Special Report: Recycling
Recyclebank Makes Push to Educate Consumers about Contamination

Recyclebank Makes Push to Educate Consumers about Contamination

Enter “contamination” into the search function on Recyclebank’s home page and you’ll net 45 results, including eight pieces of content that allow people to earn points while learning about the biggest buzzword and headache facing those in the recycling industry.

As part of Recyclebank’s monthly educational initiative, the New York-based reward-incentive company is offering up an array of contamination content to its users – municipal residents located in 350 communities throughout the nation.

From “What is Recycling Contamination?” to “Contamination’s Negative Effects” to “How to Prevent Contamination”, the articles aim to help consumers recycle properly and better “with the ultimate goal of creating value in the commodity streams so that the economics of recycling actually turn around again,” says Paul Winn, executive vice president and general manager at Recyclebank.

Winn spent part of his Saturday afternoon discussing the effort with Waste360. He’s what he had to say.

Waste360: Is this the first time Recyclebank has offered content specifically focused on contamination?

Paul Winn: That’s a tough question. I would say yes, overtly. We have been focusing on pieces of the puzzle for a long time, discussing problem materials in the recycling stream such as plastic bags and confusion around pizza boxes. We are talking about how we can impact it more now than we ever have been in the past.

Waste360: You refer to recycling as an evolution not a revolution. Tell us more.

Paul Winn: When Recyclebank started back in 2004, the challenge was just to get people to recycle and participation was the key. At that same time, we definitely benefitted and the country, as a whole, benefitted from the movement to single stream.

Over time, one of the byproducts of single stream was the problem of contamination. It’s a problem for municipalities and it’s a problem for a company like Recyclebank where we started selling our ROI to cities saying that we could get more people to participate in recycling and more diversion to a materials recovery facility (MRF). The economics of recycling have definitely changed over time and contamination becomes a bigger part of it.

We started focusing 10 years on participation and now I call it getting more people to do more stuff, and by more stuff, I mean more of the right stuff. It’s not just recycling now it’s recycling correctly and appropriately. The end goal is on behalf of our hauler and our municipal clients is to put value back in the recycling stream.

Waste360: What do you think the fix is for this widespread contamination problem?

Paul Winn: We believe education is the way to impact that and we believe we have a mechanism to be more efficient in delivering that message. We’ve made enormous investments in this multi-channel delivery and lots of different kinds of varying content and using data to focus and target that.

We’re working really hard to find more ways to get education into the hands of all people in the municipalities. People have to understand that just putting anything in the recycling bin at the curb is actually a problem.

One of the challenges that we have been working through in the past couple of years is to make all of our content local. That’s important for a variety of different reasons because the city of Phoenix is wrestling with very different problems than the city of Boston for example. What is recyclable in Toledo is very different than what is recyclable in Miami-Dade County. We have to take our content and make it relevant to each community.

Waste360: What makes the Recyclebank site so unique?

Paul Winn: Municipalities are not necessarily the most sophisticated marketing organizations and they often struggle with how they get their messages out.

For us, we really we have two big differentiators: incentive and rewards are important to us today as they were in 2004 and today we incent and reward people for participating in our education.

If people take a quiz on contamination on our site, at the end of it they’ll get 10, 25 or 50 points.

What we are finding is we have incredibly successful marketing results from it. We have a 28 percent open rate on our emails. Our last collection showed we have more than 15 minutes time on site. Compare our results to anyone else who claims to be doing marketing and education around recycling and we blow them out of the water.

I think our content is relevant and compelling, but the true story is we actually pay people to participate in our education; it’s a huge differentiator for us.

Waste360: How are you able to tell if your education effort is making headway?

Paul Winn: The challenge with contamination for us has been how do you really measure it? I love data  and I believe the more I know about you and your actions, the more effectively I can market and educate you on the importance of doing it and doing it better so that it resonates with you.  

We’ve done a couple of different pilots in the community. In Philadelphia, for example, they recently switched their MRF contract to ReCommunity (Recycling) and we have been working with ReCommunity to identify the routes that have the most contamination. If we can isolate the route, I can go back to our marketing platform and I can target more specially within that community that route or region.

When we think about marketing and educating, it’s a very different message that I want to send out to you who has not set out your bin about why it is important to recycle and that message is very different than the message that you would send to someone who recycles everyday but maybe not necessarily as well as they could.

We are now targeting our messaging at a very local level to educate differently and better.

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