A friend of mine, a Xerox engineer, was taking his team on retreat and happened to visit a landfill one day. He saw something there that changed his professional life forever. It was a Xerox container that had once held a photocopier, and now was languishing at the bottom of a landfill, broadcasting the Xerox brand for all who visited the dump to see. He swore the new product line he has working on would be “zero to landfill”. His team ended up developing one of the most successful new products in Xerox history, the first digital copier that was 98% recyclable and 93% remanufacturable. No more Xerox in the landfill for him.
Branded Litter. Not a pretty phrase. For a consumer products company, the last thing they want to see is their label or logo staring back at someone from a landfill, roadside, or ocean gyre. Or worse, their plastic product tagged in a photo from a beach cleanup, or peeking out from a sea turtle’s mouth, or in a dead albatrosses’ stomach. No company wants their brand associated with something bad; whether it’s obesity, injuries, or trashin’ the planet.
Besides, no one knows better what is in the product or package and how to put it to good use in its next life better than its maker. A Pepsi Cola can is worth a lot to PepsiCo. A Unilever shampoo bottle is something that Unilever can use again. Worn-out footwear is something that Nike can help to play again.
So smart brands are working to get their products back “into the loop” ad turn their own products and packages back into new stuff. After all, they paid for those raw materials in the first place, didn’t they? They know what’s in that product or package and how to use it again, don’t they? Why let them slip away to the landfill, roadside of ocean? Why not get their own products back and make new ones out of them?
The writing is on the wall anyway. In Europe, “Extended Producer Responsibility” is a reality- companies are responsible for taking back their stuff. It’s good business savvy to get ahead of the curve and figure out a way to get your old stuff back as raw materials for new stuff. Harley Davidson remanufactures old Harley engines back into new ones. Nike makes old footwear into new shoe filler and playground equipment. PepsiCo is grabbing all the “post consumer” PET and aluminum they can get their hands on. If they don’t do it, someone will. Cartridge World takes printer cartridges from all manufacturers and remanufactures, refills them and sells them in like new shape for less than the originals.
Turning products back into the same product, or a better one. Keeping that good name out of the waste stream or litter pile and getting it back on the shelves. That’s the essence of product specific recycling. Turning that top brand back into that top brand.