Business Partnerships to Create Recycling Efficiency

Orange County, North Carolina – Leader in Plastic Bag & Film Recycling

Background

When it comes to environmental issues, Orange County, NC, prides itself on being forward thinking and innovative. A program proactively implemented by the Orange County Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD) has set in motion a new and successful recycling program. In 2009, a “business-to-business” (B2B) recycling program began as a collaborative effort between the SWMD and local merchants to recycle used plastic bags and film.

The Program

The B2B recycling program staff facilitated partnerships with large retail “anchor” stores and their smaller neighbor merchants that are located in shopping centers and malls. The anchor stores serve as collection points for clean, used plastic bags and film from their customers and from the neighboring stores. The anchor store is then able to use its existing infrastructure to transfer or “backhaul” the plastic bags and film back centers in delivery trucks that would otherwise return empty to their distribution centers.

The smaller retailers benefit because they are able to take advantage of a recycling opportunity that in most cases would be too expensive or unavailable to them. The anchor store benefits by being able to sell more recyclable material and to promote its environmental efforts by using existing resources and committing to a relatively small increase in labor. The Orange County SWMD benefits in many ways including conservation of landfill space due avoided disposal of tons of plastic bags and film, increased recycling rates, and avoided costs for a commercial recycling program as a result of the successes of the B2B recycling program.

Successes

Since its inception in 2009, the B2Bprogram has expanded to include more than 50 stores in the Orange County area. Even stores not located in shopping centers have become participants, with several dry cleaners incorporating stops at receiver anchor stops into their garment delivery routes to drop off bags of bags. Additionally, two UNC offices have also started programs in which the heavy-duty plastic bags covering new mattresses used in the dormitories and the plastic bags and film generated during move-in weekend are collected and transported to one of the local grocery stores. One of the biggest successes is a large gourmet food store that bales and sells its plastic bags and film. The store even provides an employee to collect the plastic bags and film from two collection carts at the outside trash and recycling centers at the mid-sized shopping mall.

In 2011, the program is expected to divert a minimum of 12,000 pounds of material from the local waste stream from the small feeder businesses. This does not include the plastic bags and film collected from the anchor stores’ customers or the material generated from their routine receiving operations.