Sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) contribute pathogens, nutrients and other contaminants to surface waters across the state. According to the MD Dept. of Environment, between 2005-2015, more than 9,000 SSOs discharged approximately 900 million gallons of raw untreated sewage into MD streams. Of these, 40% were reported to be caused by blockages of grease, rags, trash. We developed a social marketing campaign to encourage proper disposal of household grease and baby wipes in order to reduce this preventable pollution problem. Our campaign focused on the use of a pledge drive conducted at churches and food pantries in the City of Baltimore. In the first year of the campaign, 729 people pledged to properly dispose of grease and wipes. Results of our formative research and campaign suggest that grease disposal is an easier behavior to influence that wipes disposal.


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

Behavior Pattern: Continous

Why was this behavior selected?

9,862 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.

Are there component behaviors to the target behavior?

Component behaviors for proper grease disposal include 1) putting the grease into a container and 2) identifying a place to properly dispose of the grease. Component behaviors for proper wipe disposal include 1) putting the wipes into an enclosed bag and 2) identifying a place to properly dispose of the wipes.

What are the competing behaviors to the target behavior?

  • It's too much trouble
  • People don’t know how to collect the used grease.
  • It’s messy, people don’t want spills in their trash or home.

This information came from the "Due Diligence Test Panel," a standing body of U.S. residents who provide feedback on marketing materials and perform related tasks in return for payment. A major corporation recruits the board members, maintains the feedback system, and acts as a financial middleman. Water Words That Work, LLC devised the questionnaire and subscribed to the service to collect the information.

Target Audiences

Audiences: Apartment renters, Rowhome/town home/condo owners/renters, Detached single family homeowners/renters

Primary Audience: Rowhome/town home/condo owners/renters

Secondary Audience: Detached single family homeowners/renters

Demographics: Black or african american

Ages: 18-24, 25-34, 35-44

Description of Target Audience

Our target audience in the City of Baltimore as predominantly non-white and very low income. Incomes are lower than the state median income and the poverty rate is high in most of these neighborhoods within the city. In the identified Baltimore neighborhoods, homeownership rates are lower than the state average. Most residents have not finished high school, with only one to two out of every four people that have a high school diploma. Less than one-in-ten people have a four year college degree or higher.


How did you research your audiences: Electronic surveys


Grease disposal is a relatively easy behavior to change, particularly when grease disposal is made easier with prompts and collection containers. Those engaging in improper wipes disposal is a small discrete audience of repeat offenders whose behavior will be more difficult to change.

External factors

Wipes are marketed as "flushable" on the packaging therefore it is difficult to change perceptions about their impact.


Panelists reported the strongest statements regarding the desired behavior were “it is my moral responsibility to put cooking used fats, oils, and grease in the trash” and “putting used cooking grease in the trash prevents clogged plumbing at home.”

Here are some quotes of note from the panel about the benefits they perceive for themselves and others:

? I would throw grease in the trash because I don't want my drains clogged.

? Because pouring oil down the drain would be damaging to my plumbing in the long run.

? To prevent clogged drains and plumbing bills.

? Putting used cooking oil into the drain will clog it up.

Gaining insight into your target audience

A pilot campaign was implemented in one church adjacent to a target hotspot neighborhood. The pastor informed the church of the upcoming pledge drive for several weeks prior to the actual pledge drive. The church was visited on 4/23, 5 PM mass and 4/24, 10 AM mass. These two masses, which are the only masses offered by the church, were attended by approximately 250 people, primarily of African Americans. At the end of each mass, information about FOG and wipes was presented to the congregants. They were encouraged to participate in the pledge drive and in exchange received either grease can lid or pan scraper as well as $1/pledge to the church’s charity. 172 pledges were received. Tips for grease disposal were included in the church bulletin for multiple weeks after the pledge drive.

The church was visited again to determine if congregants had kept their pledge as well as to gather feedback on other products that may help prompt individuals and make proper grease disposal easier. 75% of 28 survey respondents reported on keeping their pledge. 65.4% of respondents stated that the can lid or scraper helped them to remember to dispose of grease in the trash . We asked the congregants if a drain stopper with a reminder message and/or grease disposal bag would help remind them to dispose of grease and 50% said that the drain stopper with reminder message of “No Grease” would help them. One person noted that it would help, “Because there is a physical reminder in the place where I would normally put the grease.” Fourteen people tested the drain stopper and grease bag options. They generally reported that these products were helpful in reminding them to dispose of grease in the trash. Several people noted that the grease bags would be better if they were bigger. We also asked people what would be the best way to help remind them not to dispose of wipes in the toilet and 47.1% said that a reminder (e.g. sticker) on the wipes package itself would be the best way.


Outreach Tactics: How-to-skills, Prompts, Public commitment statements

What media/communication channels did you use? Newspaper, Organization methods (through constituents of influential community organizations), Small group or public meetings, Social media

Products and services

We utilized a pledge drive implemented at trusted institutions of churches and food pantries. Grease can lids and pan scrapers were distributed to those taking the pledge as well as a donation to the food pantry of choice.

Cost or Trade Off

Because a barrier is that proper grease disposal is perceived as messy, giveaways such as pan scrapers and can lids, along with how-to information were provided during the pledge drive. How-to information was also provided on the web-site, www.cleandraincampaign, where online pledges were collected.


For grease, the behavior happens in the kitchen. We explored the use of drain stoppers with No Grease messaging and grease collection bags for easier disposal however, imprinted drain stoppers are not readily available and grease bags are too expensive to give away.

Primary Messages

Our primary message during the campaign was "Help the Hungry, Protect Your Pipes." Our message was delivered in churches by Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. Our message would have been more effective in those churches with actual associated food pantries. Because of the disconnect between church and pantry institutions in most case, the message was less clear for the congregants.


How did you measure impact? Survey

Total People Reached

729 people participated in our pledge drive through outreach conducted at 5 churches and 9 food pantries.

Most significant lessons learned

Some challenges that were identified included: 1.Timing – the pledge drive being held the month prior to Easter was difficult as churches were focused on other efforts (i.e. recruitment of congregants). 2.Promotional materials and website were not ready until end of February making it hard to promote a new idea with enough lead time for congregations to decide to participate. 3.Building trust with new congregations takes time. 4.Assumption that churches in hotspot area with food pantries would participate. Not many churches in SSO Hotspot area had food pantries that could benefit from the donation. (It costs a church $750 to be a registered food pantry).

What worked?

Pledge drives take years to develop and we had high participation given that it was the first year of our campaign. Press releases, social media, church and pantry outreach all contributed to high participation. "Freebies" encourage participation and serve as prompts for the desired behavior when taken home as shown by our pilot project survey. Providing churches and pantries with draft messages to use in bulletins, at sermons and with clients enouraged particpation in the camapaogn.

What were the most significant limiting factors to greater success?

Pledge drives take years to develop and we had high participation given that it was the first year of our campaign. Press releases, social media, church and pantry outreach all contributed to high participation. "Freebies" encourage participation and serve as prompts for the desired behavior when taken home as shown by our pilot project survey. Providing churches and pantries with draft messages to use in bulletins, at sermons and with clients enouraged particpation in the camapaogn.

Who helped you with this program/Campaign?

Our project team consisted of Chesapeake Bay Trust, Ridge to Reefs, Lori A. Lilly Environmental Solutions, City of Baltimore, Water Words That Work, Interfaith Partners of the Chesapeake, and WalMart.

Advice Or Suggestions

Some recommendations for improvement in the future include:

  • The campaign should be held in the fall or earlier in winter, potentially focusing on gearing up to Thanksgiving to incorporate church holiday food drives/collections and meal distribution.
  • There needs to be a more direct link between donations given and the churches holding the drive. Could open up donations to Soup Kitchens (serving prepared foods usually one time per week or month) in addition to food pantries. One church specifically asked this and would have been willing to promote the campaign at their Soup Kitchen if they could reinforce the direct benefit to their recipients.
  • Increase geographic boundary to include more churches that have registered food pantries.
  • Include location of donation recipients/food pantries on pledge form to help pledgers identify food pantry closest to their location.
  • Include an actual pledge form to be included in the bulletin (would need to be made smaller).
  • Consult with food pantries prior to onset of creating next campaign to get direct input as to what will work.
  • Survey pledge takers with only phone numbers
  • Location, location, location – in doing an information table it is imperative to be visible at the END of services to engage with congregants after they have received the message. Being available prior to service, if allowed, is beneficial as well.
  • Must budget enough time for repeated visits to churches to earn trust, as well as to be present for entire service.