While I was in Brussels for the European Meeting of TaizÃ©, I was co-responsible for the rubbish collection during meals (with 25,000 people eating in big exposition halls, you need people to take care of the trash they create, obviously).
We would separate bottles from all other rubbish, so we could recycle the empty bottles separately. So, we needed some way to label rubbish containers which were for bottles, and containers which were for other rubbish. While worrying about this, I was told that the company providing the containers had already “taken care” of labelling the containers so that some would be used for bottles and some for other rubbish. Curious as to what they had done, I went to look.
Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures, but basically what they had done was taking 2 A4 papers for each container, printed “PET” on them as big as possible, and stuck them on either side of the container with one piece of doublesided tape.
There are several things wrong with this. First, and most importantly, the target audience (young people from all over Europe and in some cases the rest of the world) will largely have no idea what “PET” even means. In fact, I would guess that some part of the people reading this blog don’t. In the Netherlands and Belgium, it is a fairly common abbreviation used to indicate plastic (even if it’s not strictly speaking PET). 9,000 of the 25,000 people were Polish young people. Some of them don’t speak English very well. Even those who did would most likely have been baffled by the signs.
The other mistakes are smaller: the papers had been attached in such a way that some would be upside down on the other side if the container was opened, and in other cases they were only attached on one side, meaning people approaching from the other would have no idea they couldn’t put their rubbish there.
Finally, using one bit of double-sided tape to attach a bit of A4 paper when there are 25,000 young people coming is naive at best. The papers that we did not take off the containers ourselves had, by the end of the meeting, been taken by the young people, or fallen off.
Instead, our team improvised a different solution. We stuck signs with a big image of a bottle, and the phrase “Bottles only” in several languages on the containers, using large quantities of duct tape. We taped shut the bigger openings of the containers which had two, so only the small opening remained, through which people would have more trouble putting their normal rubbish. And finally, we taped actual empty bottles to the top and sides of the containers.
I guess the lesson I learned from all this is that it is surprisingly easy to make stupid mistakes when you don’t realize who will be using your “product”. For the Belgian rubbish collection company, “PET” was probably clear enough in the case of big expositions with reasonably well-educated Belgian people manning stands from where the rubbish would come… For large crowds of young people from diverse backgrounds, clearly it was not.
Update: Patricia Clausnitzer translated this article to Belorussian.