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According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recycling rates in the United States have improved steadily over the past two decades, from 16 percent in 1990 to 34 percent in 2010. However, the United States is still sending more than 54 percent of its waste to landfills, and not all of that waste is trash. A significant number of recyclables -- plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers -- are ending up in landfills.
One reason is a lack of convenient recycling options in many communities. For retailers, this presents an opportunity. In both deposit and nondeposit states, retailers can offer clean, easy-to use recycling services on their store premises, sending a strong message to their customers that they’re committed to keeping their communities green.
Providing recycling opportunities in-store is not only a key sustainability initiative, it’s also a way of increasing customer loyalty and foot traffic.
Automation Simplifies Collection
If your store is in one of the 11 U.S. states or territories with bottle deposit legislation -- California, Connecticut, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont -- collecting recyclables and returning deposits to consumers is a compliance responsibility. The more cost-efficiently those responsibilities are carried out, the better it is for a store’s bottom line.
In these states, many retailers choose to increase recycling efficiency with automated reverse vending machines (RVMs). Providing self-service RVMs means staff members don’t have to spend valuable time manually collecting and sorting bottles and cans; customers simply insert their used beverage containers in the machine and receive a receipt for the deposit amount, redeemable inside the store.
RVMs also increase efficiency with sensor technology that recognizes bar codes and container shapes, ensuring accurate accounting and customer refunds. These technologies, as well as added video surveillance, help the retailer accept only approved containers, thus reducing shrink.
Because the recyclable containers are scanned, counted and sorted within the machine, they help to keep stores clean, preventing spillage of residual liquids and eliminating the need for unsightly collection boxes. Remote diagnostic technology alerts store management, as well as the RVM service team, when the machines are in need of service or maintenance.
Offering a high-functioning service gives shoppers another reason to choose your store over your competitor’s.
Driving Consumers to Your Store
In both deposit as well as nondeposit states, offering quality on-site recycling programs can help to boost customer loyalty as well as to increase foot traffic.
For instance, some retailers are choosing to link RVM recycling with customer loyalty cards. Each time customers return a bottle or can, they not only receive a receipt to redeem their deposits (in deposit states), but they can also get points toward store discounts, promotions or prizes.
RVMs have the ability to further stimulate spending by rewarding consumers -- even those without a loyalty card -- with printed coupons offering product discounts, discounts off a shopping order, or other store promotions. Unlike cash register coupons generated at the end of a shopping order, consumers get RVM coupons before they shop, so they enter the store with coupon in hand.
Offering recycling to customers on-site can also be a high-profile way of connecting with environmentally conscious shoppers. While many retail stores are taking important measures to improve their sustainability, such as reducing energy consumption and waste, these actions are not always obvious to shoppers. On-site recycling offers a green activity that customers can touch, feel and take part in.
In some nondeposit states, retailers can gain extra revenue from selling the glass, plastic (PET) or aluminum to a recycler, providing an additional incentive to offer recycling to their customers.
Partnering with Your Community
Another way retailers are using RVMs to connect with consumers is through partnerships with local community groups for recycling fundraisers.
Some stores, for instance, have worked with scout troops, schools, food banks and other organizations to hold bottle drives. Supporters bring their recyclables to the store, and the value of the bottle deposit (or the value of the commodity itself) goes to the nonprofit organization.
Combining recycling with high-profile sponsorships of good causes can generate loyalty to the store and its products, while at the same time strengthening the store’s relationships with people in the local area.
Many U.S. consumers have started to make a concerted effort toward environmentally conscious living, and are looking to their favorite stores to do the same. Modern recycling platforms and programs can help retailers show concern for their communities, provide an important service and offer customers valuable shopping incentives.
Most importantly, recycling programs promote partnership with your customers -- the most effective way to increase loyalty and build store traffic.
J. Mark Lanning is SVP of sales at Shelton, Conn.-based TOMRA North America, a wholly owned subsidiary of TOMRA Systems ASA and a leading global provider of resource optimization solutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. For info about TOMRA Reverse Vending, visit www.tomranorthamerica.com.