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Community Engagement

Environmental
Education

Consumers want to recycle right—simplicity and convenience play an important role on the road to success.

As we move through our busy lives, it’s hard to keep track of what does or doesn’t belong in the recycling bin. That’s why WM created the Recycle Right program, the first national, comprehensive recycling education and outreach program built to provide open-source tools to help customers understand how to recycle properly.

How We Help People Recycle Right

We partner with states, cities and businesses across North America to broaden conversations and elevate understanding around the impact individual behavior can have in fostering sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Through resources, explanations of common recycling myths and concise lists of acceptable recycling materials, Recycle Right provides answers for residents, businesses, educators, property managers and government institutions seeking recycling know-how. Brochures, posters, decals, videos and other resources are all available for download as part of our toolkits. Plus, municipalities and commercial customers can take advantage of a free widget that directs consumers to our Recycle Right website. For educators, we created a standards-based, interactive learning recycling curriculum designed to align with the Next Generation Science Standards.

We regularly update the Recycle Right website with real-time information and solutions to help consumers recycle properly. For example, since plastic bags are not acceptable to recycle in commercial or curbside recycling programs, we developed a commercial, reusable recycling bag toolkit to provide businesses the necessary tools to train janitorial staff and employees to recycle without using plastic bags or liners. Similarly, we created a multifamily toolkit to help property managers and residents set up their recycling programs for success. With Recycle Right reusable tote bags, residents of multifamily properties can easily transport recyclables to their bins.

8.5M
people reached annually through digital communication campaigns

To keep Recycle Right messaging top of mind, our Canadian colleagues and neighbors celebrated Waste Reduction Week, leading up to America Recycles Day, by leveraging social media to share best practices on how to reduce waste. Insights focused on the circular economy, textiles, e-waste, plastics, food waste and other key components of recycling right and living sustainably.

Powering Through the Pandemic

WM typically receives hundreds of requests from schools to teach children the value of recycling. While the pandemic presented challenges to meeting these requests, our Pacific Northwest recycling educators quickly found a new way to engage youth around sustainability from home. Through interactive virtual programming, WM guided students through quizzes and exercises during which they learned the basics of recycling and environmental protection. WM has facilitated 1,400 classroom workshops and 220 school assemblies since 2012 in Snohomish and Spokane counties in Washington state, and led 115 virtual workshops in 2020. According to one teacher, WM’s programming was “the best part of our day!”

Other virtual events included video tours of our Sacramento, California, MRF and composting facility, a tour of our new Salt Lake City, Utah, MRF in partnership with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, and a Recycle Right video contest.

Our Gulf Coast team brought virtual education to children in Head Start programs getting ready for kindergarten by donating tablet devices (erased by IT before delivery) to the City of Jackson, Mississippi, for their Early Childhood Development Centers.

We also launched WM eConnect, a virtual engagement program to educate managers of multifamily and commercial properties. Using this new approach, our Pacific Northwest team completed 500 site visits, workshops and presentations, reaching more than 1,500 customers—all virtually. WM eConnect includes live webinar-style trainings on the recycling process and explains what makes an item recyclable. The training also features short videos explaining the basics of recycling and why plastic bags cause problems for curbside recycling programs. These resources were particularly important for customers during stay-at-home orders, which increased waste volumes and made recycling right and reducing contamination more important than ever.

Reimagining the Value of Waste

In line with our interest in creating a circular economy and finding new uses for a variety of materials, including textiles, WM is helping to inspire emerging fashion designers to consider a garment’s end of life before its life begins. In 2019, WM worked with Slow Factory, a public service organization that works at the intersection of climate and culture, to launch a Landfills as Museums initiative. Landfills as Museums invited designers, students and activists to tour a landfill to learn what kinds of materials are present, before encouraging them to consider how waste can be incorporated into the product design process. We are furthering our collaboration with Slow Factory through the WM Design Challenge, whose participants’ work will be showcased at the 2022 WM Sustainability Forum. Slow Factory is also helping to identify speakers and students to participate in Together Today, For Tomorrow, a web series of virtual conversations that will feature up-and-coming leaders in sustainability.

Local Giving for Environmental Education

WM helps educate neighbors and communities with local grants that organizations can use to amplify their programs. In 2020, a grant to King George Family YMCA helped fund a social responsibility program to teach more than 700 K-5 students to become recycling ambassadors. WM also awarded a grant to the City of Tampa Department of Solid Waste & Environmental Program Management to strengthen its recycling education campaign, with a specific focus on reducing contamination. The impact of these grants will last long beyond the programs themselves, through young recycling ambassadors and sustainability stewards who will improve communities for decades to come.