Investigative Post: Clever marketing of quirky mascot helps boost recycling in Niagara Falls

May 25, 2016

A little over a year ago, the City of Niagara Falls got serious about its curbside recycling program that, for years, was among the worst in Western New York. Although the city hasn’t quite reached the national average, it has improved enough to outpace the City of Buffalo. Investigative Post reporter Dan Telvock reviewed the two programs and found that sometimes, one clever idea and a simple change in the law can make a big difference.

Niagara Falls residents are now accustomed to rolling their new green recycling totes to the curb after a year’s worth of practice. The city’s hope is the 96-gallon green totes are full of paper, plastic, cardboard and other recyclable materials that, just a few years earlier, had ended up in the garbage.

Recycling rates in Niagara Falls have increased since the introduction of the unusual mascot Totes McGoats.
Credit Twitter

Niagara Falls once had one of the worst curbside recycling rates in Western New York, but not anymore. In the program’s first full year, the city has reached a curbside recycling rate of 17%. That’s more than a 50% increase in one year. 

But it’s not just the curbside recycling program that is working better. The city also reported almost a 20% reduction in the amount of garbage residents throw away. That saves the city more than $100,000 in disposal fees at the landfill.

The city’s recycling coordinator, Brook D’Angelo, credits success to a marketing campaign led by a quirky mascot of a man wearing a goat mask that went viral. That costume cost only $100.

“Maybe the most notable is our buddy Totes McGoats,” said D’Angelo. “The whole purpose wasn’t to be a man in the mask. The whole purpose was to have another way to educate the citizens.”

The city also changed its solid waste law, for the first time in four decades, to limit the amount of garbage a resident can leave at the curb each week to what fits in a blue garbage tote.

“Number one, we are diverting from the landfill, and that is the biggest accomplishment,” said D’Angelo.

Credit Dan Telvock/Investigative Post

In Buffalo, the data shows more modest progress in its curbside recycling program. The city bolstered its program four years ago by replacing small recycling bins with bigger green totes. It augmented that effort last year with a $90,000 marketing initiative.

Buffalo’s curbside recycling rate has inched up the past several years and stands at 14.4%. Although Buffalo did recycle a record amount of materials this past year, the increase was less than 2% from the prior year. Unlike Niagara Falls, Buffalo has not reduced the amount of trash it collects and dumps at landfills. That costs the city more than $5 million annually.

The whole purpose wasn't to be a man in the mask. The whole purpose was to have another way to educate the citizens.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the program is on the track to success.

“We’re measuring it very closely,” said Brown. “We’re doing a number of different things to divert materials from the landfill and we think ultimately, if we continue the program that we’ve established, we’re going to see success.”

The progress in both cities still leaves them well short of the national average of 25% for curbside recycling programs. Brown said his administration will launch an incentives program later this year in an effort to further increase recycling in the city.

D’Angelo said she will continue to focus on educating residents.

“Of course we want to continue educating and I do have some ideas up my sleeve as to get to the point of having people think about what they are buying,” said D’Angelo. “We want to get it up a few points every year until we are decreasing what we’re putting in the landfill significantly.”