Waste management and recycling have taken on increased importance as retailers commit to corporate sustainability goals. Chain Store Age spoke with Perry Moss, chief advisor at Rubicon, about challenges, best practices and how technology is impacting waste management operations.

What are the top recycling and waste management challenges facing retailers?

Education, program execution, and accountability remain a key challenge in recycling and waste management practices in the retail space. Given all the changes from COVID-19, there are new challenges that retailers have faced such as setting up decontamination programs to keep stores clean and safe, determining how to properly dispose of personal protective equipment and adhering to local and state COVID-19 guidelines that can impact waste and recycling activities.

While food retailers are faced with increasing numbers of regulations related to material recovery (recycling), food waste and food waste packaging. Removing heavy food scraps from the waste stream can provide a significant increase in landfill diversion percentages and help companies achieve waste reduction goals.

What are the biggest mistakes retailers make when it comes to recycling and waste initiatives?

Inconsistent signage and training across locations can lead to confusion for staff. Lack of engagement from management can cause lackadaisical attitudes towards established recycling programs. Similarly, there can be a great opportunity for retailers to look upstream to determine if products are designed for recyclability before the product is consumed and enters the recycling system.

The single most important element in transforming a company into a successful sustainability-oriented business is the adoption and full commitment to recycling, sustainability and the circular economy. Sustainability should become a critical component o the driving force that dictates both corporate and management behavior and drives overall company values. It should be the grounding force that guides the company’s’ decision-making process becomes a mindset or for leaders, employees, and third-party contractors.

Another mistake retailers make is not proactively eliminating barriers to change and innovation. The development and implementation of new programs will require investments in service, facilities, resources, realigning management/employee responsibilities, etc. Not carefully considering these investments will compromise the success of any program.

Finally, working with misaligned service partners can hamper recycling and waste management programs. Retailers must ask themselves which service providers’ business model is aligned with their mission and needs. If a retailer wants to be sustainable and divert maximum amounts of materials from landfills, does it make sense to work with a major landfill company that benefits from landfilling materials? If a retailer wants to lower costs through service level efficiencies, does it make sense to work directly with companies that benefit from more services or hauls?

What about best practices for the same?

As noted earlier, clear, and consistent signage and training across locations can help eliminate confusion and reduce contamination, as can developing a systematic, purpose-driven, targeted approach when implementing a comprehensive program. This integrated approach is necessary to predefine and clarify the sustainability and/or waste diversion goals/expectations in order to design effective up- and down-stream methodologies. Effective program design must consider budgetary, operational, and regulatory considerations, while respecting other identified limitations at a minimum.

How has technology impacted waste management?

Technology has provided the ability to capture the impact of recycling and waste activities and develop benchmarks to know where a company is starting from and how it can grow in the future. It allows us to compile data for all types of materials into one platform which leads to cost improvements, process improvements and gains towards sustainability goals. It has dramatically improved transparency and access to data in an otherwise opaque industry.

At Rubicon, we use technology to drive environmental innovation and help turn businesses into more sustainable enterprises, and neighborhoods into greener and smarter places to live and work.

What solutions does Rubicon offer retailers in waste management and recycling?

Rubicon is a software company that provides smart waste and recycling solutions for businesses and governments worldwide. Our mission is to end waste by helping Rubicon’s partners find economic value in their waste streams and confidently execute on their sustainability goals.

Our solution for retailers is a one-stop- shop technology platform for waste collection visibility that includes real-time service requests and confirmation, bill payment, financial reporting, regulatory and environmental mandate awareness, complete service data, and sustainability/diversion data across all customer locations for all waste and recycling streams.

Rubicon provides a solutions-based platform that maximizes landfill diversion and sustainable practices with access to all service data while making the process of managing waste/recycling easier and more efficient.