I recently used this blog to confess guilty feelings stirred up each time I throw away a piece of packaging and explored how upcoming innovations in bio-based materials could provide solutions. My colleague James Westley has also been blogging about waste, describing a sense of fulfilment and responsibility when taking out the recycling. Consumers clearly have a complex personal relationship with waste, with social and cultural influences further complicating the picture.
In traditional business models there is generally no visible link between a brand, retailer or manufacturer and what happens to their products at end-of-life, in line with the current “take-make-dispose” linear economic model. Whilst regulatory changes such as producer responsibility regulations are forcing brands to act, it is pressure from consumers that is changing the way brands choose to position themselves with respect to the disposal and recovery of their products.
Around 10 years ago CocaCola explicitly linked their target to include 25% of recycled content in their plastic bottles with initiatives to collect waste PET bottles through introducing CocaCola branded bins – the idea being to use the brand power of CocaCola to incentivise consumers to recycle. More recently, the big coffee chains came under intense media scrutiny over the recyclability and recycling rates of coffee cups; facing a formidable force of criticism from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the media they were forced to improve their collection efforts.
One way for brands to incentivise recycling more indirectly is to participate in third party schemes. TerraCycle manage free waste collection programs for hard to recycle materials funded by brands including McVities, Ella’s Kitchen, Garnier and Tassimo. Anyone (schools, offices, charities) can sign-up to become a collection point and earn rewards for collecting waste, which is then sent to Terracycle and either recycled, upcycled or composted. Schemes such as Greenredeem allow participating consumers to earn points for “green” behaviours which can be redeemed for rewards such as discounts on products or experiences. Again, working on the principle that consumers are more likely to take action if they receive an immediate reward; bins in Istanbul release food and water for the city’s stray dogs in exchange for waste plastic bottles.
Just like consumers, organisations generate huge quantities of waste and are facing questions about how to manage it. Innovative B2B business models are being built around the use of waste as a feedstock, such as producing beer from waste bread. Flute take the model one step further, instead of taking your waste for free or at a cost, they actually give back high quality products in exchange for waste. Flute take away waste cardboard and convert it into bespoke high quality products such as recycling bins, signage, desks, and partition screens, tailored and branded to meet an individual business’s needs.
Big brands cannot continue to ignore the impact of their products once they have been sold to a consumer – if the regulators don’t act then the Daily Mail will. In fact brands have significant influence over consumer behaviour and are in prime position to enact positive change. If brands choose to take on the challenge, it represents a huge opportunity to continue engaging the customer throughout the entire lifecycle of the product to the bitter end, and to make that engagement positive. Creating an ongoing dialogue between consumers and brands over the fate of products will help ensure that resources are properly managed at end-of-life as well as building brand reputation and customer loyalty. Technology will play an increasing role in facilitating that dialogue – something we are exploring at Cambridge Consultants. Watch this space!