Exclusive: Kum & Go Grows its Recycling Efforts

Programs prove retailers can make a dent in beverage container waste

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Known as one of the industry’s greenest retailers, with its embrace of energy-efficient building and biofuels, Kum & Go LC is also making a huge commitment to recycling at the pump. It is part of a broader effort to be a good neighbor in its communities, and also help make a dent in the amount of beverage containers that are thrown away in the United States.

According to 2013 research by the Container Recycling Institute, beverage container recycling rates in the United States have struggled to keep up with beverage consumption, and in fact have been on a downward trend. The nation’s non-recycling, or “wasting” rate in 2010--the most recent year analyzed--was 63%. This represents a nearly 10% increase from 2000 and 20% increase from 1990. The group partly blamed growing beverage consumption away from home as a reason for the jump.

Kum & Go has been evaluating different recycling programs since 2010. The chain launched a pilot at four Des Moines sites in April 2012, and has since rolled the program out to all 42 stores in that market. In Tulsa, Okla., the chain launched a pilot at 20 stores and then expanded it to all 47 sites in the area. Today, one out of every four Kum & Go sites offers recycling at the pump.

The chain wanted to test the program slowly and carefully to ensure it worked for all participants.

“Part of testing is to make sure the program works for customers and is easy,” Adam Hammes, sustainability manager at Kum & Go, told CSP Daily News.

For example, Kum & Go originally tested an automated recycling kiosk, thinking the novelty of the equipment would engage customers and encourage use. It found, however, that for this particular application, more sophisticated was not necessarily better.

“Outdoors, it didn’t have protection, and the customer doesn’t want to spend as much time [recycling],” Hammes said. “It got little use and had a lot of electrical and mechanical failures.” The retailer then moved to static, blue plastic recycling bins shaped like soda bottles.

Hammes highlighted the bright, bold graphics that clearly label the recycling containers and distinguish them from the garbage cans. “It’s low-tech, but it works for customers,” he said. “It also has to work for associates and be something they enjoy and are proud of, and that is not a ton of work where we have them digging in trash.”

In Tulsa, Kum & Go has partnered with PepsiCo to develop its recycling program as part of PepsiCo’s Recycling Initiative, which aims to boost the U.S. beverage container recycling rate to 50% by 2018. Kum & Go associates collect the recyclable material from 275 recycling bins located near the fuel pumps. PepsiCo then picks up the recyclable material to weigh and then recycle.

Since January 2013, the program has collected more than 6,000 pounds of plastic, aluminum and glass, or approximately 120,000 cans and bottles, and has been recognized by the Metropolitan Environmental Trust of Tulsa with its 2013 Recycling Innovator Award.

In Des Moines, Kum & Go partnered with Waste Management of Iowa Inc. and RecycleMe Iowa to place 268 of the bottle-shaped recycling bins near all of its 42 area stores. To help cover the cost of the containers for the expansion, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources awarded Kum & Go a $20,000 grant through its Solid Waste Alternative Program (SWAP). RecycleMe Iowa helped install the bins.

In Des Moines, Kum & Go also has been able to take advantage of Waste Management’s single-stream recycling services, where different types of recyclables--paper, plastic, etc.--can be collected together, minimizing any burdensome sorting required by the customer. Kum & Go also relies on waste audits by PepsiCo and Waste Management to help it keep track of the program’s progress.

“Good partnerships have been key, and working with partners to do waste audits, what’s going into the garbage, and working with associates to get material out of garbage,” said Hammes.

In 2014, Kum & Go will determine the next cities for the recycling rollout. “Now that we have 47 and 42 stores [in Tulsa and Des Moines, respectively], we want to make sure data comes in, and then roll out at the next city level once we tweak the program,” said Hammes.

One example of a recent tweak: In Des Moines, Kum & Go began offering recycling bins inside the stores for associates to use. “We have to prove the concept, make sure the signage and bin style are correct,” Hammes said.

For more on Kum & Go’s green credentials--and other retailers worthy of recognition--check out CSP magazine's January 2014 exclusive, “The Convenience Top 101 and More.”

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