‘Tis the Season for Wrapping!

A picture’s worth 1,000 words

We’ve all heard the saying, but is it true? The City of Ottawa set out to test the theory.

Faced with low capture and high contamination rates in its Multi-Residential (MR) recycling stream, the City of Ottawa decided to pilot a new approach building on a simple truth.  If a picture is indeed worth 1,000 words, why not cover Front End Loading bins (FELs) in colourful wraps that feature images of exactly what the City wants residents to recycle, in place of traditional instructional stickers?

Traditional Approach


Leveraging CIF’s Promotion & Education (P&E) course recommendations for building successful campaigns, staff factored in other suggested elements into their strategy.

5-second rule

  • While it’s true the brain processes images/ pictures 60,000 times faster than words, you still only get about 5 seconds of someone’s attention before they’re distracted. So, staff focused their images on one, key, actionable message: ‘put these items in this bin’.

Layer: Grow awareness over time

  • People need to see a message 3 to 5 times before they’ll be able to recall what they’ve seen. To this end, Ottawa staff ‘layered’ their outreach. They used the same graphics in other promotional materials sent directly to resident’s homes. They also introduced the newly wrapped bins with posters and doorknockers featuring the same artwork.

The City used several different tactics over the same time frame to ensure its audience was exposed to the same message from multiple sources.

  • Repeated exposure will not only help ensure residents recall your message, it will help build familiarity with recycling and the expectation to participate in the program.

Placement: Visibility is key

  • The wrapped bins are akin to a billboard on the side of a road. They’re a constant reminder to recycle to all those who pass by them.
  • To this end, where possible, the bins were located in highly visible places to achieve the greatest ‘reach’ – number of times the message would be ‘seen’.

So, did it work?

The increased prominence of the recycling messaging was expected to improve residents’ understanding of how to participate in the program, both in terms of what is recyclable and where to place the recyclables for collection. Twenty-one bins were wrapped. And…. yes, it worked!

Fibres11% increase6% decrease
Containers7% increase10% decrease

It’s worth mentioning that Ottawa placed the wrapped bins in a community with language barriers and low recycling rates. 

Other Benefits?

The City now has greater revenue earning opportunity and avoided landfill fees.  What’s more, fewer dollars are being spent to collect and process non-targeted materials through the recycling program.

Looking to replicate this idea in your community?

Here are the top 3 tips:

  1. Bins can’t be too rusty, otherwise the vinyl won’t adhere
  2. Wraps have to be installed in warm weather for the same reason
  3. The graphic designs used should be focus group tested to ensure that your intended message is understood by the targeted audience

There are many exciting findings from this pilot! For more information, view the Project Report* and join us at the May 16 Ontario Recycler Workshop in Collingwood, where Ottawa staff will be a speaking about bin wraps.

Wanting to dive in and learn more about applying CIF’s recommended fundamentals of building successful P&E campaigns, contact Jessica Landry to join the P&E working group that will launch in 2019.

*File is 20 mb; if you can’t download it, please email CIF Communications and we’ll get it to you