Recycline: Sitting on Mainstream's Doorstep
image © recycline
BY RIDER THOMPSON
Recycline’s backbone product, the Preserve Toothbrush is being tested at 100 Target Stores and the company doesn’t know how long the super retailer will give them to prove mainstream consumers want their eco-friendly product. Talk about pressure for the Waltham, MA company founded by Eric Hudson. Hudson and his company have been making major strides in the last few years and the next step is to break into the mainstream consumer market. Which puts us back at the product test they are in the middle of at 100 Target stores across the country. At a time when eco-friendly products are starting to pop up at major retailers like Target and Walmart, the test marketing of the Preserve toothbrush is another indicator that more eco-friendly products are inching closer and closer to the mainstream market.
Recycline products including the Preserve Toothbrush & Razor and now a line of reusable tableware have been popular among eco-conscious consumers for several years. The full line of Recycline products is available at Whole Foods stores across the country and their products are also carried by Trader Joes, Super Stop & Shop supermarket stores in the northeast, and a host of smaller natural food type stores. These are big names in the retail business but with the exception of Stop & Shop, are geared towards eco-conscious consumers. This is why Target is such a big deal. Recycline is selling its Preserve toothbrush for $2.04 at Target – a deal by any standards – the question is will mainstream consumers bite? This remains to be seen and Hudson knows it’s a challenge. He was quoted in a Nov 2006 Inc. magazine piece as saying “We basically believe that maybe 15% of people won’t buy our products.” So if we take away the 15% of consumers who probably will never buy a recycled toothbrush that leaves Hudson and other similar eco-entrepreneurs 85% of consumers as at least possible buyers. Not too bad.
Partnership with Stonyfield Farm a model for eco-friendly businesses working together to reduce and reuse waste
The Preserve toothbrush is Recycline’s signature product. The toothbrush is made from 100% recycled plastic up to 65% of which comes from recycled plastic donated by yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm. The two companies have a unique partnership that Recycline’s Kathryn Lively described well in a recent interview with Sustainable is Good. Through a cooperative partnership that began in 2000 with Stonyfield Farm (majority ownership by French company Groupe Danone), Recycline takes their waste (yogurt containers) and makes toothbrushes and the handles of their razors from them. “Our relationship with Stonyfield Farm is a great example of how businesses of the future can work. Here we have one company (Recycline) that uses another company's waste (Stonyfield yogurt cups) to make their products (Preserve brand products). Our partnership with Stonyfield Farm®, is regarded as a significant step towards corporate sustainability with our two companies collaborating to reduce and reuse waste,” says Lively.
The Stonyfield partnership accounts for a significant amount of Recycline’s recycled plastic supply, which Stonyfield is quick to point out, is #5 plastic polypropylene (they state this is more efficient than HDPE #2 or other types of plastic). A January 2005 article in Waste News reports Stonyfield sends Recycline two to three thousand pounds of #5 plastic each month in fact in early 2005 they passed the 1 million containers recycled mark (it takes about 2 containers to make 1 toothbrush). There is no question the Stonyfield partnership has been a tremendous boon for Recycline and also an effective way for the yogurt maker to dispose of excess plastic and containers.
Where does Recycline get the rest of his recycled plastic from? According to an Oct 2005 Forbes article, the rest of Recycline’s recycled plastic comes from old grocery store carts, toys and wherever else Hudson can find a good deal on the right type of plastic. Waste News reports this plastic along with all the Stonyfield containers are then sent to a plastics processor who grinds it up and combines it with other pre-consumer recycled polypropylene. The end result are pellets which are then used by Recycline to make their products. Hudson told Waste News the compounding process to make the pellets involves heating the plastic up to about 400°F, enough to kill any potential bacteria. The plastic is again heated during the injection molding process used to convert the pellets into consumer products, he said.
More than just recycled plastic - key to company's success
There is more to Recycline’s success than just the fact it recycles plastic. The company also innovates with plastic both in design and production practices. A March 12, 2007 release for an upcoming conference on plastics & sustainability at Umass Lowell, sheds some light into the production innovations the company made. Recycline, “tapped UMass Lowell's Plastics Engineering faculty (regarded as the best in the country in this area) for technical guidance and engineering innovation when the company wanted to manufacture plastic products in an eco-friendly way,” says the Business Wire release.
Producing their products wasn’t something that happened overnight for Recycline, eco-friendly production methods require time and innovation. Another area the company spends a great deal of time on is product design and understanding what its consumer base wants. For example Recyline’s Preserve razor was designed over a period of two years with graduates of MIT, Stanford and RISD schools of design & engineering working on the project. They are also regular participants in design forums with area colleges an universities like Babson College. The design elements of their products are clearly evident when you try using one of them. We actively use both the Preserve toothbrush and the Triple Razor. At first glance both products appear very simple yet on closer inspection and in use they are well thought out and highly functional. Even the Preserve toothbrush’s packaging is functional made from recycled wood-based plastic it doubles as case for travel.
Consumers should think about “how was it made, it is reusable, how will you dispose of it when the product is no longer usable?”
Buying green products and not breaking the bank is all about using your head and not consuming more than you need says Lively. She stressed the importance of consumers envisioning the entire life-cycle of products they buy. This vision is something Recycline takes seriously and their products show it. You may take a look at the Preserve toothbrush and wonder why it doesn’t have all the fancy fake rubber trim many of the conventional models have on them – the answer is because adding things like that makes the toothbrush un-recyclable. Part of thinking about the life-cycle of a product includes these considerations. Lively says consumers should ask themselves before buying a product, “how was it made, it is reusable, how will you dispose of it when the product is no longer usable?”
photo © www.sustainableisgood.com
Disposal is something Recycline also cares about. The company encourages customers to send back their used Preserve Toothbrushes and now Razor handles for recycling. In order to facilitate this, the company offers pre-paid postage mailers and gives consumers the ability to print out a mailing label form their website. Recycline will take the items and turn them into plastic based lumber. Of course consumers can also recycle these items within their communities.
So as Recycline continues to thrive among a growing group of eco-conscious consumers, they eagerly await the results of their sales at the 100 Target stores. Meanwhile, they continue innovate and come up with new products to offer their consumers. Lively said the company receives feedback from their customers all over the world. They are coming out with a cutting board this spring and according to Lively the fall should be quite exciting. “I can't give away any secrets but I assure you we have a few tricks up our sleeve set for release in the Fall. Folks can sign up for our e-newsletter on our website so they can stay caught up with new Preserve products.” - We will stay tuned