By Julien Chosson

How do you tell your customers that the recycling they are bringing in is contaminated? It is an incredibly hard discussion to have, but a necessary one when you are losing cash from serving your customer. The process described hereunder works for a recycling facility toward its haulers, as well as for haulers willing to have a discussion with their customers. From auditing loads, to communicating with your clients, there are tools to do so without adding too much of a burden on your shoulders. This process aims at improving your facility results and overall impact.

#1: Visually Inspect 100 Percent of Your Loads
If you want to incur a behavioral change, you should visually inspect 100 percent of your loads that arrive at your MRF. A complete audit of each load is not necessary; you will be able to see 80 percent of the contaminations while the material is dropped on the tipping floor. While you check for contaminations, document them in a file you will later share with your client. This can be a word or excel file or a survey system that you have implemented yourself. The document should include information such as what type of contaminants were found, an estimated percentage, and the date and time of the contamination. Take pictures as proof for the customer. Using this process continuously for every load will give you data about the cleanliness of your waste stream, who contaminates what and when, and you will be able to identify trends and opportunities for improvements. Now that you have the data, it is time to prepare communicating with the client.

Trashbot sorting waste and educating people to recycle better, from CleanRobotics. Photo courtesy of Wastack.

#2: Lay the Foundation of Good Communication with Your Client
As humans, communication seems easy; however, studies show that we are very often poor communicators as our cultures clashes with our instincts. During the first step, you prepared data to communicate rational elements to your client. However, to initiate the communication, you should rely on emotions, and communicate with them why you are doing this. It is important to let haulers know why it matters that their customers need to get better. Of course, we are talking about cash and impact. Contaminated loads end up at the landfill instead of new raw material for the economy. Discuss why it is their responsibility to communicate with their communities in order to get better habits from implementing better practices. Let them know why staying idle is not an option. You are holding them accountable about the impact that they should be making in their communities.

#3: Empower Them to Succeed
In the industry, we are all aligned with the goal to recycle more and recycle better. It benefits us all to have a sustainable industry. So, there is no letting one party take care of the issue on its own; we can help clients and their customers get better for everyone’s benefit.

Regularly share results by comparing data with the previous month’s results in order to check out the improvements. The best solution is to set up SMART goals. A SMART goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. For example, a client will reduce plastic bag contamination by 15 percent by next month. If the hauler and you both agree that it can be achieved, you have got a smart goal. Now, it is all about implementing it. There again, you can help by brainstorming and communicating new ideas toward their end user.

Leverage the data you have by focusing on communicating with haulers about the major contaminants and the most contaminated routes. Ultimately, to help
haulers, you can offer free resources for their customers to improve, such as infographics, sponsoring an app to help them understanding recycling, promoting content from other  relevant platforms, etc.

#4: It Is Time for a Specific Contamination Pricing
Now that you have given your clients all the tools to succeed at recycling, give them extra motivation to detect contamination in order to help increase the revenues of your facility. There are multiple approaches to it—some facilities will charge a fee for each contamination that is detected, others will re-evaluate the tonnage price monthly based on the results of the audits. Both are fine, if they are implemented thoroughly. We do recommend that pricing considers the target to reach the highest standards with a price adjustment at the first contamination within a load and go as high as a dissuasion pricing for a higher contamination rate that will significantly reduce the recycled material value and slow down your
operations. While implementing these prices, agree with your client on the best way to convey proof, and make sure simple pictures will work; you do not want to be left with the costs of extra-handling material or reducing your facility’s ability to receive material because a client wants to physically check that there is contamination. Once this specific pricing is put in place, apply it regularly—either daily if you price per contamination or monthly if you adjust the tonnage price of your client. In any case, adjust the price with the proof you gather monitoring 100 percent of the loads.

If All Fails, Now is the Time for the (Unpleasant) Discussion

Sometimes all the best efforts and intents do not pay off, and certain clients will keep contaminating without making any improvement to reach an acceptable level for the success of your facility. Before having the talk, you should gather all the data in a clear readable format that will serve as an anchor for your discussion. Make your decision before going into the meeting; if you decide that you can no longer receive their material, this is your call. When the meeting starts, use your emotional intelligence to soft-land the person you are speaking with. Check for facial expressions, ways to talk and pause, gestures—use these clues to make a firm statement without blocking the person in front of you. No matter how you say it, it will be uncomfortable; however, saying it with emotional intelligence will help convey the message. Lastly, offer them a way back with clear expectations. They still are your client. You can implement a probation period, where their loads have a specifically high price to pay or are completely banned from your facility. The goal remains to recycle more and recycle better.

The process may seem overwhelming to implement; luckily, there are tools out there that make it much simpler, such as smart cameras that can visually inspect 100 percent of your loads and generate daily reports pointing out all contaminations that went through your waste stream. These cameras give you all the data to initiate discussions with your clients within days. Simon Senek wrote the book, Start with Why—we recommend that you read it in order to convey more powerful messages to your clients. If do not have time to read the book, check out his TED talk about how great leaders inspire actions. Finally, a robot that sorts recyclables is a tool that could really help your clients improve their results if they are a facility that receives larger crowds like a stadium, an airport, a hotel, etc. The robots could also be used during an event in a neighborhood where contamination rate is high in order to help them understanding what goes in which bin. There are many tools that you can use to improve your impact and your results, however, it does require an effort to implement 100 percent visual inspection and a specific pricing, and once that is done, your profitability will significantly increase. | WA

Do Not Cut Ties with Your Customer Just Yet

We understand that after implementing a continuous visual inspection to identify contaminants, some customers may appear to be costing you a lot and you may wish to not do business with them. Although separating contaminants is a pain, remember that clients are full of goodwill. If they are ready to progress, they might just become your best ones. Working with your clients as partners will include them more efficiently in your process and strengthen the business relationship you have with them. Furthermore, it will appear as high-quality service for them that you dedicate efforts for their improvements, and that will just put pressure on your local competitors to offer best-in-class services following your leadership.

Julien Chosson, MBA, is CEO at Wastack. After spending four years providing services for landfills across North America, he focused on helping Wastack make the circular economy sustainable and now works with transfer stations and MRFs to help them monetize their waste streams further while aligning with recycling and circular goals. Julien can be reached at [email protected].