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Planning For The End: Prioritizing Product Reuse And Recycling Can Help Your Business

0Ann Starodaj OptoroToday’s retail landscape is characterized by a constant stream of product releases and innovation. Coupled with planned product obsolescence, this leaves the world with a massive amount of excess inventory and a growing stream of product waste. According to Sustainable Brands, the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing each year. Importantly, the Wall Street Journal notes that product waste, particularly e-waste, not only ends up in U.S. landfills, but also in developing nations — creating a myriad of environmental and human health risks.

Yet retailers are well positioned to be at the forefront of waste reduction — without sacrificing business growth — by focusing on the end of a product’s life from the start. In fact, a smart sustainability strategy can positively impact the retailer and the environment at the same time. By prioritizing product reuse, retailers may find that they can cut costs, while ensuring high-quality products and increasing brand loyalty.

Planning for Disassembly

Earlier this year, Apple released Liam, their new recycling bot, and the world got a glimpse into the power of disassembly. Liam takes apart old and damaged iPhones, breaking up the parts and sending materials, such as cobalt and copper, to processing plants to be recycled. Ultimately, Liam allows iPhone components to live on. While Liam is a futuristic example of the importance of disassembly, companies are finding other ways to expedite disassembly processes. Samsung, for example, recently designed a new TV model that primarily uses snap closures, making it possible to dismantle the TVs in less than 10 minutes, while also increasing the possibility for the parts to be reused.

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Planning for ways a product can be effectively broken down and reused can make the recycling process much more efficient for manufacturers and retailers. If products are in adequate condition, it’s likely that they can be refurbished and resold. If not, there’s an enormous opportunity for the product components to be separated and harvested as beneficial materials, such as the cobalt and copper in mobile phones. At that point, companies can choose to sell the harvested parts, or recycle them internally to create new products, which is often said to be a more cost-effective option than purchasing the materials externally. By planning for how to disassemble a product, rather than just how to use it, manufacturers and retailers can maximize product usage and streamline the recycling process.

Offering Repair Programs

In addition to leveraging technology to find new ways to reuse items, companies can also integrate low-tech solutions into their sustainability programs. In other words, you don’t need a robot to make sweeping changes to your end-of-life program. Patagonia, for example, provides customers with easy-to-access repair guideswhich are wildly popular among their customers. On the “Repair & Care Guides” section of their web site, the company notes that extending the life of Patagonia products is, in their opinion, the single best thing their customers can do for the environment.

In return, customers receive high-quality goods that they can keep for a significant period of time, as opposed to the low-quality items found at fast fashion retailers. In the end, Patagonia is able to showcase that they’re not simply focused on profits, but on the overall quality and longevity of their products.

Encouraging customers to repair products, rather than replace them with something new, may seem like a threat to new sales, but according to a recent Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report, customers are actually willing to pay more for sustainable goods. As a result, retailers and manufacturers can combat the growing amount of excess product waste by focusing on a commitment to products that are both repairable and built-to-last.

Investing In Take-Back Campaigns

When retailers are transparent about their sustainability programs, they not only showcase ongoing efforts to reduce their environmental footprints, but they also strengthen long-term customer loyalty. Brita, the water pitcher and filtration company, for example, partners with the recycling company TerraCycle to provide customers with a free and easy recycling program. The program supplies customers with clear instructions on how to recycle Brita products and explains to customers how their old products will be repurposed as outdoor chairs, bike racks, park benches and more. The sustainability program clearly positions Brita as an environmentally conscious company, while also deepening customer loyalty by engaging them in an innovative initiative.

Staples, another leader in sustainability, believes that their green programs not only fight growing landfill waste, but also increase brand loyalty. Thanks to detailed and accessible information on the Staples sustainability programs, customers are able to recycle a wide range of electronics, as well as smaller items such as ink and paper. It may seem simple, but according to Harvard Business Review, engaging customers in programs designed to “reduce, reuse and recycle” can play a major role in increasing customer loyalty.

Over the last 20 years, companies have made significant investments in reducing their environmental footprint. More and more, these efforts are focused on the supply chain — how products are made, how they are transported and their final destinations after they are used. Planning for product reuse is an essential component of progressive, sustainable thinking, as well as a key strategy for tackling the world’s growing amount of product waste. 


As Director of Sustainability at Optoro, Ann Starodaj leads the company’s efforts to build out environmental impact models for clients, to help quantify sustainability benefits that retailers can achieve with the Optoro solution. Prior to joining Optoro, she worked at the EPA’s Office of Research and Development on the hydraulic fracturing task force. Her earlier research focused on natural resource taxation, renewable energy subsidies, and regulatory frameworks for nanotechnology. Starodaj graduated from Lewis and Clark College with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and earned an M.S. in Environmental Policy from Bard College.

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