In its 2019 sustainability report, PepsiCo said it’s making progress toward its goals in several focus areas, including packaging.
By 2025, PepsiCo aims to design 100 percent of its packaging to be recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable; to increase recycled content in its plastics packaging to 25 percent; to reduce virgin plastic content by 35 percent across its beverage portfolio; and to invest to increase recycling rates in key markets.
The actions taken to achieve that last goal — investing to increase recycling rates — is being addressed through the PepsiCo Recycle Rally and similar programs.
The Recycle Rally is a free program offering funding, resources and incentives to enable and encourage more than 7,000 students from kindergarten through high school to recycle. It’s designed to energize students around recycling, help students understand the impact they’re making, and celebrate those achievements, according to PepsiCo’s website.
Tom Mooradian, senior manager of environmental sustainability for PepsiCo, oversees the Recycle Rally. He recently spoke with Waste360 about the program.
“We started it back in 2010 with the intent to inspire youth and change behavior to increase recycling nationally across the United States,” Mooradian said.
The hope is that students learn lessons about recycling and form habits that they take home and integrate into their family and future lives, he said.
Since the program launched, participating schools have recycled more than 34.5 million pounds of PET, HDPE, aluminum, fiber, glass, and other plastics and metals, diverting these materials from landfills. And participation is increasing.
“We’ve definitely had our share of lessons learned,” Mooradian said. “We’ve adapted and grown through the years, and we definitely have a great appreciation for the creativity, persistence, dedication and skill that educators exhibit every day as they teach their students about the importance of all different kinds of subjects.”
Mooradian said he enjoys working with educators to drive environmental sustainability, “particularly the idea of recycling as one of those many topics that they cover to help teach kids about what they can do in their lives to make a positive impact on the world.”
He said he’s found fulfillment building relationships with educators, hearing their feedback, and continually adapting the program. These small changes have helped the program run more seamlessly through the daily routines in schools, becoming almost turnkey for teachers or whoever is leading the program.
Mooradian said teachers can “grab some resources and share directly with their students or hand over a program to their students on the green team and say collect and tally the recyclables and be a big part of the Recycle Rally program so that folks can do work together and have fun while also learning and growing and help making a big difference.”
The program doesn’t have to be run by teachers, Mooradian said. A member of the school administration, parent teacher organization, custodial staff, or other school staff can take the leadership role.
“The only other criteria is to fill out an application and confirm that they do have a place to recycle,” he said. “We want to make sure that they have the ability to recycle at a viable recycling location, whether they drop it off themselves or they have a subscription for a hauler to pick it up every week or every few days, whatever frequency. We just want to make sure that the material is actually recycled.”
Mooradian credits the minimal criteria as one of the reasons why the program has been around for ten years. And one of the biggest incentives for schools sign up, aside from the resources, are the rewards, he said.
“Schools can accumulate reward points for each bottle or can that they recycle, and they don’t have to tally exact counts,” he said.
He said schools either weigh the containers, and that number is then converted into an estimated number of bottles and cans, or they can report the mixed-bag method, where they can report how many bags or bins full of material they collected and approximately what portion of those bags or bins had bottles and cans as opposed to other materials.
“We know single-stream recycling is most common, not just in households but in schools as well, and we don’t want to make it any more difficult for people to collect recyclables,” Mooradian said. “If they’re single-stream, we want them to continue using that method and keep it simple.”
Each tally earns one point, he said. Reward points can be redeemed for prizes such as T-shirts, lunch totes, and similar items. They can also be saved up and redeemed for recycling supplies such as bins.
“Bins are a big need at most schools,” he said. “They can start the program, maybe just in the cafeteria, then they can branch out and get bins for the classrooms or hallways or sports fields or other places as they report and earn more points. And lastly, they can redeem points for gift cards, which is very popular.”
A few years ago the program opened up its reporting portal to enable people to report other metals, other plastics, glass and paper in addition to bottles and cans, Mooradian said.
“We do not offer reward points for those materials because they aren’t as much of a direct fit with how we created this program, but we definitely see the value in encouraging the recycling of all materials consumed within a school,” he said. “We provide an impact tracker that allows schools to see the value of the total impact of all the recycling activity that they’ve had, and we provide other resources geared toward increasing collection of all those materials, not just bottles and cans. We see the need for being a full-service recycling program, not just laser focused on certain material streams.”
But the main contest that excites most of the school participants is the cash prizes awarded for the top schools in each league. In the 2019-20 school year, PepsiCo awarded more than $350,000 to schools across the country.
The top five schools in the Recycle Rally Challenge League for the 2019-2020 school year were Fort Sam Houston Elementary, Franklin Elementary, and Arnold Elementary, all of San Antonio, Texas; Pine Forest High School of Fayetteville, N.C.; and Cedar Creek Elementary of Lanoka Harbor, N.J.
The 2019-2020 school year was different than others since the year was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to cut the annual contest short by a month because of COVID-19,” Mooradian said. “We wrapped it up early, but it changed our focus on some of the resources we had been planning to create.”
The program has had to pivot and adapt its resources for the learning-from-home environment so that the resources are more applicable to that space. He said he sees it as an opportunity to get parents and families involved, but it looks like schools will be coming back to session in the fall in some way.
And like they’ve done many times in the last ten years, they will adapt and continue to run the Recycle Rally program for the 2020-21 school year.
“We’re proud of this program and the impact it’s been making, and we plan to continue to expand in a way that’s relevant and applicable even as the world is changing around us,” Mooradian said. “We know a lot of curve balls are going to come, but we are doing our best to prepare for them, and we think this program will continue to see a lot of growth and make an even bigger impact in the future.”