On Oct. 1, I attended a virtual tour of the Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) production center in Bellevue, Wash. One segment of the tour focused on the recycling program at the facility. During this segment, I was introduced to Zero the Dog. Zero the Dog is a traveling trophy awarded to the CCE production facility with the highest recycling rate. Zero intrigued me so much that I wanted to know more about the trophy and its history.

Jerry Thornton, recycling logistic manager, Coca-Cola Recycling; Darin Croston, plant manager, Bellevue; and Jed Rusyniak, management systems manager, Bellevue, took time out of their busy day earlier this week to provide me with not only Zero’s history, but the history of the Target 100 recycling program at CCE.

The Target 100 recycling program is what led to the creation of the Zero the Dog trophy. In order to understand why Zero is an important symbol of CCE’s recycling efforts, one must first understand the recycling program.

Target 100 got its start at a small Pennsylvania CCE plant in October 2007. The Washington, Pa., location was recycling well and CCE took notice. In order to expand the program already in place, representatives from seven CCE facilities, including the Bellevue, Wash., location, descended on the small Pennsylvania plant to learn more.

Taking what was learned in Pennsylvania, CCE and the seven locations began the Target 100 pilot program in January 2008. Thornton explained that it was important to the company that these seven facilities master their recycling efforts before expanding the program. So, the decision was made that once a production center achieved a 90 percent or greater internal recycling rate for more than 90 days, they could then bring on another facility in their business unit.

The employees at these facilities embraced the program so much that by the beginning of 2009, there were 18 plants participating in the Target 100 program. As of September 2009, this number had grown to 30 out of 60 eligible facilities with recycling rates of greater than 90 percent. CCE has committed that 100 percent of their plants will be recycling at a greater than 90 percent rate by the end of 2010.

In order to help facilitate this aggressive goal through healthy inter-facility competition, the traveling trophy was created. Each quarter the trophy is awarded to the facility with the greatest solid waste recycling rate. But why a dog? It goes back to the phrase “unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes.” CCE wanted lead dogs and so a bullmastiff was chosen as the symbolic representation of this phrase. Each quarter the lead dog facility was recognized with the Bismarck, N.D., CCE facility being the first to earn the award. Although Bismarck was the first owner of the trophy, the stocky bullmastiff didn’t yet have a name. This is where the Bellevue, Wash., facility comes into the picture.

Currently, the Bellevue plant is recycling 99.8 percent of its internal solid waste. This includes composting items in the breakrooms, recycling outdated or unsold aluminum and plastic Coca-Cola beverage containers, packing crates, shipping products, and just about everything else that makes its way into the plant.

The month prior to Bellevue starting the Target 100 program, the facility recycled approximately 65 percent of its internal waste. The third month on the program, Bellevue was recycling 96 percent of its waste. During the call, Rusyniak explained how the program grew so quickly and with so much success.

After visiting the Washington, Pa., plant, staff at the Bellevue plant held several planning meetings and then followed up with employee interviews. Bellevue management wanted to know what the employees wanted to see in the recycling program and how to best boost employee participation. Thankfully, residents in the Seattle, Wash., area are already eco-conscious and so their understanding of, and commitment to, the environment helped foster the quick growth and early success of the program.

Although the program was successful from the early stages, the growth of the recycling program at the Bellevue plant has not waned. For five of the last six quarters, they’ve posted the best recycling rates among Target 100 participants and have laid claim to the trophy.

Since the trophy resided at the Bellevue facility for so long, staff decided to hold a naming contest. It was “their” trophy and it deserved a name. Ultimately, Zero the Dog, a suggestion that came from a forklift driver, was chosen and the bullmastiff had its name. Although Zero the Dog may once again travel, employees at the Bellevue plant are continuing to aim for that Target 100 recycling goal and don’t plan on letting Zero out of their sight.

The recycling efforts at the Bellevue production plant are admirable and can serve as a model for other businesses to use when implementing, or expanding, their own recycling program. I asked Darin Croston what advice he’d give to other companies, and his response was to “keep it simple.” By giving employees ample opportunity to recycle, instead of putting it into the trash bin (which the Bellevue plant now calls the all other bin), they are more likely to recycle a waste product.

By making it simple and convenient to recycle a variety of products, employees at the Bellevue, Wash., CCE plant have managed to maintain a greater than 99 percent recycling rate for the last 18 months. Although Zero the Dog is a traveling trophy, it may find its Bellevue home to be too comfortable to leave.

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