It’s 2020. Estimates say that the material recovery industry
loses $300M annually because consumers simply don’t know what materials to be
tossing in residential recycling bins. How did we get to this point? With at-will
availability of all kinds of information via our mobile devices, it’s baffling
that consumers still don’t have the information they need to recycle right.
We’re going to change that. (You knew that was coming,
First, let’s address the fact that many variables impact a
consumer’s ability to recycle right. Markets for recovered materials have
changed. Packaging has become complex – it’s not just glass, paper, cardboard,
and aluminum/tin cans, anymore. Processing equipment has become antiquated and
unable to meet the demands of new packaging materials. All of these variables
create constant changes to local recycling program guidelines.
Yet, when you talk to the average consumer, the vast
majority of people say they do recycle and want to recycle. Our waste audits in
the City of Wausau and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus provide
all the evidence we need that consumers want to recycle.
The industry is working hard to make recycling work.
Taskforces are researching new market opportunities for use of recovered
materials. Processing infrastructure upgrades are slowly taking place across
the country. But communicating with the public about how to recycle right?
So far, the solution has involved simplifying and
generalizing messages: No plastic bags or plastic wrap. Plastic #1 and #2
containers-only. Cardboard boxes – yes.
The problem is that the load of groceries you just brought home
doesn’t look anything like the general messaging you’re seeing in local
guidelines (if you’re seeing those guidelines at all).
We’re coming at this problem from another angle: Be as
specific as possible.
What if your grocery receipt told you exactly how to
properly recycle all of the products you just purchased? What if you could give
your kids your phone to scan the UPC barcodes of products in your pantry to learn
how to recycle products you buy? What if your grocery delivery app told you
exactly how to recycle all of the packaging for the products you just purchased?
It’s 2020. We have the technology. Would you use it?
We’ve spent the past three days up in the very early AM to get a peek inside resident recycling and refuse carts in the City of Wausau, WI. ERbin, in partnership with Rocket Industrial, a packaging solutions provider with its headquarters also in Wausau, is conducting a waste audit for the city. The goal is to learn about resident recycling behaviors so that we can provide better education to residents about how to recycle right.
All stakeholders involved – everyone from the Marathon County Solid Waste Dept., to the private hauler, Harters, to the City of Wausau, to ERbin and Rocket Industrial – we’re all looking to find ways to decrease the amount of materials that end up in landfills.
After three days of audits in Wausau, we’re learning that
the rockstar recyclers and residents who need a little more education are incredibly
geographically diverse. Which begs the question, why are some residents putting
more of the right materials into their carts than others?
It all starts with the packaging designers and manufacturers. That’s why we are thrilled Rocket Industrial decided to get involved with the city waste audit. Rocket works directly with brands and manufacturers to help them package with less and with other options such as increasing the recycled content in packaging material. When packaging engineers can see first-hand how consumers make disposal decisions about product packaging, they can re-think packaging design that will lead to more sustainable disposal options.
Curbside audits are a great first step in addressing
barriers to recycling right. We’ll be back with more audit findings. For now,
enjoy the cart photos from our audit thus far.
We can’t believe it has been six months since we launched the very first version of ERbin in Weston, WI! Thanks to the amazing Weston beta tester feedback, we’ve iterated on the app’s user interface many times, and have added thousands of more products for users to scan.
That means we are ready for a Weston re-launch! Beginning on Monday, September 30, Weston residents will be able to jump on Google Play or the App Store and download the newest version of ERbin (search for erbin).
After you download, have some fun in your kitchen, bathroom, or utility closet and start scanning or searching for products or instructions on how to recycle in Weston recycle bins. Remember, recycling instructions in the app are specific to Weston’s Advanced Disposal customers. That’s because Advanced takes Weston recovered materials to the Portage County Material Recovery Facility (MRF) for processing. Weston neighbors in Wausau or Kronenwetter have a different recycling service provider and processor. The guidelines vary by community – crazy, huh?!
Also super important – Head to Facebook and search for ‘Weston, WI Recycles’ Facebook Group to join an ongoing conversation with us and your fellow Weston friends about how to recycle right. You’ll be able to get answers to questions we are all asking, when it comes to knowing what is acceptable in Weston recycle bins.
About 10 weeks ago, we challenged our Weston, WI ERbin app beta testers to scan as many products as possible before June 6 – the last day of school for the DC Everest School District. The purpose of the scan challenge was to (1) motivate testers to continue using the app (so we can make it better), (2) educate about what’s actually acceptable in Weston recycling bins, and (3) raise money for Recycling Connections so that they could do some recycling infrastructure analysis and education for staff and students and Weston Elementary School.
Awesome news! Our testers scanned 716 products during that time period. That means we get to donate $358 to Recycling Connections!
We are so grateful to have an amazing org like Recycling Connections right here in central WI! And we’re thrilled that staff at Weston Elementary gladly jumped into the opportunity to do more good for their school, students, and the earth!
What’s next for ERbin? We are spending the summer loading thousands of products into our app’s database, among many other exciting developments! The more products we have in our database, the closer we become to bringing the app to residents across the county so we can ALL recycle right.
The war on contamination in the residential recycling stream
doesn’t stand a chance.