3 Small and Sustainable Steps for Retail Recycling


Every day, retail stores produce consistent volumes of cardboard packaging, paper and food waste. An estimated 94% of a store’s waste can is full of packaging materials, like paper, cardboard, and plastic, which are often sent to landfills. The opportunity to implement smart recycling solutions in the retail industry, particularly with stand-alone locations, is rich but can often seem overwhelming to those in charge of handling day-to-day operations.

But recycling doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. By breaking down everything your company needs to get started, you can implement systems that will not only save money for your store but can also contribute to the betterment of the planet.

1. Complete a Waste Analysis

A waste analysis will help identify what materials a store generates the most of — likely paper and cardboard — what kind of receptacles you will need, and which collection methods are appropriate for your business.

Conducting this kind of analysis regularly, at least once a year, will allow store managers to gauge how effective their current waste and recycling programs are. A waste audit may reveal problems such as unnecessary overages due to issues like overflowing containers or too many pickups.

See also: Starbucks Pledges 50% Reduction in Supply Chain Emissions

Those may be hard to find without taking a deep dive and understanding industry jargon, so it would be beneficial to find a partner with expertise in identifying and assisting with the implementation of solutions to save money while recycling more materials. These could include adjusting pickup frequency, container sizes or bettering the diversion of paper and cardboard from the waste stream, which is not only an excellent solution for your business but the health of the planet as well.

With a smarter waste collection system in place, a store can easily start recycling most of its waste material.

2. Embrace the Clean-Stream Approach

Single-stream recycling, the system used by most businesses who recycle, refers to the standard method of recycling in which all materials — paper, plastics, metals, glass, cardboard, and food waste — are discarded into the same garbage bag or dumpster. While this sounds like a straightforward approach, there’s a lot that can go wrong, especially in a back-office retail environment.

For example, if an employee tosses out his or her coffee cup in the back-office recycling bin, the entire contents will become contaminated. To remedy this, managers should consider switching to or implementing a clean-stream system instead, which consists of separating recyclables into different containers on-site at your location instead of combining everything in one garbage bag or container. While this requires different bins for each material, it will save money in the long run.

Keeping materials separate by type helps to build a stronger and more effective recycling process overall. Clean materials retain their value, are easier to reuse, and make higher quality recycled materials.

3. Educate and Motivate Employees and Customers

The key to any successful recycling program is to educate the staff who will be interacting with it. Once your recycling program is put into place, send out a memo to your staff to inform them of your new recycling efforts, goals and guidelines.

Be sure to explain collection methods and best practices, and make sure your employees know whom to speak to with any questions. Labeling and color-coding bins clearly for each material and walking all staff through the system are vital to the program’s success, as well as a process to onboard and educate new hires.

Implementing an effective recycling program in-store is essential for the health of the planet. Not only will your store operate more efficiently and reduce operational expenses, but you’ll be diverting a significant amount of materials from the landfill.

Graham Rihn is the founder and CEO of RoadRunner Recycling. The company is on a mission to elevate recycling in a world dominated by waste. RoadRunner provides custom recycling and waste solutions engineered to improve waste stream management, serving thousands of commercial businesses from more than 20 industries including healthcare, manufacturing, education, retail and hospitality. 

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