This Awesome Campaign Takes the Confusion out of Recycling

Recycle Across America has partnered with Participant Media, our parent company, to launch the Recycle Right project.
Jun 2, 2014·
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Nobody likes to think about trash. We can go all day without giving a single thought to the 4.3-pound detritus—that’s the average amount of waste a person generates in 24 hours—we toss into bins and receptacles that magically empty out the next morning or the next week. This has piled up into a problem we can’t ignore, so Mitch Hedlund is working to make recycling simpler and more intuitive.

“We want to get to the point where people know what to do when they walk up to bins without having to take the time to think about it,” she says. Hedlund heads Recycle Across America, a nonprofit working to standardize recycling labels across the nation. As seen in the video above, they’re as simple as they come: mixed recycling, compost, and landfill—all in large lettering, with corresponding diagrams.

Before RAA began the first standardized label initiative of magnitude in 2011, Hedlund had an epiphany at, of all places, an airport. “I remember one person walking by, and he’s throwing a dirty diaper in front of me and said, ‘It’s all going to the landfill anyway.’ That left an impression on my mind.”

Hedlund was then working on a project called Eco-Profile, which focused on how businesses could become more sustainable. When she found herself a keynote speaker at a recycling conference to talk about corporate sustainability, Hedlund decided to share some outsider observations with the group. “I had a mini me on my right shoulder asking, ‘Why would you tell them what’s wrong with their industry?’ But when will I have the chance to address this group again?”

She showed her audience hundreds of photos of recycling bins; none of them had the same label on them. “I said, ‘This is what recycling looks like to the general public today.’ ”

Soon after, Hedlund started working with industry leaders as well as people outside of the field to evaluate the designs she created and suggested at the recycling conference. She founded RAA in April 2011 to introduce the labels they found to be the most effective for the general public. Three years later, the nonprofit has nabbed partnerships with companies such as Hallmark, AOL, and Procter & Gamble. It has also distributed the labels to 2,000 K–12 schools in the U.S. Now RAA is working with Participant Media, TakePart's parent company, to launch the Recycle Right campaign.

“We can’t just ask people to recycle more, because they’re not doing it correctly right now. If we continue to do what we’re doing and asked people to do it more, we’re just going to have stockpiles of bad recycling that nobody would use,” Hedlund explains. “It will still get thrown to the landfill.”

She adds, “There’s a big part of the population that’s trying to recycle properly, and they’re taking the time to figure it out when they’re at a public area bin. There’s another part that still says, ‘It’s all going to a landfill anyway.’ ”

With standardized labels, Hedlund hopes, we can all finally recycle right without thinking that much about it.

To learn more about the Recycle Right campaign, tune in to Human Resources, which will premiere on Pivot, TakePart's sister network, on Aug. 8.