Target Customers Respond to New Recycling Program

Target recycles plastic bags, bottles, cans and small electronicsAbout one year into Target’s new recycling initiative, the results seem pretty impressive. In the first nine months alone, the store collected 170  shopping bags and 700 tons of bottles and cans. Target’s program also includes ink cartridges and small electronics, the latter of which were recycled to the tune of two million units in the same time period. That breaks down to about 90 units a month per store. The electronics component of the program is particularly interesting because it indicates that Target has caught onto the idea of using convenient dropoff as a way to draw more consumers into its stores, adding yet another twist to the emerging interplay between retailers, consumer products and recycling.

Target and Recycling

Target launched its program last April 6 for Earth Day, with the installation of recycling stations at its 1,740 stores. In addition to the aforementioned items, the company also accepts used eyeglasses, and it provides a five-cent rebate for using reusable bags. The eyeglasses are simple enough (you’ve probably seen the Lions Club dropoff boxes around for years), but generally speaking in-store recycling can be a tricky enterprise. It can involve some expense for retailers, primarily assigning staff to sort misplaced, soiled or inappropriate items, and to keep the recycling station tidy. In-store recycling can also expose the retailer to the vagaries of the recycling market. However, in terms of promotion and customer relations, recycling is a big plus. As recycling becomes more mainstream, more consumers are going to expect retailers to accommodate recycling, and to provide the convenience of in-store dropoff.

Drawing Customers in with Recycling

By including small electronics, Target’s recycling program takes recycling convenience a step further. Consumers can recycle plastic bags at many supermarkets, they can take ink cartridges to just about any large office supply store, and they can recycle bottles and cans from home, but they need to go out of their way to dispose of that bag of broken MP3’s and cell phones sitting in the closet. Target’s program invites them to combine recycling with a shopping trip (to Target, of course), and the gas savings is a good incentive for green-minded customers.

Adding Value with Recycling

Target’s recycling program gives the consumer a bit of added value for visiting the store, in the form of convenience. The five cents for reusable bags is nice, too, and other companies are building on that concept. For example, last year an Italian bra company undertook a pilot project to shave about $4 off the price of a new bra for customers who brought in an old one. A new U.S. company, eRecyclingCorps, is offering itself up as a middleman for phone retailers, to offer customers credit for bringing in old phones. Along similar lines, product manufacturers are starting to build recycling-value into their packaging, two examples being Dell’s new compostable mushroom-based packing material, and Nabisco’s new Triscuits boxes with built-in seed cards for urban gardeners.

Image: Target by j. reed on flickr.com.

Tina is a career public information specialist and former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She writes frequently on sustainable tech issues for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, and she is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey.