The Need: More plastic needs to be recycled, and while the public wants to do their part, it’s confusing and often leads to frustration and contaminated recyclables. Municipalities are often changing the rules of what plastic types they accept at curbside or there is no collection program available. This leaves the burden on the resident or business owner to figure out what to put in the recycling bin and what doesn’t belong often getting it wrong. This leads to contaminated bags that “waste collectors” will then just throw straight into a disposal situation. We believe by taking the burden off the individual, homeowner or business owner and sorting the plastic ourselves, so it is just right, in a controlled sorting operation we can demonstrate scalable results. We also believe in educating the public on recycling in general so that as much plastic is recycled as possible. It’s a team effort!
Also, people have become cynical about how much of the plastic they put in the recycling bin is actually recycled. Trust within the community needs to be brought back to recycling.
The Solution: We at newBin are testing how we can raise plastic recycling rates through expanded access, education, incentivization, and improved collection. This will cut out frustration brought on by having to sort recyclable from non-recyclable plastic types. This will improve collection volumes, decrease contamination, loss of valuable plastic resources and allow controlled evaluation of traditionally non-recyclable plastics. During the course of our pilot, we are listening to many comments from the public about how confused they were about what goes in the recycling bin. They also voiced concerns about whether their curbside materials were actually being recycled after the truck drives away with them.
At newBin, we accept all plastic types, something we think is vital to the project. With municipalities coming out with new rules regularly about what plastics they accept for recycling, consumers are constantly confused about what can and can’t go into the bin. We take that burden off the consumer and do it ourselves. We believe in incentivizing the consumers for recycling their plastics to get the recycling rate up. We partner with commercial businesses who will be able to push incentive coupons and promote through our mobile app. These partnerships will allow us to financially afford to reward the consumer for recycling.
During our pilot, we have initially placed 100- 30 gallon newBin’s (collection bins) in stationary spots around the city, including parks, food halls, and small businesses. We also took newBin’s to 20+ events around the city during the summer months to collect plastic generated there. Our next phase is community drop-off containers. Five larger drop-off containers will be strategically placed around the city so households can start dropping off their “bagged” plastics and getting rewarded in the mobile app. While we are still in the ongoing pilot, we do not have hard data points we can share currently. We plan to start sorting and separation operations soon to collect this data.
Which of the Pact’s 4 Targets does your work help achieve? I believe that our work will help achieve Targets 2:100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025 and Target 3: Undertake ambitious actions to effectively recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging by 2025, as we take all plastic types, including hard to recycle packaging and plan to sort it into commodity and non-commodity categories selling it back to plastic processors and manufacturers to use as recycled content in items such as packaging or other reuse options such as composting and advanced chemical recycling.
What makes it particularly smart or circular? When we don’t make the consumers sort plastics from “good” and “bad” before going in the bin, we can collect more plastic. As recyclers, we can sort the material and make the most out of unsorted plastic. This should translate into more plastic being recycled. We intend to demonstrate the concept total plastic collection equals more plastics being reused and recycled.
Incentivizing for recycling is innovative. Instead of the consumer paying for their recycling to be taken away, we reward the consumer for their plastic and for doing something good for the planet. With commercial brands pushing coupons in our mobile app, we hope that big brands start championing plastic recycling, so it becomes the norm and ever more popular.
Results, Benefits, and Outcomes to Date: We observe one of our most significant successes is our communication with the public. We are learning much about their frustrations, and it’s helping us to create our pilot to be as consumer friendly as possible. We also found that our expectations for contamination were wrong. We figured more than 40% of the bags would become contaminated, but we believe it’s below that. Once we start sorting and collecting data, we will know more. We are continuing to learn throughout this pilot, but we do know that people are anxious for our drop-off bins and want to see successful recycling.
How are you communicating your success? We use a myriad of platforms such as an email subscription list with all of our investors and other who have signed up voluntarily, press releases that go county- and statewide, and we use social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. We also buy local TV spots and sponsor the local junior professional hockey and AA baseball teams while doing education tables at games during their seasons. We will be looking at participation rates, customer retention, and the sorted plastic data we are collecting to help determine the success of the pilot.
What’s Next? We want to eventually scale our program and expand our reach further outside of Erie, PA. We also want to work with commercial partners to promote the mobile app and include drop-off bins at their locations.
Roadblocks & Lessons Learned: Some of the roadblocks have been logistics of getting bins in and out of events and changing bags out while events are ongoing. We continued to learn throughout the summer the best way to transport and service the bins. We are always learning more and we’re keeping a document with ideas on how to make the process even smoother for next summer.
As expected, some contamination issues were seen but at a lower rate than expected. We received food waste as a contaminate the most. This likely occurred because of people not paying attention to the bin labels. We are brainstorming ideas to help combat the contamination. We think adding eye-catching signage next to the bins may help as well as placing the bins next to trash cans so it is very clear that they are for different items.
Core Team, Partners, & Participants: City of Erie Parks Department, Tim Horton’s of Erie, Rehrig Pacific, Penn State Behrend, ZeLoop and our shareholders.
Time Frame: This began with a concept in 2019 and we created the newBin brand in the beginning of 2021. The project is ongoing.
Budget: We funded newBin firstly with a $125,000 payment from its parent company. We participated in a crowdfunding raise on StartEngine.com starting October 2021-April 2022. We raised about $200,000. We continue to seek additional funding to expand the pilot. We do not have a final cost.
Quote: “We are so excited to be piloting this project in Erie. We want to make plastic recycling easier and reward people for doing something good for the planet.” – Ashley Heilmann, IRG Senior Campaigner
“Breaking away from traditional collection methods and changing the habits of plastic users is highly difficult. We must learn to sort plastics differently, more efficiently and with a different view of usability. This pilot study will help move forward toward better understanding what need to occur, in a pragmatic way, to reach the US Plastics Pact targets.” – Jeffrey Fitch, IRG Materian Consultant
Company/Organization Information: newBin was founded in 2021 in Erie, PA where we are currently running our year-long pilot program. We have 3 full-time staff.