Each member of the focus group was provided with a laptop to navigate P&E web resources. Participants were given 20 min (total) to navigate and review each of the municipal web sites. Facilitators were instructed to observe the focus groups, record the time it took for each participant to find the correct online resource, and tell participants when to switch to a different municipalities web site. Recording participant times (to find the correct resource) was not officially used in the analysis, and was only used as a “check” to see if participants were successfully able to navigate to the website and were answering truthfully when asked if they were able to do so. As a means to avoid (or at the very least, control) for study participants misreporting, the times recorded by facilitators would be used to verify the answers provided during focus group sessions.
Each of the websites shown to focus groups could be translated in up to 14 different languages using the built in “Google Translate” feature. This allowed study participants to select the language they were most comfortable using.
Focus groups were asked to comment on ease of access, clarity, and perceived effectiveness of P&E web resources. Of note, testing for recognition was replaced by “ease of access” when gauging the efficacy of P&E web resources. Focus groups were asked to navigate to the “waste management” section of the municipality’s web site from the city’s home page. Unlike newspaper and print media, there are no specific online advertisements related to recycling promotion and education. Municipalities devote specific sections of their web sites to issues related to regional waste management and recycling. Thus, recognition is not an appropriate measure of P&E effectiveness with respect to online resources.
4.3.1. Ease of Access
This question had to be revised several times during pre-testing, as there was initially some confusion regarding what constitutes “easy” or “difficult” (the original phrasing of the question asked participants to comment on whether it was difficult to find the waste management web page). Other alternatives that had been tested include “did it take you a long time to find the web page?”—the inherently subjective assessment of difficulty and time made it difficult for pre-test participants to accurately answer the question. Also, pre-test participants expressed concerns over being judged if they answered that it was difficult for them to find the web page (tacitly implying that they were not technologically savvy). For this reason, the term “easy” was used (in lieu of difficult or time consuming), as it was a value positive statement. Though this did not overcome the issue of subjectivity, pre-test participants viewed this statement more favorably relative to other alternative phrasing.
48 of 77 focus group participants expressed difficulty in navigating to and within municipal waste websites (commonly coded phrases included “It’s hard to find the information I’m looking for”). This result was consistent with the timed observations recorded by facilitators. The mean time for survey participants to navigate from the municipal home page to the waste management resource page was 4.4 min. In 26 instances, focus group participants were unable to successfully locate one or more of the waste management resource pages.
The second most frequently coded response for this question was that the municipality’s web pages were often translated incorrectly (coded 33 times), making it difficult to locate the appropriate waste related resource. While the Google translate feature was available on each of the municipal web sites, the translation was often inaccurate (mistranslated words and phrases, grammar, etc.). 24 study participants indicated that this was actually insulting to them—anecdotes recorded during the sessions include “If you’re not going to do it properly, don’t bother doing it at all” and “It shows how much they (the municipality) care about us”. The notion of “us” and “them” was a recurring theme during the focus group sessions. There was a sentiment that municipalities catered to “white” households and ignored (or placed less emphasis on) the needs of ethnic minorities.
Some participants felt that the areas they lived in received inferior and/or less frequent waste management services. Personal anecdotes of “Garbage is piling up in my building, but the city does nothing” and “I called the city about what to do with my television, and they said I would have to take it to the recycling center. They picked up my (white) neighbors old television though”. It is important to highlight that the potential reasons for a perceived lack of service are unlikely (or at least, not readily apparent) to be motivated by racial bias on the part of the municipality. In the two anecdotes provided above, both can explained by either infrastructural impediments/deficiencies (i.e., building/property managers are required to arrange garbage collection with either the municipality or a private contractor; many buildings do not have an area specifically designated for recyclable materials generated by multi residential households) and a lack of understanding about how programs are operated (no municipality in the Greater Toronto Area will collect waste electronics directly from households—however, households may arrange for a private service provider to collect waste electronics curbside for a fee). Facilitators were instructed to provide no input during the session, so no attempts were made to clarify these misconceptions.
With the above in mind, the topic of potential racial bias in the delivery of municipal services is a topic deserving of continued investigation. As noted by [26
], the marginalization of ethnic minorities is closely tied to socioeconomic inequality, so it is difficult to divorce the issue of perceived lack of waste management services (on the part of visible minorities) from issues related to institutional racism and discrimination.
Generally speaking, the content contained on municipal web pages were considered clear and easy to understand (responses indicating agreement with the statement were coded 42 times). Despite the challenges in finding the waste resources website and issues surrounding mistranslation, study participants found that web sites provided more detailed content relative to other forms of recycling P&E being tested. Positive comments with respect to “What goes in the Blue Bin” and “Description of the different types of packaging material” were coded 28 and 21 times respectively (see Figure 17
for distribution of all coded responses). Unlike newspaper advertisements and P&E signage, municipal web sites can provide more detailed descriptions and examples to inform readers/viewers.
As observed in Question 2, focus group participants indicated that online resources were more informative relative to other mediums of P&E, and as a result, significantly increased recycling awareness (coded 45 times). Participants indicated that the accompanying visual examples on the website (e.g., pictures of various types of packaging, examples of how to properly wash jars and bottles before putting it in the Blue Box, etc.) were useful in helping increase recycling awareness (the how and where to recycle). However, 16 respondents indicated that online resources did not increase recycling awareness in any meaningful way. Anecdotes noted during the sessions indicate that a language barrier was the primary impediment to increasing awareness among participants who responded “No” to this question. As noted previously, while the Google translate feature was available on the website, mistranslations resulted in confusion among some focus group participants. Municipalities also have a propensity to use sector-specific terms in P&E messaging, i.e., describing juice boxes as Tetrapacks or Asceptic Cartons, or laundry detergent as high density polyethylene, etc. These terms often confused study participants, which is perhaps why visual examples proved so successful in raising awareness. A person may not know what a spiral wound container is, but they recognize the product when shown a picture of it.
Perhaps the most interesting finding from this part of the focus group sessions is that despite increased recycling awareness, 64 of the 77 study participants said that they would not recycle more as a result of online P&E resources. Once again, the majority of respondents said that they were already recycling, and did not necessarily see the purpose of P&E initiatives. As shown in Figure 18
, coded responses from the focus group sessions include “I am already recycling” (coded 59 times), “I’m not going to spend more time than I already am” (coded 43 times) and “It’s all just going to end up in the dump anyways” (coded 27 times). The last comment was of particular interest, in that there was a perception among focus group participants that the city was not actually recycling the material that they collected. A number of respondents were under the impression that the municipality charged residents for recyclables collection (as a tax grab), but secretly sent the material to landfills. In 7 instances, respondents thought that garbage was being shipped overseas to developing countries. Once again, facilitators were instructed not to correct these misconceptions. One respondent indicated that “back home, I would see big shipments of garbage come from other countries and be dumped in open pits”. This practice is expressly forbidden in Ontario; as municipal household waste cannot be shipped outside of the province. Why study participants feel this way, and whether these reflect the attitudes and opinions for ethnic minorities as a whole remains a curiosity and a topic worthy of additional investigation.