Topic Resources

Tools Used
Initiated By
  • City of Peterborough
  • Local businesses

Few changes in behaviours related to purchase and disposal of lawn care, laundry and cleaning products were identified.

We're Toxic Free

The City of Peterborough conducted a door-to-door pilot campaign to influence residents' behaviours related to the purchasing and disposal of toxic household chemicals. Summer students staffed the campaign in which residents were asked to try non-toxic or less toxic alternatives.


The City of Peterborough wanted people to switch to non-toxic product alternatives. Staff at the City's Waste Reduction Office developed a pilot program which focused on lawn care, laundry, and all-purpose cleaning products.

The pilot ran in the summer of 1996 - with the planned opening of a permanent household hazardous waste (HHW) collection depot in the fall. The city had been promoting the proper disposal of paints, herbicides and pesticides, and it was an opportune time for the promotional campaign. The program was based on the methods developed for The Toxic Challenge.

Delivering the Program

A team of two canvassers conducted door-to-door cold calls within selected middle-income neighbourhoods. The canvassers explained that they were working for the city, and were filling out a checklist.

The checklist first asked information about Blue Box practices, then about consumer products containing toxic chemicals (HHW) purchased in the previous six months. The checklist built motivation in two ways. First, it recognized waste reduction actions already taken. Then, the request to fill out the survey was used to lead to the larger request for participation in the program. The end of the checklist read, "Are you interested in reducing the amount of toxins in your home? If so, we invite you to participate in our 'We're Toxic Free' campaign."

Those who agreed to participate received a kit containing information on the reduction and safe disposal of HHW. The canvassers explained the contents of the kit. Fact sheets were included on alternatives, related health issues, potential environmental impacts, waste reduction, safer disposal methods, and contact names and numbers.(Overcoming Specific Barriers)

The kit also contained stickers with directions to apply them as prompts on specific HHW products in the home (Prompts). The stickers came in a variety of shapes and colours, with words such as "save" or "recycle" printed on them. An accompanying chart provided information about environmentally preferred disposal options.

Included in the kit was a pledge, to be signed by the householder (Obtaining a Commitment). During a follow-up telephone call a week after initial contact, participants were asked if they would agree to their names being printed in a newspaper notice about the project. A sticker which read "We're Toxic Free" was to be placed on the Blue Box to increase visibility of participation (Norm Appeals). Many participants thought that the stickers were misleading because they were reducing their use of toxins rather than totally eliminating them.

Financing the Program

Salaries for two summer students who undertook the pilot program was $3,120. The cost of materials was approximately $500. City staff time, use of office space and equipment, and training was valued at an additional $1,500.

Measuring Achievements

Four hundred homes from the selected neighbourhoods were randomly divided between a control group and an intervention group. Of the 97 people who answered the door, 53 agreed to complete the survey. Of these, all but three committed to participating in the campaign.

When receiving the kits, participants were told that they would soon be reached by phone. This was done about a week later, at which time a survey was undertaken to obtain feedback on the kits, and on changes in behaviour. Participants were then informed about a second call later in the summer, and they were contacted this second time some seven weeks later. At that time, a concluding telephone survey was undertaken, both among the 50 pilot participants and the 50 households in the control group, to collect information about the purchase of, and attitudes toward, HHW, as well as awareness of related environmental issues.


The visits* resulted in few effects on the purchase and disposal of lawn care, laundry and cleaning products. However, those visited were eight times more likely to have disposed of their lawn care products at the HHW depot. This may illustrate a synergy between the pilot program and the promotional campaign for the city's HHW depot. Those visited also claimed to be more likely to switch to a toxic-free laundry or cleaning alternative, and had significantly more positive attitudes towards alternative cleaning products.

* Relative to the control group.


This simple pledge form might have been more effective if the commitment being made was more clearly tied to specific actions.

We're Toxic Free !

We will use the information provided through the "We're Toxic Free" campaign to minimize the use of toxins in our home and yard. We're working at becoming toxic free for the benefit of our health, the Peterborough community and the natural environment.

Signed, _______________

This non-confrontational questionnaire was completed by 60 percent of those approached. All but three agreed to sign the accompanying pledge form.

The "We're Toxic Free" Campaign What materials do you put in your Blue Box?

( ) Cardboard ( ) Metal cans, foil

( ) Boxboard, paper bags ( ) Plastic bottles, tubs, jugs

( ) Newspapers, magazines, fine paper, paperback books

( ) Plastic bags, other film plastic ( ) Glass bottles and jars

Has anyone living here bought or used any of the following products in the past six months?

Yes No Less Toxic Alternative

( ) ( ) ( ) Chemical fertilizers (helps to make the grass grow)

( ) ( ) ( ) Chemical herbicides (kills weeds and unwanted plants)

( ) ( ) ( ) Chemical pesticide (kills bugs on the lawn or in the home)

( ) ( ) ( ) Chlorine-based cleaners (" Ajax" or "Comet")

( ) ( ) ( ) Chlorine bleach

( ) ( ) ( ) Drain cleaners

( ) ( ) ( ) All purpose cleaners

( ) ( ) ( ) Chemical solvents (paint, glue, polishes, correction fluid)

Are you interested in reducing the amount of toxins in your home? If so, we invite you to participate in our "We're Toxic Free" campaign.

Additional key words: pollution prevention


This case study was originally published in 1998 in "Tools of Change: Proven Methods for Promoting Environmental Citizneship" by Jay Kassirer and Doug McKenzie-Mohr (Published by Canada's National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy)

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