Millennial Consumption: How one generation could generate less waste

By Kara Pennino, AFF Community Outreach Liaison

There has been a lot of talk recently about how to grab the attention of people in their teens and twenties, also known as millennials. The Trash Team has been particularly interested in how to target this young generation, influence them to generate less waste, and keep their communities litter free.
We were inspired to target this audience because of the results of our 2013 pilot evaluation of our Regional Litter Prevention Campaign. This pilot showed a 45% reduction in the number of people littering after campaign material was posted nearby. While we were ecstatic about the results, we wanted to do better. We wanted to know who was still littering after the Litter Campaign was posted and how we could better target them. We found that a large majority of those who were still littering were millennials, specifically those between the ages of 15 and 29. We decided to work with the social research firm, OpinionWorks, to do more research into why this segment of the population was less impacted by our Campaign.

In June we held two focus groups in Prince George’s County with self-proclaimed litterers between the ages of 18 and 30. Our goal was to find distinct ways to supplement our current Litter Campaign with new material that is more impactful for our target audience. We decided to target millennials in Prince George’s County between the towns of Capitol Heights and Forest Heights, where we have been doing community outreach for the last two years (this is part of our strategy, called community based social marketing).

So what grabs the attention of millennials who litter? Authentic, realistic, and personal images. The millennials we interviewed were literal-minded and locally oriented. They want campaigns that are relatable to their everyday experience. For instance, instead of a photo of a park that is clearly not in their neighborhood, they want to be able to picture themselves in a littered park in their neighborhood. Being able to imagine themselves as part of the scene opens them to feeling its impact viscerally. Test images that were taken in D.C. or Virginia were dismissed because the participants did not view the location as part of their communities, and therefore they were not emotionally invested.

Our new Litter Campaign materials are going to have a very strong focus on being local, with photos taken in our target audiences’ immediate community to tap into their sense of identity and pride for their neighborhood. We are also altering our communication strategy, giveaways, and activities in order to better grab the attention of millennials. We tested our talking points to see which ones were the most effective and we have created an Instagram account to better reach our audience online. Our research found that people in their teens and twenties like to have interactive games that they can play with their friends. Our new games are created with this in mind. Are you interested in playing trash toss and wining draw-string backpacks and reusable water bottles? We will be piloting our new Trash Toss at the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s 60th Anniversary Celebration – Fall Fest. We hope to see you there!

If you want to know more about our research and how to better target millennials, join us at the 9th Annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center at the University of Maryland from 9am to 2pm on November 7, 2014. I am organizing a session, titled “Marketing to Millennials: A Generational Approach to Trash Reduction.” I hope you can come and join the discussion. Learn more and register for the event at

Contact Kara at [email protected]
Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram! @AliceFergusonFoundation #DontBeTrashy

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