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Consumer Research


OMD Sense. Recycling Brands

OMD Sense. Recycling Brands

Companies and brands are doing more recycling than ever before. It’s gone beyond paper and toners, though – other kinds of recycling have come into play. Brands are doing charitable recycling, eco-recycling and fashion recycling.

This newsletter is about all three types of these Recycling Brands.

Background: Subsistence recycling

People in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum find value in everything.

“All along Apna St hundreds of barefoot street children… hauling bundles of waste retrieved from Mumbai's vast municipal dumps. From every alley comes the sound of hammering, drilling and soldering. In every shack, dark figures sit waist-deep in piles of car batteries, computer parts, fluorescent lights, ballpoint pens, plastic bags, paper and cardboard boxes and wire hangers, sorting each item for recycling.” - The Observer                                                    

Impoverished people can find cast-off things, fix them up and re-sell them, and have done so forever. While poverty no longer plays a part in most Western recycling, the basic process of collect, clean and reuse/repurpose remains the same. For recycling brands, however, the goals are different.


Out of all three kinds of brand recycling, eco-recycling is closest to what consumers do in the home and at work. Like traditional recycling, its purpose is to decrease waste and ensure safe disposal. However, brands can do this on a bigger scale than consumers and take care of different kinds of waste on their behalf.

One of the best examples comes from Toshiba Canada, who have launched a revolutionary programme to take care of electrical waste. It’s called Toshiba’s Environmental Recovery and Recycling Effort (TERRE).

Anyone who buys a Toshiba product can register with TERRE online and arrange for collection of old hardware by UPS, paid for by Toshiba. The company will then recycle any manufacturer’s notebook computer, projector, LCD monitor, or pocket PC free of charge.

Toshiba promises to ensure your old kit it is dismantled safely and securely, with the useful parts re-used and the unusable bits disposed of in the most ecological way.

In the USA, Wal-Mart have run similar initiatives for mobile phones and in the UK, Tesco recently offered to recycle your Christmas cards. All these brands do things for the consumer which might otherwise be impractical or just not come to mind. They also fill a gap in the service offered by local authorities or the state.

Charitable recycling

Charitable recycling develops eco-recycling and adds an extra level of consumer satisfaction. As well as knowing your unwanted possession isn’t releasing toxic material in a landfill and/or is being reused in some worthwhile way, charitable recycling tells you it’s actually benefiting another person. In the UK, Vodafone run an excellent handset recycling scheme with Fonebak.

Like TERRE, the scheme removes useful components and disposes of phones in an eco-friendly way (which also places it in the eco-recycling category). Going beyond TERRE, the extra satisfaction comes from what Vodafone does with the reusable parts, which is to pass on any of the resulting profits to the National Autistic Society.

When you recycle with Vodafone, not only are you cutting waste and being eco-friendly, you’re giving money to charity. And Vodafone is actually doing it for you.

Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program recycles trainers and turns them into sports grounds in disadvantaged communities. All defective trainers returned to Nike, as well as worn-out pairs donated by Niketown shoppers, are separated into upper fabric, midsole foam and outsole rubber and these materials are broken down into “Nike Grind”.

Nike Grind Upper Fabric becomes padding under basketball floors. Nike Grind Foam goes into synthetic basketball courts, tennis courts and playground surfaces. Like Vodafone’s Fonebak scheme, Nike makes sure that only are you cutting waste, you’re doing good, this time by helping out kids who don’t have access to good sports facilities.

A similar scheme is run by Uniqlo, who collect customers’ unwanted and worn-out clothes in-store, recycle unusable items and contribute the wearable garments to the UN High Commission on Refugees.

Fashion recycling

A fashion recycling brand helps you to reduce waste by consuming that waste in the form of a repurposed product. Outdoor brand Patagonia manufactures fleeces made out of plastic bottles and old underwear. The bag brand Freitag started when the Freitag brothers sewed together a messenger bag from an old truck tarp.

Following a similar logic, a house was recently built in New Jersey using bits of a demolished freeway, with the divots and road markings intact. What links the fashion for this repurposing is, paradoxically, super-functionality. The Patagonia fleece is ultra-warm, the Freitag bag is “bombproof,” and the demolished-freeway house is stronger than brick.


We will see more brands recycling in 2008. The best offerings will give the consumer clear “environmental satisfaction” – as in eco-recycling – with the addition of the charitable and/or fashion functions.

For feedback or comment, please contact Insight Manager, OMD UK, Michael Tully on

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