Helping Customers Throw Away Your Products Responsibly

Even if you sell the most eco-friendly products on earth, you can’t control how consumers eventually dispose of them. Do they end up in landfills?  Get recycled? Donated or resold? Recyclable plastic, after all, does little good if consumers toss it in the trash can.

recycle plastic

A good solution is to help your customers responsibly get rid of the products you sell. Not only are you helping the environment, but you’re likely helping your business’ image by giving your eco-conscious customers a solution to a problem.

There are plenty of large companies that already do this in some form. Own a Brother printer? Instead of throwing old cartridges away, customers can print off a free shipping label at the company’s web site  and send the cartridge back to them for recycling. Radio Shack stores collect old rechargeable batteries, and many Whole Foods take in used wine bottle corks and plastics that can’t always be recycled curbside.

But small businesses have just as many opportunities to implement such a program. A clothing boutique, for instance, might give a discount to customers who bring back unwanted used clothes and then donate them to charity.  A dry cleaner might collect old hangers for reuse or recycling.

Here are some tips for encouraging responsible disposal:

  • Consider a collection program. What waste is created by your products or services? Make it easy for customers to drop off products for reuse or recycling. You might even incentivize them to do so by giving them a discount or coupon. (Of course before you collect these items, you’ll have to figure out how you’re going to reuse or dispose of them responsibly. Check out Earth911 to find out about recycling programs in your area.)
  • Find partners.  Some small businesses may have trouble figuring out what to do with the stuff they collect, especially if recycling programs don’t exist in their community. A growing number of non-profits and businesses are helping dispose of used items. TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based business, uses local “brigades” to collect hard-to-recycle waste items – from candy wrappers to inkjet printer cartridges to MP3 players – that are then used to make new items such as park benches and backpacks.
  •  Educate. Inform your customers about environmentally friendly alternatives to throwing items in the trash. If your business deals with a lot of paper, for instance, you might remind them to throw it in the recycle bin.  Sell food? Explain the benefits of composting – or perhaps even give them a sheet on how to set up a backyard compost bin.

Recycle Photo via Shutterstock


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

2 Reactions
  1. Interesting and simple ways of helping customers become green. Great post! Through education and communication, awareness can be raised about recycling, composting, and re-using without much effort.

  2. Thanks for the great information on all things, Green.

    It’s important for all small business owners to help their employees learn how to do this…

    The Franchise King®