L.A. targets polluters with ad campaign
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works has completed a four-month campaign to remind area residents of the steps they can take to prevent stormwater pollution and flooding. Launched in collaboration with the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, the $1 million drive featured radio, print and outdoor advertising.
The campaign focused on four common sources of stormwater pollution: litter from streets, sidewalks and parking lots; animal waste; fertilizer; and pesticides. It encouraged residents to dispose of litter and animal waste in proper containers; and it recommended minimal use of lawn products, dispersed in anticipation of dry weather only.
To publicize their message, the campaign partners created advertisements depicting the impact of pollution on the environment, community health and quality of life. For example, print and transit ads included everyday images such as puppies or fast-food burgers juxtaposed against a takeoff of the Surgeon General’s warning label; and radio segments taught prevention through dramatic and humorous narrative.
Stormwater pollution is a particularly pressing problem in Los Angeles County, where, on a rainy day, millions of gallons of untreated stormwater flow into the county’s lakes and rivers, and into the Pacific Ocean. Annually, the county spends millions of dollars and an enormous number of man-hours removing contamination. (For example, between July 7, 1997, and June 30, 1998, the Department of Beaches and Harbors spent $1.3 million cleaning beaches after storms. And, from September 1997 to May 1998, the department worked with the city of Long Beach to haul nearly 11,000 tons of “beach trash” from storm drain channels.)
The “warning signs” campaign is one component of the Stormwater Public Education Five-Year Plan, which was mandated in 1996 by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The mandate calls for Los Angeles County and its 85 incorporated cities to educate residents and business owners about the impact of stormwater pollution and to provide solutions for reducing the problems.
Officials hoped the advertisements would prompt residents to reduce stormwater pollution at the source. “Our research shows that residents have a desire to do the right thing once they realize what they are doing is harmful,” says Menerva Daoud, program director for the county’s stormwater/urban runoff public education program. “We wanted to give residents the simple steps they need to make a big difference in pollution prevention.”
They have reason to be hopeful. According to Los Angeles-based Pelegrin Research Group, a 1998 campaign to reduce litter in Los Angeles County has resulted in positive changes. For example, the number of cigarette butts thrown on the ground dropped from 1 million per month in 1997 to 800,000 per month in 1998. Similarly, the number of ashtrays emptied on the street decreased from 169,000 per month to 69,000 per month; and paper and other trash decreased from 692,000 pieces per month to 565,000 pieces per month. Daoud notes that the 1999 campaign targets the Los Angeles region’s most likeliest contributors to contamination: the well-intentioned people who are unaware they are polluting.
The “warning signs” campaign came to a close in May, and the county will conduct “segment studies” later this year to reveal any behavioral changes among residents. However, the true measure of success will be reduced levels of trash in the ocean, lakes and rivers, Daoud says.