Several years ago, Rubicon, who offers cloud-based recycling platforms, and g2 revolution, who does specialty recycling, came together to offer retailers a mail back service for their regulated wastes. In time they saw that small businesses had similar, mostly unmet, needs for their universal waste, as did residents for their household hazardous waste. So, they launched RUBICONMarketplace to fill the void. The platform is an on-demand ecommerce model where small businesses and residents order recycling service from a website and receive boxes that they send back whenever they are full.
Through RUBICONMarketplace they can recycle materials that are not generally accepted in curbside or commercial recycling programs, including aerosol cans, plastic film, batteries, electronics, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Plastic bags and film are among materials that commonly make their way to g2 revolution through this business model, and in volumes. While they are accepted at drop off locations at retail outlets, this is not a viable option for businesses with very large quantities. And while there are convenience centers scattered throughout the country that accept these and other hard-to-recycle materials; this program was carved out with the intention of affording an easier option.
“With on-demand mail back recycling, boxes are filled at each customer’s pace of generation from their business backrooms or homes. There is no subscription, no contract, and no catch or fine print,” says Ryan Cooper, director of circular economy solutions, Rubicon.
g2 revolution receives the shipments via United Postal Service’s carbon neutral program and sorts materials, which go on either to be repurposed, reused as-is, recycled, or they go to waste-to-energy facilities to generate power. The boxes are recycled, and the buckets used to return some items like batteries are cleaned and reused.
Box contents are recorded and weighed, and businesses receive a certificate of recycling that includes this data so they can incorporate it in their sustainability reports.
“Every item that comes in is touched by our processing team. They make sure it is properly sorted and moves on to the most fitting location to meet maximum recycling rates,” says Tonya Martin, g2 revolution vice president of business development.
Assuming customers utilize the program as it is intended, 100% of the materials shipped to g2 revolution’s facility, which is certified by a third party called Green Circle, goes to beneficial use, say the partners.
Sending on to a WTE facility is the last resort, emphasizes Martin.
“If you look at the sustainability hierarchy, you want to reduce, then reuse, then recycle. Then it’s waste to energy, and then landfill. Though landfill is never an option for us. Our focus is reuse and recycle to get the highest, most efficient energy use,” she says.
The process, and what happens to materials next depends on what’s in the boxes.
Plastic scrap is washed and pelletized to go into manufacturing processes to make new products.
Comingled materials are separated and put to various uses, whether they’re sold or given away; for instance, soaps are removed from incoming containers and donated to nonprofits that do clean up after disasters.
Some items have multi-part solutions such as aerosol cans. Each can is checked for usability, and if it’s found useful as-is, it too is donated to a local charitable cause. If it can’t be used, the remaining propellant is recovered for reuse and the aluminum/steel will be recycled and go into new products.
Safety when dealing with some of these potentially dangerous items is a key consideration for both customers and staff.
Collection containers come with a large label detailing “Acceptable Items” and “Prohibited Items,” such as certain liquids, broken objects, or sharp objects. g2 employees are equipped with heavy-duty gloves and safety goggles. Sorters are trained to alert of and isolate items that could be a safety risk, such as an exploded battery or broken glass.
Both companies came to the table with building blocks to be able to shape the program pretty quickly.
g2 has long been keyed into regulations and compliance around mail back recycling, so says Martin, translating each program to an online store was a painless process. g2 also has a proprietary software that easily integrated with RUBICONMarketplace to make the backend as seamless as possible.
And Rubicon had already rolled out several g2 mail back programs for its existing national accounts, so bringing this offering to a new market was not a particularly complicated move.
They are still learning as they go, leaning on a customer support tool to do it that includes email and LiveChat where questions are fielded in real time. Based on what they hear they make tweaks, whether adding more clarification of acceptable items for a specific service, or other ways to improve recovery.
The partners see their business relationship as a natural fit in that they share a vision of providing answers for hard-to-recycle materials.
For g2, the RUBICONMarketplace was an extension of services, enabling it to tap into Rubicon’s national customer base and enter the e-commerce space to reach small and medium businesses, Martin says.
For Rubicon it’s a way to provide more beneficial use options, and to recover items beyond those that are traditionally recyclable.
“Everyone wins. Rubicon is able to support cities and businesses in their recycling efforts. g2 is able to provide this service to an ever-expanding set of customers. In addition, a portion of the proceeds go toward local food banks, which contributes to our triple bottom line as a B corp of making a profit while benefitting people and the planet,” Cooper says.