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Recycle Coach in Action: Australia’s ACT 2016 Garbage Strike

Wheelie bins lined upMunicipal waste and recycling management is not strictly a public-facing job, but when something goes wrong on the logistical side, your residents can’t help but notice. Mismanaged collection schedules create aggravation and flood your offices with complaints.  Botched communications during a major crisis such as a garbage strike can leave permanent scars on your administration’s reputation.

A few months ago, Australia’s capital region (Canberra and the surrounding areas, also known as the ACT) ran into just this problem.  

Here’s how they rose to the challenge:

Before the Strike:

Australia’s ACT relies on private waste management firms to handle their residential collection services.  Firms are hired on a contract basis, usually for 10 years or so, which means occasional changes to both contractor and employment policies. In 2014, an international conglomerate called Suez Environment won the bid over local operator Cleanaway.  And although many of the local collectors stayed on with the new employer, Suez was only offering two weeks of redundancy payments for employees who were let go or retired, where Clearwater had offered three, and the changes were retroactive.

Facing the prospect of losing weeks, perhaps months of potential severance pay, the workers went on strike. They first walked off the job on Friday, May 13th, 2016.

Communication Problems:

For the ACT waste management offices, the issue was much larger than a single contract dispute. The strike inconvenienced thousands of residents, creating a waste collection backlog and potential health hazards. Alternate drop-off depots had to be set up quickly, and information about the strike, where and how residents could dispose of their waste, and other critical information had to be distributed in a timely, consistent manner.

Luckily, the ACT had already adopted the MyWaste app (powered by RecycleCoach), and they were promoting the app locally through a widespread awareness campaign. This meant that thousands of residents were already on board, and under the circumstances, it made sense to leverage the technology to help educate the affected citizens.

They reached out to us when it became clear that strike action was imminent.

“We will be given 3 days’ notice of garbage truck strikes,” said Lee Constable, former Education and Communications Officer for the ACT. “A large percentage of our population will need to be communicated with on these disruptions and delays to service. We will also need to remind residents of alternative options for disposing garbage.”  At the time, they believed the strike would affect around 20% of the residents in the Canberra region.

Our team jumped in to help, making some last minute changes to the my-waste app to accommodate the ACT administration’s needs.

Surviving the Strike

Solving the communications problem during the ACT waste collection strike required a two-pronged approach.  The ACT offices started by making heavy use of the push notification feature to let residents know which days workers were planning to walk off the job and which areas would be affected.

On the Recycle Coach side, we quickly realized our news feature section was embedded too deeply in the app to be useful in an emergency situation; communication had to be immediate and easy to reference.  To make the app more effective, we reconfigured the app’s home page and made sure that local updates were placed front and centre. Residents could easily check to see if their collection was going to proceed on schedule, and, if not, where they could alternately take their waste for disposal.

To ensure residents received consistent messaging and access to information throughout the strike, the ACT included references to the app in their press releases, community news blasts, and school bulletins.  In the process, they set themselves up to manage the next crisis more easily, now that they had direct access to affected residents.

The ACT continues to use and promote the my-waste app in a variety of places across its municipal websites. Transport Canberra and City Services references the app under “When to put your bins out” and it is featured on their Bin Collection Calendar page.

logo-green.png About Recycle Coach: Recycle Coach specializes in digital solutions for municipal and private waste management services to effectively educate and engage residents. Our technology platforms for web, mobile, and digital assistants focus on education and encouragement to help residents to be better recyclers, with the goal of inspiring positive and lasting change in communities around the world. It is our constant innovation and scalability of services that allow us to meet the needs of over 3000 communities across the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more.  

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