It's been six months since Waste Management announced its strategic partnership with the eight-year-old recycling incentive program Recyclebank. Ian Yolles, Recyclebank's chief sustainability officer, and Joseph Vaillancourt, managing director of Waste Management's investment and strategic partnership division, recently took time to provide updates on the partnership and what it holds for the two companies.
Under the terms of the partnership, Recyclebank gets access to the 18 million residential customers within Waste Management's vast network and assumed responsibility for Greenopolis, Waste Management's consumer-facing website and recycling incentive program (a former Recyclebank competitor). In exchange, Waste Management is accessing something central to its goal of harvesting more value out of the waste stream: a proven method of boosting recycling rates.
Recyclebank is a web-based recycling incentive program that aligns consumers with consumer brands in rewards-based relationships, through what the company calls its green rewards program. As consumers reach certain milestones in terms of the amount or type of packaging they put into recycling collection systems, they earn points, coupons or other rewards from Recyclebank's network of brand and business partners.
The partnership is one of many forged in recent years by Waste Management's Organic Growth Group, which has $2.2 billion invested in a range of emerging technologies and service companies. The group's focus is divided into four categories, says Vaillancourt: renewable energy, recycling technologies, waste conversion technology (such as fermenting organic material to create biogas) and consumer-facing developments, which is where Recyclebank fits in.
While Waste Management calls itself the country's largest recycler, it's always looking to boost the volume of recyclables it collects. Waste Management sees linking with Recyclebank as a direct tool for increasing and sustaining the density of take-back.
Among the 300 communities where Recyclebank has established its services with recycling collection providers, there are some impressive success stories. In Cincinnati, where Recyclebank launched in 2010 in tandem with an expanded curbside collection system, participation increased by nearly 75 percent and the city increased the amount of recyclables collected by nearly 50 percent. This kind of result attracted Waste Management's attention, but so did the partnerships that Recyclebank was forging with major consumer brands, such as Unilever and Kraft.
"We developed Greenopolis into a pretty big business," says Vaillancourt, and while the company was aware of Recyclebank, it wasn't losing business to the startup. There are around 1,500 Greenopolis kiosks in schools, community centers and other public spaces around the country, where consumers can drop off their recycling and scan each container, thereby getting credit based on the specific items they recycle.
That connection between the consumer and the specific brands they purchase is key, because it's a way in which brands such as PepsiCola, which sponsors many of the kiosks, can connect directly with their loyal consumers. "We knew that one thing was clear: measurement matters," says Vaillancourt. "Consumer packaged goods companies would only give rewards based on activity." Waste Management saw that Recyclebank had honed its ability to not only measure recycling activity, but also create a unique marketing platform for consumer brands to reach consumers.
Under the partnership agreement, Recyclebank will harvest and expand the measurement platform Waste Management has already established through Greenopolis. And in return, Waste Management earns discounted equity in Recyclebank, though the exact financial terms of the partnership have not been disclosed.