Many brand owners spend a commendable amount of time analyzing the environmental footprint of their packaging and specifying materials that are easily accepted into the recycling stream. But what becomes of what’s collected, and what about the less recycling-stream-friendly materials?
Thirteen years ago, Eric Hudson founded Recycline with an innovative and unique vision. He’d identified the gap between the amount of materials being recycled and the number of products created with those materials and created the Preserve brand to explore fresh ways to reuse and recycle everyday items that were frequently thrown away.
“I wanted to start my own business that developed creative ways to conserve and re-use the earth’s resources. There was a lot of recycling going on back in the early ‘90s, and there weren’t a lot of companies putting those materials back into new products,” says Hudson. “I saw an opportunity in that 45 percent of people recycled, and I thought they would have an interest in products made from their efforts.”
Hudson broke into the natural product arena with the Preserve toothbrush, made from 100 percent recycled materials. The stylish toothbrush, with its reverse-curved, ergonomic handle, was a hit with eco-conscious consumers and became the brand’s flagship product.
The brand’s mission?
“To deliver consumer products that offer great looking design, high performance and are better for the environment than alternative products,” explains Hudson. “We do this by using recycled materials for our products and packaging. To reduce the waste created by consumer products, we work with suppliers and other companies to reduce, recover, and reuse.”
What began with a toothbrush (Hudson’s father is an industrial designer and designed the first Preserve toothbrush with input from dentists) has grown into an extensive line of personal care products, tableware and kitchenware.
Instead of being discarded after use, each toothbrush or razor can be returned via a postage-paid envelope to Preserve. The returned products are then recycled into plastic lumber, used to build things like bridges, porch decks, benches, picnic tables, and children’s playground equipment.
Though all plastics have an environmental impact, Hudson found opportunity in recovering and reusing #5 polypropylene, a material that wasn’t being recycled, or reused, well. Though many products are packaged in #5 (like yogurt cups and other plastic food containers), the material is not recycled in many communities.
Preserve partnered with organic yogurt brand Stonyfield Farm to collect cups and scrap plastic from the company’s manufacturing facility as well as used cups returned by customers. Co-branded lids on Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups educate consumers by succinctly telling the Preserve story (“This razor was once a yogurt cup.”).
Hoping to further encourage recycling efforts, Hudson put two and two together, and, with apologies to my math teacher, got five. Preserve created the Gimme 5 program, which gives shoppers a convenient drop-off location for containers often not accepted at municipal recycling centers, this past January. The partnership, between Preserve, Whole Foods Market, Stonyfield Farm and Organic Market, will keep one million pounds of #5 plastic out of landfills and give it new life in an array of new products.
Results like these are impressive, but they are also no accident. Preserve’s environmental committee meets for a half day every Friday to explore and evaluate the ins and outs of each of its new programs and products. The team employs systems thinking to create the most functional and sustainable packaging-considering all of the interactions between the package, product, environment, industry and consumer.
“For example, when we launched a new program like Preserve Gimme 5, we verified through Life Cycle Assessments that these programs are lighter on the earth than the alternative (opting for the landfill),” says Hudson. “Systems thinking involves the package and what may occur to it after use, as well as how it might serve as a vehicle to send back a used product to be recycled. While many folks are looking at material Life Cycle Assessments for packaging decisions, we are conducting Life Cycle Assessments of our packaging systems.”
The future looks bright for Preserve, and Hudson is excited about a number of new projects, including the upcoming Preserve toothbrush package that does double-duty as the toothbrush recycling mailer.
“I see our brand making a name for itself as leading environment-friendly consumer products; a brand that is recognized globally as both innovative in product design for function and look, and for the ways we care for the environment.” BP