Wet wipes are advertised as biodegradable, but in fact, they are not. In the sewer, they cling together and are a magnet for all sorts of horrible stuff and turn into fatbergs that get stuck in the pipes. The people that use them never see this and quite frankly don't want to, it's a disgusting subject.
The people that use them think they're doing the right thing. Wipes are hygienic, the pack tells them the wipes are flushable, and they have nice clean bottoms. If you use them, you like them and if the council starts telling you how you should wipe your bottom you are not going to be very receptive. It is a private and personal choice, what goes on in the bathroom, stays in the bathroom.
It is an unpleasant subject matter. If the council wants to change behaviour, the consumer is not going to listen to them, but they might listen to friends and family. It is not a personal choice but a social issue.
To make the undiscussable discussable, we turn a negative into a positive and create a social cause that everyone can get behind.
We created a rallying cause, "Save our pipes from wipes".
Two tonnes of wet wipes are getting stuck in the pipes each week. It is a jumbo-sized problem, the weight of an elephant, flushed down the toilet each week, so we created a shareable symbol that people could talk about without disgust.
The council could not change bathroom behaviour by appealing to people directly – they tried, sending letters to the streets that were most affected, to no effect. But by turning it into a social issue for Tauranga, it became a discussable subject that was picked up by the press and TV. Friends and neighbours are a lot more persuasive than the body corporate. The barriers to a taboo subject are taken down.
One year on and Tauranga Council has seen a 40% reduction of wet wipes in the sewer system. A massive success and a great story for them and the agency. The campaign picked up its first award, winning the ‘Communicating for Change’ category at the NZ sustainability awards.