Retail

Retail Packaging Recycling Innovation Goes Prime Time

recycling

As Prime Day continues to roll along, retailers are doing anything and everything possible to capture consumers suddenly inspired to go on a midsummer shopping spree. But while most retail innovators are wondering how much they can sell this week, Seattle-based recycling startup Ridwell is taking a very different tack to celebrating Prime Day. Like everyone else, Ridwell is thinking hard about what it will be bringing in on Prime Day.

But unlike everyone else, the firm isn’t thinking about bringing in money. In fact, it is using Prime Day as a reason to give away its services. Instead of trying to capture dollars, Ridwell is going after trash — the recyclable kind. And as tens of millions of consumers have billions of boxes shipped out over the next few days as they collect their Prime Day (and Prime Day adjacent) bounties from the USPS — Ridwell is offering to come and collect all that packaging free of charge.

“You read about how Prime Day is becoming a bigger and bigger thing,” Ridwell Co-Founder Ryan Metzger told GeekWire. “We thought it was an opportunity for the community to come together and divert even more things from landfills and from jamming up recycling centers and stuff like that.”

Amazon has made it incredibly easy to have things sent right to your door, and inspired scores of other retailers large and small to make the same commitment  A great and world-changing service, according to Metzger, but unfortunately only half the job. It has to be as easy to make the recyclable packaging leave a customer’s home as it is for it to enter — or a lot of things end up missorted or just dropped straight into the trash and into landfills when they could have a useful second life.

That, according to Metzger, is where Ridwell enters the picture. The company will pick up almost anything recyclable (think batteries and broken electronics) for a small fee of $12 to $14 a month, and Ridwell takes care of sorting and sending out the recyclables to the appropriately equipped facility for recycling.

The plan, Metzger noted, wasn’t to start a retail recycling revolution — or even a business at all. Ridwell began as a father-son recycling project to do a better job disposing of recycling in their own lives. It pretty quickly spread from there.

“And then we shared with our neighbors, and they shared with their neighbors, and it spread to the whole city. It’s turned into something much greater,” Metzger told local North Seattle news source My Ballard. He found it surprising when their small neighborhood effort turned into a recycling pickup service for a few other neighborhoods around them called Owen’s List. That, he said, was as big as he ever initially expected the idea to get — but it quickly became clear that there was a lot more demand among consumers drowning in cardboard and bubble wrap from all their recent online purchases.

It also became clear that beyond offering a pickup service, they needed to make it easier for customers to sort their recyclables properly. The problem, he noted, wasn’t that people were unwilling to put in a little extra effort to be greener eCommerce consumers. The problem was that they had no idea how to break up or categorize what they were recycling, or really any idea what stuff they should include vs. throw out.

To simplifying that process, Ridwell customers receive a white bin, and five categories of recyclables that will be picked up every two weeks. Four of the categories are constant and static — plastic film (plastic bags), clothing and shoes, batteries and lightbulbs — while the fifth is a rotating category.

And the rotating category can be very customized. In October, for example, it was Halloween candy — and Ridwell donated the recyclables to Birthday Dreams, a group that plans birthday parties for homeless kids. They also rotate more standard household waste items such as styrofoam, electronics and paint. They choose what they take based in many cases on who they can partner with. Plastic bags, for example, can be turned into Trex decking built locally — and when the rotating category is an item like winter coats, they can often find clothing closets that can find loving homes for discarded coats.

Most important, Metzger said, the company can clear a lot of recycling without a lot of specialized material.

“We found we can use normal cars, and go home-to-home, pick up the bins and bring them back. We aggregate categories together and then take that category to a partner,” Metzger said.

Prime Day, he said, will mean a particularly busy few weeks of extra work for Ridwell — especially with all their new clients singing on. But it’s also a good way for the small recycling startup to meet a wider audience — most of whom would rather recycle than not. They are just waiting for someone to “Amazonize” the experience.

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