Zero Waste: Recycling the General Store

No one can argue that Zero Waste goals put forth by numerous businesses across the country are without merit. Creating programs focused on recycling wasted food at a higher level, ensuring reusable materials such as paper, cardboard and glass are captured and instituting arbitrary bans on plastic bags have positive impacts on our environment.

However, these often-larger companies have done only a portion of what they could be doing. Is the answer for our recycling issues hidden in the concept of the general store?

The Allure of the General Store

While it beckons to a more rural time-gone-by, in a pre-highway world, when the general store was the center of more than just commerce, it may have a place when it comes to recycling plastics.

According to the Wikipedia definition, a general store, while being a throwback to a simpler, less connected America was the central hub for more than supplies. It was often the center of the community. And while those notorious category-busting large retailers that displaced this small town concept of retailing are to blame for the general store demise, these “box stores” might actually be part of the solution.

This solution-is-the-retailer is at the center of the Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP), a multi-partner effort focused on plastic film, wrap, bags and flexible packaging. According to the website: “WRAP works with stakeholders including local and state governments, retailers, and material recovery facilities (MRFs) to educate consumers about what types of plastic film are recyclable, and how and where to recycle it.” The program focuses on collecting these materials in store fronts – where viable partners exist – and on creating educational awareness at the customer level.

The big mega-store, box type retailer often see themselves as the center of the community and rightly so. With the many vibrant give-back campaigns they often engage and with great success, they have stepped up to help the less-fortunate in an admirable way. What they do not currently embrace is the take-back opportunity they could offer the world of recycling.

Rethinking the Path

In an article posted by Tom Eng, Senior Vice President and Head of TOMRA Sorting Recycling suggesting that the enactment of the Chinese National Sword in February 2018 might actually spur innovation offered sustainability groups a ray of hope. Just as many companies announced zero waste initiatives, that although well-meaning, did not account for the path those waste materials would take. Numerous businesses had taken the convenient path, relying on material recyclers to sort that waste. It seems as if China’s 2013 Green Fence was the unheeded warning that brought 2018’s National Sword.

Does the innovation Mr. Eng believes will come do so as a result of those overseas policies with the focus on new technologies of sorting and cleaning our exportable waste? Or does it begin at a more granular level with the waste originators?

What the General Store Concept could do

CNBC recently reported on several innovative ideas that draw on the general store concept of zero waste. The effort employed by these retailers, to limited to success so far, works on eliminating packaging. While Europe has seemed to lead the way, US-based companies have been slow to embrace their role in the process of creating waste to instead focus on the sustainability of the food and products they sell.

It is easy to see why. Plastic is essential in food safety and although some local jurisdictions have legislated some bans (on single-use bags, straws and utensils for example), these local governments have not always provided a good, economical recycling option for the business or the end-user.

The general store concept could work in reverse if every stakeholder in the process understood the cost. Recyclers exist. The material exists. The need to remove it for better uses exists. Suppose the community store became the reverse contributor to the solution – if the price was right and funded by the community (which should include small and mid-sized businesses as well as the consumer)?

The Collaboration

Partnerships require a very good reason, a shared goal that alone would be difficult to achieve. Your communities have numerous potential partnerships that need only a creative evaluation to uncover the possibilities. This is where Zero Waste Consultants can help. We can bridge the need with the solution. We can explore the costs.

It does not matter whether you are a local or regional government, a retailer or business of any size or a local MRF (material recycling facility), we can analyze the possibilities and develop the relationships needed to focus on the plastic recycling issue at the center of so many environmental concerns. Shouldn’t we begin that conversation?


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