By Mike Augustyniak

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Nine years ago, when she founded Recycle Across America, Mitch Hedlund’s idea to increase U.S. recycling rates seemed too simple to work.

But it was more than just a shot in the dark. Her background in marketing and sociology told her that simplifying this mess was the key to success.

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Then, as now, she sees recycling as a silver bullet.

“There is nothing that even compares to recycling on an environmental level,” Hedlund said. “To reverse climate change, to mitigate population growth, and to prevent waste from going into the oceans, it hits on every mark.”

Working alone at first, Mitch designed and tested simplified labels meant to be understood at a glance.

Later, she connected with some big names — like Kiehl’s, the cosmetics brand. They donated enough money to provide hundreds of thousands of labels to K-12 schools nationwide.

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Today, the Recycle Across America labels are in communities across the country, including in the Twin Cities at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“Before they implemented the labels, they had their recycling program with labels on the bins, and they collected about 20 percent of recyclables,” Hedlund said. “In August or September of last year, they pulled off all the labels and installed the standardized labels. Their recycling levels went to 83 percent, and almost zero contamination.”

With that kind of improvement, there aren’t many skeptics now.

“I think people are starving for solutions that help them become better,” Hedlund said.

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Today, the United States recycles just over 20 percent of eligible items.

Mike Augustyniak