How to Start a Recycling Program For a DIY Business

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How to Start a Recycling Program

Recycling comes naturally to me; I do it every day in my small soap making business. But for some, it takes more of an effort. If it’s not something you do all the time, it’s easy to get out of the habit. I want to train my customers to help in the recycling effort, so I’m doing a few things to make it easier for them.

Items Small Business can Recycle

I’m a soap maker and I make a lot of other products as well. I encourage my customers to bring back jars, bottles, tins, or anything else I use to package my products. When glass jars and bottles are returned, I can sanitize them and fill them with more of the same product or another product. I always use new lids on mason jars that were returned, just to be safe. Bacteria and odors can hide in the rubber part of the lid even after washing.

I’ll take things back even if I can’t use them. The college where I work has an agreement with TerraCycle, and they’ll take almost anything. Check the TerraCycle website to see if there is a place near you where items can be dropped off. In turn, packaging like potato chip bags and shampoo bottles are made with the recycled items.

Do you sell eggs? Customers always want to bring their cartons back to be helpful. Do you sell produce at farmer’s markets or a road-side stand? Small produce cartons can often be sanitized and reused. Do you keep bees and sell the honey? Your containers can most likely be sanitized and reused.

Note: It is best to check with your local health department to see what items can be recycled/reused from your small business. Different areas will have different rules about what can be reused.

How to Start a Recycling Program

If you want customers to start recycling certain items, you need to let them know. Word of mouth is great, and so are flyers. Put one in each bag and let people know they can bring containers back to you and you’ll take care of the rest.

How I Got Started

I’ve been selling at the same tailgate market for five years now. Setting up my recycling program was easy. I began by making signs and postcard-size flyers for bag inserts. All of these were on recycled paper. I stated that I would take back any container that I sell and give the participant $1.00 in credit for their next purchase. Customers who recycled would get a business card on which I wrote the date, credit amount, and my initials. There was no limit and I would take containers back even if they weren’t clean. I then set up a small trash can with the sign and a few empty containers in the can. Then I waited.

The Results

I never would have guessed this program would be as successful as it is. To date, I’ve given out more that $200 in credit, and that comes back to me in increased sales. Not one of my customers has ever bought just what the credit is worth – it has always been more. And the containers keep coming in. Of course I can’t reuse all of them, so some go to the college for recycling. Most are cleaned, washed, and then sanitized.

The Next Step

Next year, I’ll start recycling more of the customers’ household containers. If I can use it, I will. If not, out to recycling it goes. I’m working on hosting a facility that will recycle a lot of things normally thrown in the trash. So many of these containers can be used again, even if it’s just for storing small items!

In addition, I’ll be offering credit for shipping if the customer lives too far away to bring things to me. This will allow them to still participate in the program.

What about the cost?

I give my customers $1.00 in credit for each container, no matter what type of container. Some cost me more than a dollar to procure, and some less – so it evens out. But by giving the customer credit, it increases my sales. These are sales that may not have happened if the customer didn’t have the credit. And by offering to give a credit for the shipping, they win all the way around. My cost on most things I sell is around 50%, so I’m not losing anything by offering to credit a few dollars for shipping. I’m actually gaining in increased sales, and these items don’t end up in landfills.

Do you offer a recycling program to your customers? If so, what did you do to get it started?


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. ola says

    Nice initiative, fantastic
    I have been thinking about going into recycling business too but I will prefer to go organic. My interest in recycling business is how to recycle paper material by using DIY organic substance that will completely DISSOLVE any paper materials. Can anyone help me here? thank you.