• 03.26.12

2012’s Big Business Trend: Recycling

Companies can no longer sell you a product and then forget about it. More and more, part of selling a product will mean taking it back and making something new from it.

How long will it take before major brands take back all their old items from customers, and do something constructive with them? It’s starting to happen now, and is picking up speed.


According to, companies making an effort to reuse what they produce is going to be one of the major trends of 2012.

The value of repurposing “stuff” by upcycling, reusing, and outright recyling is rising along with customer awareness of a product’s lifecycle. This push for a cradle-to-grave design is being prompted by new legislation, sometimes by brands seeing a PR opportunity, and other times by a chance to actually earn money.

Cities such as San Diego, Seattle, and San Francisco have passed mandatory recycling laws, while New York State’s Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling Act requires certain retail stores to accept plastic products for recycling (the city’s waste stream is more than 10% bags and plastic films). In the European Union, countries must collect 4 kilos of e-waste per citizen by 2012, and process 85% of all its electronic waste by 2016.

Yet some companies are just getting ahead of the laws by launching take-back program as promotions. Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative, for instance, means that the company will recycle any worn-out items into new fiber or fabric. It claims to have turned 45 tons of recycled clothing into 34 tons of new products.

In the U.S., Target, Walmart, RadioShack, and Best Buy all have trade-in programs, along with mobile operators Vodafone, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

Nike is also expanding its recycling program launched in 1990 (called Reuse-A-Shoe) to turn used shoes into athletic and playground surfaces, as well as Nike products. The company has accepted over 25 million pairs.

French label A.P.C.’s Butler Worn-Out series gives customers half off a pair of new jeans in return for their old ones. The returned items are then stitched with the initials of the previous owner and resold.

About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment.