Waste Mitigation: Connecting National Chains to Local Recycling Programs

Erik Makinson

Companies of all sizes have come to recognize that saving resources – such as energy and water – also saves money. What’s good for the environment is good for the bottom line. That concept holds true for not just the top two utility expenses of most businesses, but also for good old number three, waste.

waste-mitigation-and-recycling-programs-300x244For a national chain, implementing a recycling program and striving for zero waste is not only is the right thing for the environment but for the company’s bottom line as well. However, logistically, waste and its related expenses are some of the hardest to benchmark and track, making it more difficult to roll out a “one size fits all” waste mitigation program.

On the other side is the local community. Cities and municipalities that urge businesses to participate in waste mitigation efforts hit a roadblock when it comes to engaging with the local sites of national chains. Decision-makers are not always located on site, and it can be difficult to find a corporate contact to discuss local issues.

So when chains want to implement waste diversion programs – and local cities and municipalities want chains to participate in community waste reduction efforts – how do the two finally come together?

RAMSEY COUNTY & HOLIDAY RETIREMENT CRACK THE CODE

In 2011, Ramsay County, Minn., which comprises the East Metro area of Minneapolis and St. Paul, did some literal dumpster diving to audit the waste delivered to its local refuse facilities. It found that more than 40 percent of what was in the garbage – food, compostable paper and cardboard – was coming from the commercial food sector and could have been composted. The county then structured a pricing mechanism to discourage landfill waste, taxing it 70 percent!

The county then reached out to 1,300 businesses in 2012-2013 as part of an awareness campaign on the financial benefits of recycling and composting programs. From here they worked with 227 businesses, performing complimentary waste audits to help businesses kick start their own programs.

The county also heard that start-up costs for recycling programs were a barrier for many businesses. In 2014 it started a grant program to help businesses pay for recycling bins, labels, training programs and instructions to start recycling programs. Any commercial business could apply for the $10,000 grant for each of its locations.

The market-based incentives, combined with the grant, spurred businesses to take action. Where once the county had to pound the pavement and go door-to-door to businesses, now one to two businesses are contacting them each day for advice on implementing recycling programs. The county has worked on-site with over 475 businesses to evaluate their unique programs and challenges, and awarded 110 grants in the amount of $600,000.

One of the recipients of these grants was The Lodge at White Bear, a 116-unit Holiday Retirement Senior Living Center located in White Bear Lake, Minn. Holiday Retirement works with Ecova to manage its waste services across 300 communities spanning 43 states, including bill pay and contract services, and it was Ecova that uncovered the tax implemented by Ramsay County on waste invoices for The Lodge. To minimize the effect of the tax, increase recycling rates and increase cost savings, Ecova alerted Holiday Retirement to the county’s recycling grant. Holiday secured a grant for The Lodge, and then used what it learned through the program as a model for other Holiday communities nationwide.

A MODEL OF SUCCESS

Between March 2011 and December 2014, The Lodge gradually increased recycling and composting rates and reduced the volume sent to landfills. Landfill trash declined from pickup three times per week to just once per week, while organics composting was added once per week. As trash was reduced, so were the impacts of the county tax – charges declined by nearly 80 percent.

“Complying with local mandates requires a significant behavioral change on the part of our community managers and facilities staff,” explained Bob Briody, senior buyer of procurement services for Holiday. “But we are developing the protocols that enable change across the entire chain, without increasing the workload of associates or impacting the lifestyles of residents.”

The example of Holiday Retirement and Ramsey County proves that, while hurdles do exist for national chains wishing to engage in local programs, these hurdles are not insurmountable. Additionally, by leveraging a local program, whether it is a legislative mandate or an incentive program, a chain can establish a template for use at other sites, which then amplifies the impact far beyond that local community. Congratulations to both Holiday Retirement and Ramsey County for cracking this code!

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