LOS ANGELES — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Save.
Shoppers here are adopting the motto now that Safeway is on board with a pilot that rewards households with grocery discounts for recycling curbside. Participants can earn up to $200 in discounts per year.
Los Angeles residents can enroll at Safeway's Vons stores via RecycleBank, a green rewards company that teams with 200 municipalities who track the recycling habits of 1.5 million households nationwide.
The more paper, plastic, metal and glass an individual recycles, the more discounts earned from RecycleBank's partners. They include over 100 national chains and 3,000 businesses local to the Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Phoenix, Houston, Omaha, Neb., and Minneapolis neighborhoods where the program is available.
Rewards partners benefit not just from their association with the program. The discounts they donate help bring traffic to their stores.
“It drives economic stimulus in the communities we work with,” noted Azim Esmail, director of rewards development for RecycleBank.
Safeway banners Vons and Pavilions offer grocery rewards to the Los Angeles effort, just as Whole Foods Market, Publix Super Markets and Harris Teeter do in the operating areas they have in common with RecycleBank. But Safeway's arrangement goes a step beyond to encourage enrollment in the program through community outreach and in-store events.
“We have a fantastic relationship with Safeway. It's been a strategic partner throughout our launch in Los Angeles,” said Esmail.
During the official launch of the city's pilot on Earth Day, April 22, 2010, Vons and Pavilions hosted a set-up booth with games and prizes at the L.A. Live Earth Festival where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the city's partnership with RecycleBank.
Carlos Illingsworth, public affairs and sustainability director for Vons and Pavilions, was on hand to discuss Safeway's participation.
“When we were approached to be part of this program, it was really a no-brainer for us since it's an extension of what we're already doing on the green front,” said Illingsworth, adding that Safeway has been recycling since the early 1960s and pioneered the aluminum recycling industry in the '70s.
It was also the first member of the retail sector to join the Chicago Climate Exchange — the world's first voluntary, legally binding rules-based greenhouse gas emissions allowance trading system.
Safeway has gotten employees involved in its commitment to the environment with steps designed to help change household energy consumption. It's distributed free compact fluorescent light bulbs to associates, and even negotiated prices on solar panels and installation for their homes.
Now, with its involvement in the RecycleBank program, the chain is getting shoppers in on the act too.
“Anything that we can do to get our customer base involved in recycling and being good stewards of the environment is a good thing for us,” Safeway spokeswoman Teena Massingill told SN.
About 15,000 Los Angeles residents have signed up with RecycleBank, thanks in part to Safeway's efforts. The retailer has helped drum up excitement about the model and enrolled shoppers from information stations set up in Vons' Los Angeles, Chatworth, Northridge and Eagle Rock, Calif. stores.
To encourage participation, Safeway offered a bonus reward to the first 10,000 enrollees: $5 off $50 or more at Vons and Pavilions.
“We're pleased with the consumer response,” said Massingill.
Safeway's spokeswoman is not just referring to the number of shoppers enrolled, but those who are earning RecycleBank Points and cashing them in for Safeway rewards.
“The immediate benefit is that we're offering our customers this incentive and they can come back and use their points,” she said.
Safeway is confident it will help bring new shoppers too.
“We'll ultimately bring in new customers who will choose to redeem their points at Safeway or Vons,” Massingill said.
Participants earn a single RecycleBank Point for each pound recycled. Fifty points is easily attained after a single pick-up, noted Esmail.
Among the rewards Los Angeles residents can exchange points for is the offer to save $5 off $50 or more at Vons and Pavilions. The reward that “costs” 20 points has proven to be popular.
“It is consistently one of the top five redeemed,” noted Esmail.
Discounts on products from the Coca-Cola Co., Kashi, Yoplait, McDonald's, Staples, Ruby Tuesdays and other rewards partners can also be earned in Los Angeles.
RecycleBank tracks the number of pounds recycled by a single household by attaching a unique RFID chip to the user's recycling bin. There is no need to sort paper, plastic, metal and glass, so just one bin is required.
On pick-up days, a truck retrofitted with an RFID reader identifies the member via the chip, contents are weighed and hauled off, and their account is updated.
Safeway has partnered with RecycleBank — strictly as a rewards provider — in other areas where the program is available, including Houston, Phoenix, Morgan Hill, Calif., and Philadelphia.