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Government Agencies
Recycling Mixed Paper from Junk Mail to Cereal Boxes


Montgomery County, Maryland – Division of Solid Waste Services


Montgomery County was preparing to launch its mixed paper recycling program among 200,000 households. Not only would newspapers be collected at curbside, the County would also pick up junk mail, cereal and other food boxes, corrugated cardboard, magazines, catalogs, office paper, and telephone books.  Officials wanted to make sure that its mixed paper recycling message was clear, residents would respond, and 50% of the County’s waste steam would be recycled.  


Potomac Incorporated was commissioned to examine attitudes and behaviors regarding mixed paper recycling by single-family households.  This study aimed to increase the volume of mixed paper recycling by identifying motivating messages and effective outreach techniques while pinpointing possible barriers.

In areas where mixed paper recycling had begun, two focus groups were conducted among non-Hispanic residents, and one focus group was held for residents whose primary language was Spanish.  

The non-Hispanic residents pointed out obstacles to stacking and storing mixed papers in the home. They had little awareness of the County’s 50% recycling goal. They recommended refrigerator magnets listing recyclable mixed papers, and they acknowledged that community and neighborhood associations are “trusted and highly respected” and would be a good source of recycling information.  






 Hispanic residents conceived “recycling” to be reusing a product that might otherwise be discarded, or in other economic terms.  In the Latino home, it was recommended that the family’s female decision-maker be targeted with recycling information.  Likewise, the Catholic Church; Latino festivals; and Spanish language newspapers, and television and radio stations were recommended as reliable sources of recycling information.



Potomac used the information from the focus groups to develop an innovative public education and advertising campaign aimed at single-family households.  For example, we:

  • Designed and distributed large refrigerator magnets listing all recyclables in both English and Spanish.             
  • Produced large self-mailer cards with peel-off instructional labels to be adhered to the outdoor recycling blue bins.              
  • Distributed newspaper ads, flyers, and articles for hundreds of civic associations.              
  • Carefully targeted newspaper ads appear in local newspapers.            
  • Set up meetings with editors/publishers to encourage editorials and news articles.            
  • Phoned targeted homeowners about the new mixed paper program.            
  • Developed a Hispanic outreach program centered on festivals and church activities.

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