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Q&A with REcycle Across America

Mitch Hedlund | October 3rd, 2019

Want to learn about Busch Systems' new partnership and what you and Kirsten Bell have in common? Keep reading to find out!


Recycle Across America® (RAA) is a nonprofit organization on a mission to establish a society-wide standardized labeling system for waste and recycling containers. Much like standardized road safety signage was created to allow people to drive safely throughout the country, RAA has created society-wide standardized label designs for recycling bins to enable people to recycle more and recycle properly, wherever they might be.

According to RAA, there are more than nine million standardized recycling labels in use, and these labels continuously result in increased recycling levels of 50-400%. Additionally, the standardized labels have proven to significantly reduce and many times even eliminate the public's mistakes at the bin, thereby reducing the cost of removing garbage from the valuable recyclables. 

In addition to introducing the standardized label solution for recycling bins, RAA is also making a difference in the recycling world with multiple media campaigns.  The RAA "Let's recycle right!®" Campaign communicates the importance of recycling correctly and introduces a way for people to encourage their elected officials to begin displaying the standardized labels on recycling bins in their communities and communities throughout the U.S.  You may have seen these campaigns with some friendly faces including Busch Systems' Junior Ambassador Ryan Hickman and actress Kirsten Bell! 

Thanks to donations from their brand partners, RAA also donates free standardized labels to K-12 schools to display on their bins. In some instances, the standardized labels have helped school districts save millions of dollars in trash hauling fees by increasing recycling levels so dramatically. 

For these reasons, Busch Systems is proud and excited to announce our new partnership with Recycle Across America! This partnership will offer our customers a way to join the society-wide standardized label mission, and help people everywhere to be able to recycle right! Customers will now be able to easily find the RAA standardized labels that work best with Busch Systems’ Spectrum and Aristata containers through a direct link on their product pages.

Check out our interview with Mitch Hedlund, Founder of Recycle Across America and the standardized label solution to learn more about their goals and how our partnership will help the recycling industry!

What is Recycle Across America's mission, and why is it so crucial to RAA?

Our mission is simple – to implement the standardized recycling labels on recycling bins throughout society to make it possible for people everywhere to begin to recycle right. Right now, the way the public sees recycling throughout the U.S. is inconsistent and confusing, which makes it virtually impossible for the public to recycle correctly. Confusing label designs on bins throughout society leads to millions of tons of 'garbage' thrown in recycling bins across the U.S., which in turn cripples the economics of recycling. 

What recycling campaigns is RAA currently working on?

Our Public Service Announcement "Let's recycle right!®" Campaign ads are airing on major networks such as ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS in 50 of the largest cities in the U.S. And our full-page print ads are appearing in several significant, national publications such as People Magazine, InStyle, Entertainment Weekly, Inc, Fast Company, Forbes, and even the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  The "Let's recycle right!" campaign promotes the importance of recycling correctly and also introduces the standardized labels for recycling bins which enable the public to recycle right more easily. The "Let's" campaign is the most massive recycling campaign in U.S. history.

Our new and increasingly popular "Dear Humans, let's recycle right!®" Campaign features spokes-marine-life like Sonja the Sea Lion, Marcus the Manatee, and Terrence the Turtle, among others. These strikingly beautiful PSAs share the importance of recycling right from the perspective of the sea-life.

How did RAA begin its journey, and what does the journey look like in the future?

I founded RAA about ten years ago when I was working with my clients on sustainability efforts and how to communicate those efforts. My clients would tell me that they couldn't understand why employees and customers and visitors kept throwing recycling in the trash can and throwing garbage in the recycling bins. I realized that throughout society, every business, school, airport, sports stadium, etc. in the U.S. has had to create their own labels for the recycling bins in their buildings. That means there are hundreds of thousands of different-looking labels on recycling bins throughout the U.S. And each municipality was designing different-looking labels for the residential recycling carts in their communities, too. 

All of the inconsistent-looking labels on recycling bins has caused the public to be confused, apathetic and even skeptical about recycling, and as a result, people have been throwing millions of tons of garbage in recycling bins across the country. That contamination often makes recycling cost-prohibitive to process and cost-prohibitive for manufacturers to purchase and use the recyclables. That was the impetus for me to create the society-wide standardized label solution and the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Recycle Across America/Recycle Across the World.

Over the years, RAA has received even more corporate and celebrity support. We've been a part of so many success stories over the years like helping the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN, achieve the status of the first zero-waste Super Bowl in 2018. We've also watched three pilot national parks, Grand Teton, Denali, and Yosemite increase their diversion rates and decrease their contamination rates as a result of the Zero Landfill Initiative started by Subaru and the NPCA. As for the future, we are working toward federal legislation. Our goal is to follow the same model as that of standardized road signage to ensure implementation of the standardized labels on recycling bins everywhere. Here is a recent article from Forbes about the Appropriations Bill that has just passed and what this simple-yet-impactful solution can do to help fix recycling:

How are partnerships with recycling container manufacturers, like Busch Systems, helping to improve recycling efforts?

Partnerships with recycling container manufacturers are some of the most crucial relationships when it comes to businesses and institutions being able to help their customers, employees, and visitors recycle right. When companies, schools, cities, parks, etc. are looking to establish their recycling programs, the first thing they need is a method for collection - a recycling bin! These bin partners provide the best opportunity for us to start promoting industry standards. For example, the best practice regarding the colors of bins is blue for recycling, green for compost, and black or gray for trash. Bin partners such as Busch Systems, can spread the story and encourage the use of the society-wide standardized labels and signage that represents the needs of their customer's recycling program.

How are partnerships with recycling container manufacturers, like Busch Systems, helping to improve recycling efforts? 

Standardized labels on recycling bins are "the" critical tool to communicate to the public just exactly what can go into that bin. There are specific methodologies that are part of the standardized label solution, including a color-coded, photo-centric structure to the label messaging which makes it easy for people to identify a recycling bin and the recyclables that are accepted there. On a micro level, the success of an individual organization's recycling program is reliant on the ability of people to know how to recycle right when they walk up to a bin, like a reflex. On a macro scale, the success of the recycling industry is reliant on people everywhere, traveling to anywhere, from anywhere to readily understand how to recycle right, and the society-wide implementation of the standardized labels will help with that. Although what materials are acceptable in a particular recycling system can change from city to city or state to state, the way this information appears on a recycling bin should remain standard. The standardized road sign analogy video outlines this beautifully.

What three pieces of advice can Recycle Across America offer to recyclers?

  1. Always recycle the basics! All empty bottles and jugs, metal cans, clean office paper, and flattened clean cardboard. 
  2. Never, ever put plastic bags or plastic wrap in the recycling bin. And don't put your recyclables in a plastic bag. If you have a plastic bag, recycle it at a facility that will take it such as a grocery store. Otherwise, throw it in the trash bin -- or better yet, don't use plastic bags. There are three other R's before recycling: refuse, reduce, and reuse. So it is best to think about how you can reduce the number of items you're using and potentially recycling or sending to the landfill.
  3. And finally, this may feel weird at first but, when in doubt, throw it out. Most of us avid recyclers want the majority of items to be recyclable when in fact they are not. We recommend checking with local recycling providers to find out precisely what materials they are and are not able to accept. Rather than wish cycling, it is best not to contaminate the stream and instead, throw your item out.

Why is recycling properly important now more than ever?

When done correctly, recycling is the #1 action we can take to simultaneously reduce CO2 emissions, create jobs, and to prevent the extraction of finite resources. Right now, recycling is more important than ever because in countries that have a robust recycling culture, there is significantly less litter on the streets and subsequently less waste in oceans and waterways. With six out of the ten most common items found in oceans being recyclable*, we have a unique opportunity to rethink our waste system and make recycling work in the U.S. (*Ocean Conservancy). We are not giving up, and we're grateful for our partners, like Busch Systems, who are standing by our side in this fight for recycling

Mitch Hedlund

Founder of Recycle Across America

You might also be interested in:
Recycling Industry Secrets: What You Need To Know When Choosing Recycling Bins
The Journey to Zero Waste
Is Recycling Dying?

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