Poor Design Leads to Failure of Take-Back Programs

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Walk into your local Best Buy, Staples, Walmart or other big box chain retailer, and you’re sure to find take-back programs for items ranging from rechargeable batteries, to cell phones, to plastic bags. But while these programs are plentiful, a new study by Call2Recycle suggests they’re seriously under-performing.

According to the Call2Recycle study, consumers often miss in-store take-back programs for materials because of poor design and unclear labeling. Photo: Call2Recycle

The Beyond the Bin report found that the reason for the lackluster recycling rates is due to design flaws on the business end, which leads to consumer confusion. Businesses are moving at a fast-paced speed to meet both consumer demand and increasing federal requirements for recycling. As a result, a hurriedly designed program is often a poorly executed one.

“Organizations are moving very quickly to meet the recycling requirements being set by the government and the sustainability desires of consumers and employees, but in many cases, the fast pace and lack of knowledge hinders businesses from creating effective collection programs,” says Carl Smith, president and CEO of Call2Recycle.

“A well-designed recycling program can enhance a brand, generate loyalty and make a major impact on environmental preservation, but businesses are making big mistakes that inhibit true progress.”

Other studies have echoed the same notion of low consumer recycling rates for take-back programs. The U.S. EPA reports that only 10 percent of unwanted cell phones are recycled annually, even though a plethora of programs are in place through its Plug-In to eCycling campaign. Similarly, a 2008 Nokia study found that only 3 percent of 6,500 respondents across 13 countries recycle their cell phones.

The Call2Recycle study concluded that in order to make recycling programs successful, the design has to involve planning for the consumer and anticipating possible hiccups in implementation. To combat poor performance, the study gives simple tips to changing a take-back program for the better.

Call2Recycle, which runs North America’s only free battery and cell phone collection program, suggests that signage for the program should rely on pictures rather than words. Recycling bins and kiosks should be shaped for the product it is designed to hold, and the design of the bin should stand out. Recycling kiosks that resemble trash cans will ultimately attract just that…trash, which could lead to contamination of those items that were properly placed in the bin for recycling.

The location of the bin is also vital for success: collection should be placed at the front of the store, near the entrance. Lastly, employees must have a working knowledge of the program and be available to answer general questions.

But if your local retail take-back program is lacking, there are still measures you can take to ensure your items are being recycled.

“If consumers run across a poorly designed recycling center, speak up!” says Dana Barka, senior manager of Marketing Communications for Call2Recycle. “Informed shoppers who are vocal about shabby recycling centers can help stores maximize those investments and improve recycling performance.”

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