid of waste from the forest.

Brand assets and tagline for the campaign

Mountain bike Club members landscaping and planting trees

In a second workshop, we developed an implementation plan so that the tactics and actions could be implemented by different stakeholders depending on their ability to resource and apply them. For example, to help revitalise Kinross Forest, Forestry Corporation NSW conducted minor earthworks and supplied logs to help with beautification, while the Mountain Bike Club in partnership with the local 4WD club undertook the landscaping work using the logs and planted trees. Signage at forest entrances/exits and along the roadside was completed by the Mountain Bike Club in partnership with Council, and Council trialled two ‘free waste days’ in the year so that people who were put off by the cost barriers could take their bulky waste to the tip for free.

Forest signage

A Facebook campaign, newspaper and radio advertisements ran concurrently to these physical actions, supplying messages, memes and photos using the brand and with a mix of humour, negative and positive messaging to engage the community and different audience segments. After ideas and products had been developed we used a community reference group to test ideas and products before the public campaign.

Social media results

Fridge magnet distributed at community events and Free Waste Days

What did the campaign achieve?

Preliminary results showed the campaign contributed to decreased illegal dumping activity after implementation (approximately 80%) and increased awareness in the community of reporting illegal dumping in the months following the campaign.

Forest users noticed less rubbish after the campaign

One of the most effective parts of the campaign strategy was engaging the broader community in caring more about the forest environment through beautifying the forest entrance and the social media campaign. The campaign reached over 60% of people in the community, with the most effective channel being signage on the way to the tip and through the Facebook campaign. The Facebook page was liked by just over 500 people and overall had a reach of over 200 000 users and 1338 post engagements (reactions, comments and shares). For a community-driven campaign in a regional locality, the campaign demonstrated excellent reach and engagement.

Social media reach

The Council-run Free Waste Day was also a key part of the strategy. Approximately 1100 separate vehicles attended the two free days (combined) and around 80% of people surveyed said they brought their waste on that day because it was free, while anecdotal evidence (conversations) suggested some people may have dumped that rubbish if it there hadn’t been a ‘Free Waste Day’.

The active engagement and strengthened partnerships with community groups and key stakeholders to work together to help prevent the problem in the future were also important outcomes. The campaign was a great example of a campaign uniting a grassroots community campaign with local government agencies to work together to achieve change.

What happens after the campaign ends?

We know that for change to be sustainable it must continue to be supported after the funding period ends. We hope that the tactics developed will continue into the future led by both Council and Forestry Corporation NSW.

This behaviour change campaign was a great example of using a multi-pronged approach, including combining a grassroots community campaign with a behavioural strategy developed in collaboration with key stakeholders. We sought to change the targeted behaviour in a different way to previous efforts to solve this problem, by seeking to really understand all the issues and viewpoints, not just applying our own assumptions and negative perceptions to how and why people behave in certain ways.

We know there will likely always be a need to use punitive/ negative measures like cameras, fines and public reporting to deter dumpers. However, we think this campaign demonstrates that there are opportunities to use more holistic strategies supporting positive community-driven change that focuses on prevention, rather than simply reactive actions.

How can we help?
Melanie Butcher
Director of Impact and Engagement 
mel@thesocialdeck.com0400 426 545