Up to 62% of Americans worry that a lack of knowledge is causing them to recycle incorrectly, and 25% of all recycling is contaminated. It’s stats like that that have motivated PepsiCo to continue to grow its investment in recycling education, particularly among school kids.
And now the beverage giant has a secret weapon: Rowley Jefferson.
If you don’t know who Jefferson is, you probably haven’t had a child in middle school at some point in the last decade. He’s the best friend character in author Jeff Kinney’s best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and is now the face of PepsiCo’s annual school-year recycling drive and education program. Under the tagline “Be Awesome! Recycle!,” participating schools will get posters, stickers, temporary tattoos, and more to help encourage kids not only to recycle more but know why it’s important. All this swag, including an “I Voted”-style sticker with “Be Awesome! Recycle!,” will be given to students both as a reward for recycling at school and, the company hopes, to help broadcast their positive action to their friends and establish recycling as not only a social norm but something to be proud of.
“I was thrilled to be asked to be a part of this, because anything that goes towards helping the environment is a good thing, and very much a part of my mission, and my hopes for this next generation,” says Kinney, whose Wimpy Kid series has sold than 200 million copies worldwide and has been translated in 62 languages. “In order to save this world we live in, we really have to activate kids in this next generation to undo some of this mess that we’ve made.”
PepsiCo’s senior manager environmental sustainability Tom Mooradian says the goal was to spark some fresh enthusiasm as well as some personality and pride into recycling among school kids. “We recognize recycling is often perceived as the right thing to do, but it’s only actually done in situations where it’s the social norm,” says Mooradian. “For example, kids might only recycle at home, or only at school, or just at their favorite eatery—but not anywhere else. So we want to try to change that by normalizing it all the time, and we wanted to tap into pop culture, something the students could relate to. This is one of our biggest bets yet, to reach students in an authentic way that’s really going to matter to them.”
This isn’t the first time Kinney has teamed with a major brand for a worthy goal. Back in 2013, he partnered with Pizza Hut on “Book It!,” a program designed to develop a love of reading among school kids. “We don’t really go out looking for partnerships,” Kinney says. “We typically wait for people to approach us, and this one checked all the boxes of what we’re hoping to do and positive changes we’re hoping to make.”
The campaign is part of PepsiCo’s Recycle Rally, which has been going since 2010, a free program that provides recycling funding, resources, and infrastructure to American schools, with a goal of teaching and encouraging proper recycling habits at a young age and close a national shortfall in recycling education.
This year’s edition comes just a few months after Kinney’s newest book hit shelves. It’s a spin-off starring Rowley called Diary of an Awesome, Friendly Kid. Published in April, it was an instant bestseller in the U.S., selling more than 300,000 copies. “He’s a really positive kid, sort of incorruptible in a way, which is what makes the series work,” says Kinney. “We thought it’d be fun to make Rowley the face of the campaign, because I think a lot of kids like the character, a lot of kids can relate to the character, and it’s kids like Rowley who are going to make a difference in this world.”