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Industry Sorts Out Post-Consumer Waste Dilemma

Industry Sorts Out Post-Consumer Waste Dilemma

Bottle deposit programs, condensed and biodegradable packaging, and reusable shopping bags have slowed the momentum of post-consumer waste. But the crux of the problem resides curbside where rubbish mingled with recyclable papers, plastics, metals and glass waits, destined for a landfill.

A lot of Americans don't recycle because it's inconvenient. Unless you live within nose-shot of a fetid landfill, the chore is easy enough to ignore. Especially in areas lacking curbside programs.

Limited kitchen space is another hindrance. Not to mention the confusion people feel about the proper ways to sort.

The bad news for industry players who've worked to minimize waste at the supply chain, warehouse and store levels is that the post-consumer waste dilemma is, for the most part, out of their hands; insoluble. At least that's what I thought until I heard about a growing program that involves municipalities and local hauling companies, supermarkets and CPG manufacturers, and a green rewards program called RecycleBank.

The model is helping to scale the aforementioned hurdles.

Here's how. Participants throw all of their papers, plastics, metal and glass in a special bin that contains a unique RFID chip (no sorting required).

A truck with an RFID reader links the bin to a household account, weighs its contents and hauls them off. A RecycleBank Point is credited to an online account for each pound recycled. Points can be redeemed for grocery discounts.

“We ask consumers to take an easy green action so we don't have to twist anyone's arm,” Azim Esmail, director of rewards development for RecycleBank, told me.

Rewards are motivational since they're relevant, with hundreds of local businesses participating. The program won't save you thousands, more like $200 per year, but it works since you can earn discounts where you already shop. Grocery rewards are the most frequently redeemed, said Esmail.

In Los Angeles, you can spend 20 points on a coupon for $5 off when you spend $50 at Vons and Pavilions, or in River Forest, Ill., a free private-label CFL light bulb for spending $25 at Whole Foods. Up to about 50 points can be earned during a single pickup.

Towns save money on landfill disposal fees, consumers on groceries and the retailers/CPG companies benefit from increased traffic/penetration.

Companies also get greater control over the lifecycle of products and the chance to further minimize their carbon footprint and possibly generate revenue by selling carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange, of which Safeway is a member.

Acknowledging that it will take decades to achieve, Procter & Gamble pledged to someday eliminate consumer and manufacturing waste it sends to landfills.

The idea was once impossible to fathom, but now it's making more and more sense to me.