Recycling Program Breeds Customer Loyalty

While stopping for gas one day, two waste management interns working for the city of Lexington, Ky., pondered how much garbage could be recycled from cars if locations, such as gas stations, made it more convenient to recycle.

The interns, Elizabeth Rebmann and Natalie Cooke, pitched their idea for such a recycling program to Bruce Whittaker, the district manager of Lexington South for Speedway SuperAmerica LLC (SSA), which has approximately 1,600 stores in nine states throughout the Midwest. Whittaker saw potential in the plan and a 10-week recycling pilot program was initiated.

The program began last spring at three selected SSA locations in Lexington, Ky. To start, the chain coordinated with the city of Lexington’s Department of Waste, which pulled a random sampling of trash from the three sites to conduct a waste audit and discovered that, on average, 45% of the trash customers discarded at each gas station could be recycled. The city then provided large recycling containers called Rosies, which SSA placed alongside the trash bins at the three participating stores. Over a 10-week period the chain collected a total of 2,200 pounds of recyclable materials, which included plastic beverage bottles, aluminum cans, newspapers and magazines (no glass containers).

“The volume of recyclables collected speaks directly to the need to institute a recycling program in the convenience store industry,” Whittaker said. 

A year later, the three stores from the pilot program are recycling more than ever before—filling 8-10 big roll carts per week with recyclable materials. The success of the program also led SSA to expand its recycling program to 16 stores in the Lexington market last October.

Customer Response
At a time when more consumers are interested in sustainability and eager to support businesses that share their values, customer response to the recycling program has been strong. Customers have written to remark that the bins are clearly marked and to thank the chain for implementing the program. Whittaker credited the ease and accessibility of the program with its success.

“Our customers seem to really appreciate our effort to extend our environmental stewardship into the realm of simple, at-the-pump recycling,” Whittaker said.

The program also speaks to the chain’s core values. “At Speedway SuperAmerica, one of our most important responsibilities is to protect our environment,” said SSA President Tony Kenney. “We care about the footprint we leave on the environment and we hope to make it a little easier for others to care of as well,” he added.

City Cooperation
To develop and maintain a successful recycling program, it is imperative to have someone working for the city who holds a real interest in the outcome of the program, Whittaker indicated.

As it turns out, SSA’s timing could not have been more perfect. Lexington was in the middle of creating a recycling expansion program of its own and was ready and able to support the chain’s initiative through canister distribution and pick-up coordination.

“Typically, the easier something is the more success it will have. This is especially true of this particular program,” Whittaker said. “Easily accessible receptacles make the choice to recycle easier for consumers.  In addition, we’ve had an incredible amount of support from the city of Lexington, which has revamped its recycling program after finding that 75% of the waste sent to local landfills could be recycled,” he added.

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