February 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW2

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A Waste Management Needs Assessment of Oregon County Extension Offices

Many Americans have questions about waste management and would like more objective information on the topic. A question needed to be addressed: Is waste management education an appropriate program for Extension? To answer this question, a survey was developed and sent to county Extension agents in Oregon. Results show that agents have an interest in conducting waste management educational programs. Most agents prefer ready-to-use waste management educational materials such as fact sheets, videos, and mass media. The survey was easy to administer and useful in determining the appropriateness of new subject programming for Extension in Oregon.

Michael E. Bauer
Extension Horticulture Agent
Oregon State University
Redmond, Oregon

Environmental issues now affect almost all Americans. In Oregon, for example, the Umatilla Army Depot and the Hanford Nuclear facility have been designated Superfund sites by the EPA. Solid waste from many American cities are being shipped across state lines to huge rural landfills. Yet, many rural communities are facing the closure of their landfills. The USDA Cooperative Extension Service, with its mission deeply rooted in improving the quality of life for American citizens, seems the ideal agency to help provide information and education on local waste management.

In July 1992, a survey was undertaken to measure the perceptions of local Extension faculty in Oregon regarding the role of the Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Service in waste management education. A pilot survey was sent to four agents and specialists who would not be involved in the final survey. In December 1992, the survey was edited and sent to 36 local Extension faculty in Oregon. Two follow-up telephone calls were made to each survey contact in January 1993 to encourage them to return their surveys. Twenty-seven surveys (75%) were returned by the end of January 1993.

Clientele Needs

The results of the survey show that waste management programs are perceived by county faculty to be of medium to urgent need. However, they felt waste management education is a medium to low priority compared with other educational program needs. Oregon county faculty indicated clientele are aware and interested, but sometimes have difficulty finally adopting waste management practices. Recycling and household hazardous wastes were the two areas described by agents where citizens are in the most need of education and information.

Interagency Possibilities

Sixty-seven percent of responding county faculty had current waste management education programs in their jurisdiction being conducted by agencies other than the OSU Extension Service. Indications are that Oregon has many agencies conducting waste management education programs. This suggests that the best role for Extension in Oregon is as an interagency member or coordinator rather than that of providing the resources without help from other agencies.

Delivery Methods

The preferred delivery methods, according to the survey results, are the more informal methods such as fact sheets or videocassettes. Indeed, county faculty are already short of time and spread too thin in current program commitments. Survey respondents not generally in favor of taking on waste management education programs tended to prefer many of the ready-to-use educational methods, such as fact sheets and videos.


Oregon Extension agents indicated an interest in waste management education programs, but are reluctant to commit to another educational project. In any case, county Extension faculty would prefer ready-to-use waste management education materials and methods such as fact sheets. They also indicated that other agencies are and should continue to be involved in waste management education programs. Faculty indicated waste management information should not be delivered to a specific group, but through mass media to the general public. Currently, funding sources are being investigated to develop fact sheets and other ready-to-use materials based on the responses to the needs assessment. The survey was easy to administer and summarize, and I would highly recommend this type of tool be used in any situation where new subject matter areas are being integrated into Extension programs.