Tips for recyclable collection and take-back programs at retailers – Waste & Recycling News

Call2Recycle CEO & President, Carl Smith, will be a guest blogger for the month of May on Waste & Recycling News. This is the fourth installment, bookmark this site and check back for new posts each week.

Recent Posts:
Product Stewardship Must Be a Shared Responsibility – May 7, 2012
What is product stewardship? – May 3, 2012
Responsible Recycling – May 1, 2012


Tips for recyclable collection and take-back programs at retailers

North American consumers have come to expect retailers will accept some used items for recycling that they cannot or should not throw away at home. Things like plastic and paper bags as well as Styrofoam trays and egg cartons can be returned to the grocery store, while hardware stores and home improvement centers take things such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and rechargeable batteries. At electronics retailers, the volume and variety of objects brought in are overwhelming. Even so, customers presume stores will have intelligent and responsible collection and disposition programs in place.

How retailers, especially big box stores, collect recyclables is key to encouraging continued consumer participation and affects the residual value of items. Intake by store associates has higher labor cost but can ensure proper and safe handling of items. For instance, it is important when packaging rechargeable batteries to tape the terminals or seal them in individual bags before placing them in the shipping box. The closer attention and sorting by associates means better item separation and, consequently, less contamination and higher residual value.

Consumer sorting has a low potential cost but may not result in appropriate handling or separation of items. Collection centers for customer sorting located at the front of the store benefit customers and retailers. Customers can easily locate collection bins, and retailers are delighted to bring customers through their doors where they may stay and shop. The tradeoff for this visibility is occupying a high-traffic, revenue-generating area with a nonrevenue generating function. This is not an issue when store associates collect the items from customers at an appropriate area. Making sure the storefront collection is as efficient as possible is another way to address this issue.

This location, however, can be problematic by creating a bottleneck if the drop-off process is cumbersome. Some congestion can be abated with a designated, permanent space for the center by conveying the retailer’s commitment to the program. But if the customer is being asked to place items in separate, designated bins it could take time to determine the correct one. The more confusing and cluttered the area, the more likely items will not be sorted correctly and inappropriate items will be introduced into the bins.

Call2Recycle has studied the best practices for collecting recyclables in a self-serve setting. We can offer recommendations in several areas.

  • Communicate explicitly and in the right place: Knees can’t read and graphics work better than text.
  • Simplify the task: Make the bin fit the item.
  • Engage and motivate the consumer: Reward good behavior; provide an element of delight.
  • Make the center appealing and easy to use: Unify bins into a single unit with no flat surfaces for clutter.
  • Demonstrate commitment through planning and long-term dedication.
  • Centralize the collection center in the front of the store: Lower risk from theft and accidents with better supervision.
  • Think beyond the bin: Additional collection at point-of-purchase may increase participation and sales; engaging employees and the community enhances the program.

Use of recycling centers is destined to grow as more and different items are added to the list of recyclables and consumers increasingly utilize the services. While some of the suggestions above may improve the process and help customers correctly sort their items, confusion is bound to arise. Individual consumers are not equipped to make distinctions based on specific materials and there are a finite number of sorting bins that can be added.

One solution is to sort items by type. An easier system might be constructed around categories. For example, consumers rarely think about removing batteries when they turn in small electronics such as cell phones or laptop computers.

As more items are added to the recycling mix it will be beneficial to move from sorting individual materials to categories of materials.

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