From Scraps to Soil: Target Teams Find a New Way to Recycle

September 29, 2015 - Article reads in
Target's New Compost Trash Bin

When life gets busy, it can be hard to make time for sustainable living. But sometimes, a little convenience mixed with innovation can make all the difference. Thanks to a program called “Know the Space to Throw Your Waste,” recycling and composting have never been easier for team members at Target’s Minneapolis headquarters. Team members Alissa Matthies and Brea Turner sat down to tell us more about how it works.

First off, tell us about the work your team does.

Alissa: Our team manages waste and recycling programs across Target—at our stores, distribution facilities and headquarters locations, as well as with vendors. We also help educate our team members so they can help make our programs successful, and understand why recycling is important.

Brea: We’re always looking for efficiencies, and ways to improve programs. We’re all passionate about making an environmental impact on Target’s business and the community. It all ladders up to supporting Target’s goal of reducing waste to landfill.

In 2014, you launched a program designed to help team members reduce waste at Target headquarters. How did that come about?

Brea: Team members tell us they want to live more sustainably, but they don’t have a lot of time to spend thinking about it. That’s where the idea for “Know the Space to Throw Your Waste” came from. We wanted to build convenient recycling and composting options right into the work day.

Alissa: For example, we knew a lot of waste was generated in workspaces, because team members would throw all their waste into the trash bin at their desk … even the recyclable stuff. So we pulled together several teams to create a new desk container with three compartments—one for recyclables, one for compostable materials, and one for landfill. We also updated our headquarters cafeterias with similar receptacles that sort out food waste and other recyclables from landfill materials.

What challenges did you face along the way?

Brea: It took a lot of coordination between teams. Our design involved adding clip-on compartments to the sides of the original trash bins at every desk, and a sticker that points out which materials go where. We created posters and materials to help team members understand which types of waste belongs in which bucket. It’s not always intuitive at first—where does a tissue go? How about chewing gum? [Spoiler: They’re both compostable.]

Alissa: There were also logistical challenges. For example, we had to make sure our housekeeping teams were equipped with the right training and gear to pick up the sorted materials and maintain the bins. We’re working on introducing sorted receptacles in our conference rooms in 2016 too. 

It’s still early, but you’ve seen some great results so far.

Alissa: It’s true. Since we started rolling the program out, our headquarters locations have diverted 83 tons of waste from landfills. A lot of that waste was composted; in fact, we increased our total composted tons by 295 percent in 2014. And we send our headquarters compost to a facility in Rosemount, Minn., where it’s turned into potting soil that’s sold at Target stores. (More on that in Target’s latest Corporate Social Responsibility Report.)

Brea: We’re still in the process of rolling the program out to more locations. It’s ultimately about changing habits and behaviors, and that takes time. We give the Target team a lot of credit for starting to move the needle, and we’re doing our best to answer their questions and help along the way so we can keep making progress.

Is it possible to start a recycling program like this at home?

Alissa: Absolutely! First, do a little research and find out what your city offers in terms of curbside pickup, drop-off locations, recycling centers and other services. is another great resource. And guests can recycle things like cans, glass, plastic bottles, plastic bags, MP3 players, ink cartridges and cell phones at most local Target stores.

Brea: A few easy ways to start: Compost all your kitchen scraps, and replace disposables with durables (metal ware instead of plastic, or dish towels vs. paper towels) when you can. And there are a range of products out there that can help, like self-contained compost units and “how-to” books for all ages.

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