I really tried not to write about the recycling debacle we’ve been dealing with. But, it crept out in my last post and I’ve uncovered a truly valuable lesson for corporate communicators. Some background is required.

Acting upon the suspicions of a family member with the same trash and recycling collector that the collector is mishandling recyclables, I began a deeper investigation in January. I contacted all of the recycling facilities in our area that take what’s called “single stream.” This means you don’t have to separate your stuff. They separate the recycling into groups such as glass, aluminum, paper, etc. They don’t separate recycling from trash however.

I discovered that our collector had not dropped any recycling at any area facilities for two months. So, where was it going? All of the facilities I talked to were quite forthcoming – they have passion about recycling. I found I could call almost any of the facilities and get information about what was dropped, when, how it was coded, who dropped it, etc. One place even sent me the actual dump ticket they create when a drop is made. The creation of such a ticket is a regulatory requirement by the way.

I kept detailed notes (there’s a ton more detail I just won’t go into here). My husband followed and video taped the truck putting trash and recycling into the same truck and dropping it all at a trash facility that doesn’t take recyclables. I decided to let the pros have a turn at creating some visibility for what I believe to be a fraud case. Understand that the collector claims his service includes collection of single-stream recyclables, even providing our community with flyers from several recycling facilities in the area about what can be recycled.

I turned everything over to a local TV station. The reporter called me when she got frustrated. “Everyone sends me to their PR people and no one wants to give me information,” she said in exasperation. “They’ll talk to you, but they don’t want to talk to the media. Their policy won’t allow them to.”

Media and PR policy typically dictates who can talk to the media. Most companies are very strict about this. I’ve been there in corporations, I know. But, when that policy restricts our ability to fix a community problem, something is truly wrong with the process. Obviously, this is a scenario that none of these companies ever anticipated in their media planning. I can hear it now…

“What if we find out an independent collector is fraudulently selling our recycling services as part of his service? But, he’s really sending the recycling to the dump and the homeowners are mad? Let’s put that one in the column titled ‘When We Collaborate with the Media’.”

Yea, right. It does beg the question, when do you bend your policy in order to make the right thing happen? This is a great conversation to have in the communication team. It could lead to a very positive community involvement story. It could lead to a lot of good will for the brand. But, if you are so staunch about your policy – we shall not bend – then you may never know what you missed.

Moral here? Have the conversation about when and why you might bend before you need to do the bending. Then, be ready to bend when appropriate. Make sure you have the right people involved in the decision to bend, and plan how you’ll play the bending to employees and external stakeholders alike.