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Finding Persuasion in Unexpected Places

posted: 7.30.13 by Traci Gardner

As I did last summer, I spent twelve days this month with my sister on a road trip from Virginia to Utah, with a stay in Salt Lake City for the Stampin’ Up convention in the middle. I learned a number of interesting ideas at the convention, both for my hobby of scrapbooking and cardmaking and for teaching and creativity in general. The most interesting thing that I came upon, however, was the garbage and recycling bins (shown above) in the Salt Palace Convention Center where the event was held.

Unlike the usual bins that I have seen, these containers are boldly marked Landfill and Recycling. For me, at least, those labeled bins were more compelling than any the other I had seen. When I placed something in the Landfill container, I was recognizing that the item wasn’t going to have another life. It was a wasted chance.

I don’t think I was the only person persuaded by the bins either. I noticed more people paying attention to which bin they placed objects in. I even saw people disassembling items to place the components into the correct bin, instead of just tossing things into the trash. One person, for instance, had been munching on a little box of cereal, and I watched as she carefully pulled the container apart so she could place the outside cardboard box into the recycling bin while putting the plastic wrapper that had contained the food into the other.

The side-by-side Landfill/Recycling bins seemed as much an educational and persuasive piece as they did a utilitarian set of bins. The Landfill label made a subtle argument that seemed to influence people to sort their trash and that might even influence them the next time they had to choose between buying something that had to be trashed versus something that could be recycled.

Once I saw the Landfill/Recycling pair in the convention center, I began paying attention to all of the bins I passed. I am always happy to find an option to recycle, but I have never paid much attention to the resources as persuasive texts. For the rest of my road trip, I took photos of recycling bins and garbage cans for comparison to those two from the Salt Palace Convention Center. I still haven’t found another bin that sticks with me in the way that Landfill bin does. Here are my photos, so you can compare what I found:

The more I have looked, the more certain I am that I have happened not only upon persuasion in an unexpected place, but also upon several assignment ideas. I can ask composition students to analyze the different photos to decide which of the trash and recycling bins are most persuasive. After analyzing the images, students can go out on their own hunt, snapping photos of some other object that they encounter in daily life and analyzing the design and underlying messages.

I can challenge technical and professional communications students to consider how the different bins provide instructions (or don’t) and which instructions are most effective. After looking at those examples, students can be challenged to design an even more effective and persuasive labeling scheme for the bins or for another common item they frequently interact with. Items that require subtle messages about safe use would be a strong focus for such a project.

Who knew I would find so much just by paying attention to a garbage can? What do the recycling bins look like on your campus and in the places you visit? Have you encountered anything like the Salt Palace bins in your travels? I would love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

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