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    Keys to Improving Plastic Film Recycling: Awareness & Education

    By Jason Wadsworth, director of sustainability, Wegmans

    More than 3 million pounds of plastic bags and film make their way into the recycle stream each year here at Wegmans. We have learned over the years that telling our stories and letting customers know what we are doing inspires them to do more.

    Flexible plastic film is growing in popularity as a packaging material due to its many benefits in energy savings, food protection and consumer convenience.

    But with growth comes responsibility. The packaging and retail value chain has a role in supporting recovery and recycling of plastic film material through in-store programs and company-wide communication initiatives.

    We have heard from our customers loud and clear that they want more recycling options for things that are not accepted in traditional curbside recycling.  The number of customers telling us this is very small, however, and they tend to be very educated about recycling.  So how do we raise awareness of plastic film’s recyclability with the rest of our customers? Tell the story over and over again.

    Bags become bags in closed-loop system

    Our customers want to know that plastic bags or film dropped at Wegmans get new life. We have spent a few years telling our story about where bags go and what they are made into and how our closed-loop system processes 100 percent of plastic film recovered from shoppers and employees — bags, wraps and shipping materials — into our own plastic grocery bags. Our 40 percent recycled-content bags include about 20 percent from our own plastic collection bins.

    Effective plastic film recycling: partnerships, persistence, and clarity

    Our approach to plastic film recycling is ever-evolving. Any retailer, grocer or otherwise, can benefit from our best practices:

    • Find the right partner: This is crucial. Over the years, we’ve learned to work with bag manufacturers and plastics recyclers who share our values and our passion for increasing plastic film recycling and recovery.
    • Keep telling your story: Wegmans has been collecting bags, wrap and film since 1994. Many of our shoppers have grown up with the program.  But you must keep at it in order to form habits and the next generation is coming up right behind.  Awareness continues to rise, but there’s still a long way to go.
    • Show consumers and employees how recycled material will live on: Shoppers see the messages everywhere — in-store communications, plastic bags, drop-off bins, Wegmans Menu magazine, and e-mail newsletters. Employees learn through internal communications, our intranet site, and videos.
    • Provide clarity: Wegmans was the first grocer to join the How2Recycle label program, joining the movement to reduce confusion with an easily understood label. Since January 2014, we now have the How2Recycle label and a “Return to Sender” message on all of our plastic grocery and produce bags. In-store signage educates shoppers on the materials that can and cannot be recycled. And because there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, we adapted communications materials from the American Chemistry Council’s Flexible Film Recycling Group to our needs.

    Simplicity means success

    Everyone benefits when we all become more active in plastic film recycling and share lessons learned. The key is improving clarity on materials, adopting simple messaging to encourage participation and repeating your message over and over. There are 18,000 drop-off sites nationwide, including Wegmans locations. Working together, we can attract a growing stream of knowledgeable consumers to those bins, plastic film in hand and ready to recycle.

    To find drop-off sites and learn how you can boost your plastic film recovery and recycling, visit plasticfilmrecycling.org.

    By Jason Wadsworth, director of sustainability, Wegmans
    • About Jason Wadsworth, director of sustainability

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