The goal of this project is to develop a social marketing campaign to encourage proper disposal of household waste, with the ultimate goal of reducing sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) caused by disposal of improper materials into the sanitary system. We will target residents of multi-family apartment buildings and restaurant staff to develop our social marketing campaign. Of all SSOs reported to MDE to date, 40% were caused by blockages resulting in 15.7 million gallons of untreated sewage discharges. This project will use advanced social marketing to achieve significant water quality improvements and results will be directly transferable to municipalities Bay-wide.


Behaviors: Septic system maintenance, Stopping disposal of fats, oils, and grease, as well as pharmaceuticals from being poured down the drain

Behavior Pattern: One-time

Why was this behavior selected?

9,862 Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) discharged 957 million gallons of raw, untreated sewage into Maryland streams from January 1, 2005 – September 20, 2014 (MDE CSO/SSO Master database). Of these SSOs, 40% were caused by blockages related to grease, rags, trash and other inappropriate material placed into the sanitary sewer system, resulting in 15.7 million gallons of untreated sewage discharges (Figure 1). These water quality violations represent a controllable pollution problem that can be addressed through concerted and targeted social marketing campaigns. Many large cities in the Bay area are working under Consent Decrees to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) associated with rainfall and inflow/infiltration (e.g. Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission). While this is an important effort that will require significant investment in sanitary sewer infrastructure improvements, SSOs caused by inappropriate disposal of materials into the sanitary system can only be reduced through continuous and targeted education and outreach efforts to homeowners and businesses.

Target Audiences

Audiences: Restaurants, Apartment renters, Rowhome/town home/condo owners/renters

Primary Audience: Restaurants

Secondary Audience: Apartment renters

Demographics: Asia/pacificislander, Black or african american, Hispanic or latino, Native american or indian, Other, White

Ages: N/A

Description of Target Audience

We will conduct a statewide “hotspot assessment” (see below) and use a County-wide focal area for studying our target audience as well as to receive overall feedback on our Social Marketing Campaign elements. For our focal work, we will work in partnership with Howard County Bureau of Utilities. Howard County’s population is 62% White, 18% African American, 14% Asian and 6% Hispanic. As of the 2000 census, there were 247,842 people, 90,043 households, and 65,821 families residing in the county. The population density was 983 people per square mile (380/km²). There were 92,818 housing units at an average density of 368 per square mile (142/km²). There were 90,043 households out of which 40% had children under the age of 18 living with them. The average household size was 2.71 and the average family size was 3.18. The County has over 400 restaurants and 270 apartment buildings. The Bureau of Utilities has a Fats, Oil and Grease outreach program, which includes some brochures and tabling opportunities at events such as the Howard County GreenFest. We intend to reach our targeted audience through the Bureau of Utilities for our test pilot as well as through direct engagement with property owners identified from the Hotspot Target Assessment.

We have identified two potential audiences that we will target for our project: restaurant staff and apartment building residents. Restaurants are currently a target audience for local government / utility Fats, Oil and Grease (FOG) outreach programs. Apartment building residents have been identified through a previous research study conducted by the University of North Carolina Charlotte as well as anecdotally through our project partner, the Howard County Department of Utilities.

In order to verify and further segment our target audience, we will map the location of SSOs caused by the improper disposal of wastes from the Maryland Department of Environment’s reporting and publicly available database. This map will be used to help determine geographic “hotspots” of SSO activity based on density and recurrence of SSOs. The maps generated from this effort will be very useful for education and outreach programming regarding SSOs.

Water Words That Work will use their “Target Audience Profiler Tool” to profile hotspot areas and compile findings from the US Census, market research databases, Facebook, LinkedIn and other resources. This analysis will help us to set informed goals and make smart choices about how to deliver our message. Water Words That Work will research media outlets in our target areas and create a list of journalists, which will help us to reach our target audience via formats such as press releases, Op Eds, and public service announcements.


How did you research your audiences: Intercept surveys


? There is a general lack of awareness that grease should not go down the drain.

? There is a general lack of awareness that grease clogs lead to sanitary sewer overflows and a commensurate lack of awareness that these clogs may precipitate environmental and human health hazards.

? Women seemed to know more about what not to do than what they should do. Many participants were aware that they should not pour grease down the drain but were confused about correct disposal practices.

? Men who looked at their water bills regularly said they ignored everything but the amount due on the bill itself. In strong contrast, many of the women recalled such messages in bills and in mass media outlets.

? Focus group members reported only scant or nonexistent advice provided by apartment complex staff. Some women said apartment complex staff never told them that they should not pour grease down the drain. If they received written messages at all about this behavior, they were in English and could not be easily understood.

? A number also reported receiving improper FOG advice (e.g., being directed to wash grease down the drain with hot water and soap) from apartment complex maintenance staff.

Gaining insight into your target audience

Our project will begin with a statewide assessment and mapping effort to identify hotspots of SSOs based on density and/or recurrence. We intend to visit a selection of the identified hotspots to obtain a visual reference and investigate associated drainage areas to complement the target audience profile components of this project. Site visits will also allow us to assess the community, their communication avenues, overall activity in the hotspot areas, and demographics that will feed into our SSO Social Marketing Campaign as well as inform our future Phase II implementation. In our focal work in Howard County, we will work with the Bureau of Utilities to vet our approach, message and overall SSO Social Marketing Campaign to gain input based on their professional experience and outreach capacity. Howard County and Ridge to Reefs have an existing partnership through the County’s Office of Environmental Sustainability and Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth (READY) program with recent funding from CBT. We will also work with the Howard County Tourism Office as a venue for interaction with local restaurants and Howard County Department of Licenses, Inspections and Permits as potential venue for interaction with apartment buildings. We will solicit help from Howard County’s existing environmental organizations for feedback on our SSO Campaign as well as for assistance with testing our pilot.


Outreach Tactics: Feedback, Public commitment statements, Social diffusion

What media/communication channels did you use? E-mail, Face to face, Online or other digital media, Small group or public meetings

Products and services

We intend to address the 4 P’s of Marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion through our project. Potential Products, which will be refined based on the audience assessment work, include grease container lids, grease scrapers and/or laminated placards that can be placed near sinks (Figure 1). These promotional items will be distributed for free to restaurants and apartment building residents during Phase II of the project. Promotional items will be distributed to restaurants at their place of business during inspections or other contact opportunities by the Utility Department. Promotional items will be distributed to apartment building residents through apartment building managers during an opportunity when they regularly interact with the residents.

Primary Messages

We want restaurant staff and apartment building residents to see disposal of grease in the trash or recycling as the proper course of action and as more beneficial than disposing of these materials in the sanitary system, which can clog drains and cause sanitary sewer overflows.


How did you measure impact? Tracking

Most significant lessons learned

The ultimate success of this project will be shown through a decrease in the number of sanitary sewer overflows associated with blockages within our target area. After completion of Phase II, we will track this metric in the identified hotspot areas throughout the grant period to assess whether the messaging techniques are effective at reducing SSOs. At this point, we intend to compare results from this analysis to that of another hotspot area where the messaging is not being implemented (the “control”). Final evaluation measures for Phase II will be refined during this first phase of the project.

In order to evaluate our social marketing campaign, we will utilize conceptual testing with our target audiences. Conceptual testing will allow us to gain valuable feedback regarding our positioning, price, product and place. After obtaining this feedback, we will revise our social marketing campaign to integrate the results into our overall campaign to pilot.

To test our campaign concepts, we will conduct focus groups and interviews with our target audiences, restaurant staff and apartment dwellers. We will reach out to our target audiences by 1) conducting site visits to restaurants during less busy times of the day; 2) arranging for focus groups during gatherings such as local business association meetings; and 3) conducting interviews at apartment buildings. We will use the concept testing phase to learn information such as the following:

  • What products and messages work best;
  • Ensure that proposed incentives are enough to alter behavior;
  • Assess convenience;
  • The most compelling positive benefits of doing the behavior; and
  • Obtain general feedback.