Return-It launches vision for waste-free future

Return-It, the B.C. stewardship organization, has framed its social purpose: “We exist to foster a world where nothing is waste.”

Guided by United Way’s Social Purpose Institute, Return-It undertook a year-long process to develop its social purpose, which informs the organization’s strategic direction for the next 25 years. Through partnerships, community engagement, investments in new technology, research and innovation, Return-It is building on its commitment to supporting a circular economy.

“It’s about defining the role we want to play in achieving a waste-free world. By re-imagining the role of materials, products and resources, we can view waste as a misplaced resource,” said Allen Langdon, president and CEO of Return-It.

“We’re aligning our resources, people and systems to take a broader, more proactive role in bettering our communities and society as a whole. Our social purpose makes it clear we’re engaged in a more circular vision of how our society can operate.”

COVID-19 has challenged every organization to consider its role in the post-pandemic recovery, and to rethink what a ‘new normal’ should look like. By adopting a social purpose, Return-It is setting an example for other companies to identify how they can maximize their resources to have a positive social impact, in a way that ultimately helps grow their business.

Key initiatives bringing Return-It’s social purpose statement to life include:

  • innovative partnerships to accelerate solutions for addressing plastic waste in oceans and waterways;
  • a commitment to recycle 80 percent of the plastic beverage containers sold in B.C. by 2025;
  • increasing B.C. recycling rates through system improvements like Return-It Express that model convenience for consumers;
  • a commitment to phase out single-use plastic film in Return-It’s supply chain by 2025;
  • decarbonizing its transportation fleet by piloting Canada’s first-of-its-kind compressed natural gas hybrid-electric compaction truck;
  • and, engaging organizations around the world to share British Columbia’s best practices and leadership on recycling and extended producer responsibility.

“Return-It has demonstrated exactly the kind of approach that industry needs to adopt in the post-pandemic world,” said Mary Ellen Schaafsma, director of United Way’s Social Purpose Institute.

“Having a social purpose ultimately makes organizations more resilient in the face of unprecedented times, and provides a roadmap to bettering society as a whole.”

In evaluating the environmental trends shaping and impacting the industry, Return-It identified six environmental priorities inspired by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure,
  • Sustainable Cities & Communities,
  • Responsible Consumption & Production,
  • Climate Action,
  • Life Below Water, and
  • Partnerships.

A wide range of internal and external stakeholders – including recycling depot operators, government representatives, industry affiliates, brand owners and NGO thought leaders – were engaged as part of the process.

Return-It is an industry owned, not-for-profit, product stewardship agency with beverage container management as its core business. Its mandate is to develop, manage and operate a cost-effective system for the responsible collection and recycling of beverage containers across British Columbia. Return-It recycles approximately 1 billion beverage containers a year.