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BC's Return-It is broadening its commitment to the circular economy in time for Earth Day

Leading recycling and collection organization is utilizing a renewed social purpose to lean in and pivot for the post-pandemic era

Allen Langdon in a Return-It truck
Return-It CEO Allen Langdon in a first-of-its-kind in Canada compressed natural gas (CNG) hybrid-electric compaction truck.

For the past 26 years, Return-It, based out of Burnaby, B.C., near Vancouver, has been a leader in environmental protection through recycling and education. In the lead up to Earth Day, the B.C. stewardship organization is broadening its commitment to sustainability by announcing its social purpose, which is aimed at creating a better future for people, communities and the planet, and "We exist to foster a world where nothing is waste."

Guided by United Way's Social Purpose Institute, Return-It undertook an extensive, 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 support 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."

"As a founding partner and Advisory Council member of the Canada Plastics Pact, Return-It has demonstrated its commitment to circular solutions by keeping material in the economy and out of our natural environment," said George Roter, Managing Director of the Canada Plastics Pact. "Through the Canada Plastics Pact, stakeholders across Canada's plastics value chain have come together to innovative, eliminate and circulate the plastic we use. We are fortunate to have an environmental leader such Return-It onboard that's focused on supporting a
world where nothing is waste."

"Our social purpose has also enabled us to lean in, adapt and pivot during a challenging time," added Langdon. "Under the expert guidance of United Way's Social Purpose Institute, we are now taking our social commitment to the next level."

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.

The plastic bottle recycling process creates a circular economy. In Canada, plastic bottles are recycled and re-made using a circular model that eliminates waste. Instead of a linear economy where the supply chain ends with the consumer, the circular economy relies on consumers to recycle their bottles so they can be recycled back into the supply chain over and over again.

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. Plus, every plastic beverage container is responsibly recycled right here in B.C. and Alberta, where they're cleaned and broken down into plastic pellets that can be used to make new plastic bottles. In 2019, Return-It made a global commitment through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to help eliminate plastic pollution at the source, and became a founding member of the Canada Plastics Pact in 2021. Return-It has also partnered with Ocean Wise and Ocean Ambassadors Canada to educate students on how plastics affect the marine environment, and empower them to become life-long ambassadors who can make a meaningful impact in their schools and communities. In 2020, Return-It became the first Return-It first in Canada to deploy a CNG hybrid-electric compaction truck for recyclables hauling.

The Social Purpose Institute (SPI) at United Way exists to grow business for good, partnering with companies and collaborating with governments, allied organizations, and others to grow the Social Purpose Business movement.  
For more information, visit

• Link to Social Purpose Institute Case study and Video.

Company info

100 - 4259 Canada Way
Burnaby, BC
CA, V5G 4Y2


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