For Too Long, waste industry officials say, there has been a disconnect between how the waste industry operates and what the public knows about its operations.

“A lot of people associate [our industry] with the truck going down the street once or twice a week, and they pick up the garbage and it's gone,” says Bruce Parker, president and CEO of Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA). “It's the classic story of out of sight, out of mind.”

Because of that disconnect, NSWMA plans to launch its Everyday Environmentalists campaign — a $650,000, multi-year effort designed to convince the public and government officials that the industry is a responsible steward of the environment and an important part of the community.

The campaign has four components. First, NSWMA will produce a tool kit for the association's members that will help members communicate that the waste industry provides a vital and dependable service to the community and that its operations are innovative and technologically savvy. The tool kit, which targets local government officials and media outlets, is expected to be released by the end of the summer. It will contain press releases, PowerPoint presentations and templates for letters that can be sent to public officials or media outlets to pitch story ideas. Second, a Web site centered on the campaign is expected to launch in early October. The tool kit will also be available on the Web site. The third and fourth components of the campaign include numerous public affairs and media relations activities.

According to NSWMA, by highlighting the environmental efforts of the industry and the relationships companies have in their communities, association members and chapters can build a bank of goodwill and credibility that companies can draw upon when they need support for a local issue, such as permitting a new landfill or transfer station, or policy debates about franchising, service fees and disposal taxes.

Like many industries, the solid waste industry faces a tremendous amount of scrutiny from citizens and regulatory agencies, Parker says, focusing on its commitment to sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint. However, Thom Metzger, recently hired as the director of communications and public affairs for NSWMA, says that the solid waste industry is unique from other industries because of investments in greenhouse gas emission reductions, alternative fuels and recycling commitments. “We're actually doing stuff,” he says.

In the past, Parker adds, most solid waste officials operated under the assumption that no news was good news. As a result, most wanted to be quiet about their objectives and operations. Not anymore. “It's time to come out into the sunlight,” Parker says.