“I Want to Be”… A Nation that Recycles

Bins with blue lids line our residential streets, while the instantly recognizable “chasing arrows” quietly live on the products we use every day. Both are constant reminders that recycling, no longer a niche issue, has made it to the national stage.

From a very young America using scrap metal and paper to provide material for the Revolutionary War, to recycling’s role in helping the country move out of the Great Depression, to the now famous “Crying Indian” ad campaign released by the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful in 1971 to compel each citizen to consider how his or her actions impacts the environment, recycling has traditionally been a source of patriotic responsibility. And yet, the recycle brand is stagnant today, with a national recycling rate of just 34 percent (ranking the U.S. seventh in the world).

Despite high awareness and strong infrastructure, recycling is a much more complex and nuanced topic than it first appears. To start, recycling has its share of skeptics — people who don’t believe it’s worth the effort or simply don’t care. Additionally, every city has different rules for how and where people can recycle, and there are separate recycling protocols and varying benefits for each type of material. Most importantly, people have their own personal reasons for recycling.

When detractors and committed recyclers are filtered out, most Americans can be categorized as “sporadic recyclers.” These consumers understand the very basics of recycling, but lack the real motivation that connects them to the cause. Sporadic recyclers often recycle the easy stuff, but are quickly distracted from establishing recycling as a routine. They require tangible benefits and emotional connections to get them to act.

Working on this campaign has been an eye-opening experience for us. When the team began developing the strategy, we quickly realized recycling meant something very different for everyone. So we set out in search of an idea that could unify our team, and the country, around this issue. We talked to industry experts, behavioral psychologists and dozens of consumers. We found the one thing that made recycling matter was the potential for trash to become something more. It was inspiring moment, and in an interesting way, that’s what this country is all about – second chances, opportunity and re-birth.

Within this context, we developed the “I Want to Be” campaign to revitalize recycling, and emotionally engage a new generation of Americans with the cause.

recycling bench

recycling bike

Our Goal

Educate and emotionally motivate Americans to adopt recycling in their everyday lives.

Our Strategy

Personify our trash and dramatize the potential of each item we discard to “live” a meaningful second life.

We aimed to appeal to people’s rational need for facts while also opening their hearts through the emotional and imaginative representation of the product life cycle.

Our Campaign

The “I Want to Be” campaign uses a combination of emotional storytelling and real-world examples to address the alarming fact that most of the trash Americans produce is actually recyclable. Television, out-of-home and digital advertising highlight how everyday trash can be transformed into amazing things like bicycle frames, park benches and even football stadiums. We utilized corporate partnerships to place the campaign messages directly on packaging and show people how the products they love have the potential to live on as new bottles, cans, bikes and more.

Through our partnership with the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful, we look forward to fulfilling the promise of making America a world leader in recycling.

Guest bloggers Justin Cox and Nick Chapman

About Guest bloggers Justin Cox and Nick Chapman

Justin Cox has spent the last decade helping companies solve their business problems through the lens of the competitive and cultural landscape. His experience spans across traditional and digital advertising, brand management and product development. As a Strategy Director at Pereira & O'Dell, his work for Skype, Guitar Center, and Intel has been recognized by Cannes, Effies and the One Show. Prior to joining Pereira & O'Dell, Justin spent time developing digital strategies for Microsoft, Levi's and Sony at Razorfish, and at Publicis & Hal Riney, where he worked with brands like Altoids, Walmart, Beam Global Spirits, Hungry Man and 24HR Fitness. Justin has been a featured speaker at SXSW and written articles published by Fortune and WSJ.com. Nick Chapman joined Pereira & O’Dell from Venables Bell and Partners where he was Director of Brand Strategy for all ConAgra brands (Orville Redenbacher's, Slim Jim and Chef Boyardee), VIZIO and HBO in addition to projects for clients like Audi, Coca-Cola, 24 Hour Fitness, Sansa, Mondavi, Barclays Financial, and iShares. Nick started his career as an Account Executive at Saatchi & Saatchi in London working on Sony and British Army recruitment before switching to Account Planning with a move to TBWA London to work primarily on beer, finance and utilities for brands like Virgin and Holsten Pils. Nick moved to the States in 2002 and worked at TBWA Chiat Day Los Angeles on Playstation, Shell aftermarket brands and the relaunch of the Pedigree brand globally. At Pereira & O'Dell, Nick oversees brand strategy across the agency's entire client portfolio.


  1. Interesting says

    Interesting piece. Nick Chapman and Justin Cox really made me think about recycling a little differently.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>