Thermostat Recycling and the Coronavirus
Sometimes, the impact of events takes days, weeks, and even years before we digest its full implication. Supporting this observation is the Wall Street Journal, which for several weeks wrote short articles about the transformation in individuals’ lives that occurred within weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus has had that effect on TRC, especially in the northeastern states. Unsurprisingly, our overall numbers are down concerning collections. While we expect to see smaller collection numbers as time goes on, if we’re doing our job, we’re starting to track a downturn most likely because contractors are making fewer house calls during this time. This isn’t a complete surprise. Many homeowners planted in their homes are discouraging anyone from coming inside. We feel the trickle-down effect of those fewer service calls.
However, we also have felt the effect on site visits to our wholesalers in the northeast states.
Allow me to backtrack slightly. In the northeast, historically we have had a two-step approach to contacting our wholesaler partners to assist them with the recycling process. Most locations would receive a site visit biennially with follow-up calls made quarterly. With the current pandemic, we have added another form of contact with our locations. In order of effectiveness, we now have site visits, virtual visits and phone calls.
For example, on our behalf, the Center for EcoTechnology (CET) sends out a representative to various wholesalers in the region. CET is a nonprofit that helps people and businesses save energy and reduce waste. We conduct these site visits to ensure that our wholesalers are engaged in TRC’s recycling program. (Most HVAC wholesalers are considered essential, so they haven’t closed down during the coronavirus pandemic, but social distancing is forcing them to operate differently.)
Our representative reviews the location of our collection buckets, counts any inventory and ensures that the wholesaler knows how to package and ship the thermostats correctly. It might seem like a humdrum practice, but as we all know, it’s the details and follow-through that are essential. And they are the backbone of our collection efforts. This practice allows TRC to acquaint any new employees to the collection program if they haven’t been already, replace missing supplies and schedule a shipping pickup if necessary.
What we have found is that some wholesalers are reluctant to allow anyone to enter their store. Understandably, they are concerned with conducting business in a nontraditional manner and aren’t allowing customers or visitors into their locations. Many have begun to utilize the curbside pickup philosophy. It is not that they are indifferent to the need to recycle mercury-containing thermostats safely. Instead, they’re focused on keeping their business alive and working as efficiently as possible, given the circumstances they face, especially in the context of social distancing.
Therefore, we have employed a new approach, what we are calling a virtual visit. Using a Zoom call, the representative conducts a “walkabout” at the location, ensures there is a TRC container — hopefully placed strategically — and gives instructions on how to ship the contents or schedule a pickup if necessary.
Finally, there is the phone call, which is admittedly the least effective method. The reason is obvious: There is no “show and tell” component to the process. For example, if the person manning the counter is unfamiliar with TRC, they might not even know the container’s location. Also, with an individual not showing up at your door, you lose the personal touch of individual contact and familiarity.
Don’t despair. In every piece of advice on business, the words “be flexible” creep in. At TRC, we agree. We will remain committed to the recycling process, and while the approach might appear less robust at the moment, we hope there will be a tipping point that returns us to “normal” times.