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RIDWELL - The Future of Household Recycling

by Chris Bean

Today’s world is dictated by the crossroads of productivity and convenience. I must admit that I, like many consumers, am constantly looking for ways to do more by doing less. I do most, if not all, my shopping online – which has allowed me to get the perfect last-minute gifts, order my groceries for curbside pickup, and order take-out, all without leaving my couch. This high-tech, fast-paced world we have found ourselves in has led me and other consumer pals to expect this level of service and convenience from just about everything. As such, many companies have taken revolutionary leaps forward in their manufacturing processes, logistics, and technologies in order to compete in the global market.

However, one of the results of this competitive consumer economy has been the devastating impact on our environment. In 2018, the world generated on average 3.5 million tons of waste a day, this is the equivalent by weight of contributing nearly 10 Empire State Buildings to landfills, every single day (That’s approximately 1.3 billion tons annually!). What if you were tasked with a problem this heavy, would you be able to solve it? Could anyone? Ridwell, a growing sustainability company with a dream and sweet business plan, believes it can.

I know what you are probably thinking, “We already have recycling programs, and we are still in this mess!”, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Recycling programs do exist, but they weren’t all created equally. Did you know that many communities don’t have standard curbside recycling? In fact, only about 59% of the U.S. offers curbside recycling pick-up as an option. Worse yet, those numbers don’t even consider the more extensive gambit of recycling options – pair that with the overwhelming amount of regional knowledge required for consumers to correctly dispose of their waste and things get even trickier.

While doing research for this article, I’m reminded of my personal experience with recycling while working for a well-known, all-natural grocery store in college. The entrances and exits of the store boasted several options for recycling and waste bins for customers. So, there I was after my lunch break, standing in front of 4 different bins with a now empty lunch-stained container and the clock rapidly approaching my late return from break, not sure which bin to use. So, I asked a couple of nearby co-workers who both had different answers, then we all asked a manager who also had a different answer. This highlighted a need for the store to regularly revisit training on the proper disposal of different items. (And yes… I was a few minutes late returning from lunch.)

It has been shown that putting the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of consumers results in only a small percentage of waste reaching the correct facility. In California alone, at least 85% of single-use plastics, things like yogurt cups, berry containers, and other packaging end up in the landfill.

So, what is to be done? Luckily, productivity and convenience are an iterative process and there are companies like Ridwell, that are already pioneering the future of household recycling, and it’s as close as your front door.

Ridwell was started by a father and his six-year- old son who were trying to recycle their dead batteries. After reaching out to several locations, they realized how difficult it was to recycle certain items – relatable! When they were finally able to find a reliable place to take their batteries, they began reaching out to their neighbors, asking if they too had batteries to recycle. Over time these recycling carpool trips expanded to include other hard to recycle items and even more neighbors started relying on these pickups. Once it grew to a point where nearly everyone in their neighborhood had pickups, it was clear that there was a common need for this service, thus Ridwell was born.

Ridwell understands that many individuals are interested in doing right by the environment, but it is not always easy to do. So, by partnering with individuals, local non-profits, and businesses, Ridwell is bringing people together to build communities dedicated to making the responsible thing to do more accessible, convenient, and beneficial to the community and the earth as a whole.

Today, Ridwell gives you bags that remove the guesswork from recycling by labeling each one with specific items: plastic film, light bulbs, threads, batteries, and more.

Every two weeks you let them know that you have stuff to pick up and they will come by and pick up their filled bags from your doorstep. Ridwell operates by partnering with several non- profit companies and organizations, to ensure that your stuff is either recycled for materials or reused by someone in your community.

From the customer’s end, Ridwell’s program is pretty simple – every two weeks they make their rounds picking up what they refer to as their core categories, i.e., things that pile up all the time. Every pickup also offers a different featured category that rotates to highlight particularly special items or materials found around the home that can be used or recycled in your community. In addition, they also offer member add-ons to accommodate the pickup of larger hard to recycle items.
FUN FACT: Did you know 87% of people think more is being recycled than it actually is?
One of the key components of Ridwell’s business model is transparency. They regularly update their website to reflect the most up to date waste data in the cities where they operate. While they’ve only been in business since 2018, they have made huge strides toward a more sustainable tomorrow. For example, here’s the impact they’ve made so far in Portland, Oregon:

Lightbulbs – 100% diverted material, 0% contamination, and partnering with Ecolights, which is a company that uses safe mechanical recycling techniques to handle lightbulb materials.

Threads – 98.2% diverted material, 1.8% contamination. Ridwell also partnered with Pioneer Wiping Cloth to use and reuse your threads where possible otherwise it gets recycled into reusable cloth wipes.

Plastic Film – 90.6% diverted material with 9.4% contamination. They partnered with Trex who turns plastic film and wrap into new decking material.

#1 PET Clear Clamshells – 89.2% diverted material with 10.8% contamination. Partnering with Green impact, a PET specialist, to process the PET and turn it into raw materials used for making new clamshells.

Styrofoam – 88.7% diverted material with 11.3% contamination. Partnering with Agilyx, who uses recycling processes to take old EPS into re-formable EPS raw materials for remanufacturing.

Batteries – 100% diverted material and 0% contamination. Again, partnering with Ecolights to recover material and create new batteries.

Currently, their services are only offered in select cities in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, and Washington, but they are constantly looking for opportunities to expand. Since Ridwell is committed to the idea of community and wasting less – the decision to expand to new areas is a calculated one. A combination of factors such as population density, and the number of individuals in that area who are interested in these services signals to Ridwell that there’s an opportunity to expand their area of operation and build relationships. The future is brighter with companies like Ridwell.

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