Grant Program Focus: Outreach partnerships with auto-related stores

Grantee/Jurisdictions Served: Long Beach, Huntington Park, Southgate, Lynwood, Compton

Target Audience: Latino self-oil changers

Oil Collection Increase: 22,171 gallons (38 percent)

Filter Collection Increase: 2,350 filters (55 percent)

Grant Type: Use Oil Opportunity Grant (7th Cycle)

Grant Term: December 2003-February 2007

Total Grant Funding: $281,588

Humans thrive on reciprocity. When someone offers us help or support, we almost instinctively want to return the favor. This was definitely the case when the used oil coordinators of Long Beach and four other cities focused on building supportive relationships with the staffs of certified used oil collection centers (CCC) and other auto-related businesses. In return, the managers and employees at those businesses agreed to actively promote used oil and filter recycling to their customers, increasing oil collection by 38 percent and filter collection by 55 percent on average.

The goal of these five communities was to increase public oil/filter recycling by 15 percent through improved oil/filter collection customer service at CCCs. Since each participating city has a large Latino population with significant numbers of self-oil changers, they focused on this target audience. The cities subcontracted with Stephen Groner and Associates (SGA) to develop and implement strategies to achieve their goal. SGA began by surveying Latino self-oil change mechanics at CCCs in the five cities to determine their used oil and filter recycling attitudes, barriers, and behavior.

Survey Response Data Shapes Outreach Strategy

SGA staff surveyed 812 Latino self-oil changers. Six percent of them reported improper oil disposal and 32 percent disposed of oil filters in the trash. Ninety-four percent usually purchased their auto parts at Kragen or AutoZone stores (which are also CCCs). Respondents believed that "lack of motivation" and "collection site too far away" were the primary reasons for illegal disposal of used oil. Three quarters of them learned how to properly dispose of used oil and filters via word-of-mouth, point-of-purchase (POP) advertisements or signs at auto parts stores. The majority preferred an oil/filter recycling outreach message focused on child protection over two others emphasizing clean neighborhoods and used oil toxicity.

Based on these survey results, SGA implemented two strategies designed to increase Latino self-oil changers' motivation to recycle their used oil/filters and better inform them of convenient oil/filter collection sites in their neighborhood. These strategies consisted of:

  • Recruiting auto parts store CCCs as outreach partners to promote oil/filter recycling to their customers; and
  • Displaying information cards at CCCs and other auto-related stores that focus on protecting children's health and list local oil/filter collection site addresses.

How to Create Outreach Partnerships

To lay the foundation for this effort, SGA created a database of all CCCs and other auto-related businesses in the five participating cities. SGA staff then visited each business to explain the Outreach Partner program to the owner/operator.

When soliciting CCC operators to become an outreach partner, SGA staff always began the conversation by asking "What are the oil/filter collection challenges and needs of your store?" and "How can we help you meet those needs?" SGA staff then offered to provide various kinds of assistance to CCC operators such as supplying them with signs discouraging illegal oil dumping to post outside of their businesses and including their store address and preferred method of customer oil drop-off in outreach materials. This approach established trust and made CCC operators more willing to consider becoming an outreach partner.

A total of 221 CCCs and other auto-related businesses agreed to become outreach partners in the five participating cities. To establish outreach partnerships, SGA staff followed these steps:

  • Met with the regional managers of corporate CSK Auto and AutoZone. Explained the outreach partnership concept to them and requested that they sign letters of commitment  agreeing to direct Kragen and AutoZone franchise owners in the five cities to become outreach partners.
  • Visited all CCCs and other auto-related business in the five cities to request that owners/ managers become outreach partners. Partners were asked to:
    • Allow SGA staff to educate their employees about the importance of used oil/filter recycling and ask employees to sign commitments to promote proper disposal of used oil/ filters to their customers.
    • Actively encourage their employees to promote proper disposal of used oil/ filters to customers.
    • Prominently display English/Spanish "Dump Used Oil and We All Get Soaked" information cards (and in some cases a poster) in their business. Information cards promoted proper oil/filter disposal and listed local used oil/filter collection site addresses. (Download these graphics at under "Locally Developed Materials").
    • Sign a letter committing their business to the promotion of proper used oil/filter disposal and post this pledge in their store.
  • Educated outreach partner employees about the importance of used oil/filter recycling and good used oil/filter Outreach and collection customer service practices. Encouraged employees to sign a "Used Oil Recycling Commitment Letter."
  • Revisited outreach partners periodically to touch base with the manager and employees resolve any problems, congratulate them on the "good job" they were doing to promote used oil/filter recycling, and restock tip cards and posters.
  • Held at least one used oil/filter collection exchange event per city at an outreach partner CCC in a high-density Latino neighborhood. Advertised the collection event by posting a large "Dump Used Oil and We All Get Soaked" banner outside of the host CCC a few weeks prior to the event. Also promoted collection event via distribution of flyers at host CCC and/or local newspaper ads.

Outreach Partnership Results by City

Actively engaging CCC managers and staff as outreach partners significantly increased oil collection in all five cities. Used oil gains per city during the program ranged from 18 percent to 98 percent above historic collection levels (see Table 1 below). Filter collection increases by city were even better with 55 percent being the average increase (see Table 2).

Table 1. Increase in Used Oil Collection in Five Cities From 2004-2006
CityGallons Collected
Gallons Collected
Volume Increase
Long Beach27,24235,8118,56931%
Huntington Park7,03513,9406,90598%
Table 2. Increase in Used Oil Filter Collection in Five Cities From 2004-2006
CityFilters Collected
Filters Collected
(No. of Filters)
Long Beach1,4002,4731,07377%
Huntington Park1,4001,72532523%

SGA conducted another survey at the end of this project to determine if Latino self-oil change mechanics reported any change in oil/filter disposal behavior following the Outreach Partnership program. Reported improper used oil disposal dropped from 6 to 4 percent compared to the baseline survey, indicating partnerships had reduced illegal oil disposal. However, reported improper filter disposal rose from 32 percent to 44 percent, suggesting that Latinos need even more oil filter collection education and filter collection sites (which were limited to Kragens in the participating cities). Since CCCs are not required by law to collect filters, unless more of them volunteer to do so, the number providing oil filter collection will remain limited.

Success Dependent Upon Staff Engagement

Throughout the grant term, local government used oil coordinators from the five cities attended quarterly planning and strategizing meetings with their consultant, SGA. Each coordinator partnered to a varying degree with SGA staff in rolling out their city's campaign. According to the consultant, the relative impact of the Outreach Partnership program on oil and filter collection in the five cities was dependent on multiple factors: the interest and involvement level of city staff; degree of auto parts store participation; and businesses' and residents' openness to grass roots communication.

Says Stephen Groner, principal of SGA: "This approach really requires the development of relationships with people. Person-to-person outreach is a lot harder to implement in the short-term than say, just buying ads or premium items, but in the long-term the relationships payoff and a city can start to see a sense of community build around this issue."

For more information about this project, please contact Stephen Groner at or (562) 597-0205.

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