Recycling isn't just about protecting the planet; it's also about profit. 

With market rates for recycled plastics at all-time lows, companies can build new products out of used ones for a fraction of the cost of fresh materials. A McKinsey analysis found that plastics reuse and recycling could produce up to $60 billion in new profits by 2030, or almost two-thirds of the plastic industry's potential profit growth. 

For entrepreneurs, that's a win-win. Cheaper and more widely available recycled materials mean lower production costs. Building products from recycled materials is also a brand differentiator, particularly with the growing cohort of socially conscious consumers. 

Which companies are getting ahead by giving products a new life? Four firms stand out:

1. Patagonia

Long known for its environmental stewardship, Patagonia goes beyond donating money or even company time: The outdoor apparel brand's Worn Wear program buys back used Patagonia products and resells them online.

What sets Worn Wear apart from other used clothing programs is its educational component. Patagonia brand ambassadors travel around the U.S., showing people how to repair their own gear. It also posts product care guides online that explain how to sew up seams and patch tears.

Consumers see product education as an added value. Minimize your carbon footprint and build brand loyalists by helping customers trade in or extend the life of their purchases. 

2. Pela

Pela, which makes ecofriendly smartphone accessories and sustainable products, skipped straight from packaging to product recycling. Founder Jeremy Lang was inspired to start the company after seeing piles of plastic waste floating in the pristine waters off Hawaii.

To that end, Pela created the world's first fully compostable phone case. Customers who don't compost can send their old cases back to Pela, who recycles the cases for them.

What about the millions of other plastic phone cases that get thrown away each year? Pela announced at CES an expansion to its Pela 360 program, which is to accommodate all phone cases, no matter the manufacturer.

If you've got a plastic product, why not let customers do double duty as suppliers? Making people feel like part of your initiative is the single best way to scale it. 





3. Procter & Gamble

Consumer packaged goods, by their nature, have a short life cycle. From toothpaste to dish detergent, products that make our home lives comfortable tend to be disposable. What can be done to keep them out of the trash? Procter & Gamble has partnered with TerraCycle's Loop e-commerce platform to tackle that very question.

Loop is a sustainability program that cuts down on waste by using refillable and recyclable packaging. Hair care brand Pantene is introducing shampoo and conditioner bottles made from lightweight aluminum. Tide's Purclean plant-based laundry detergent will feature a stainless steel bottle instead of its conventional plastic one. Crest Platinum mouthwash will be sold in refillable glass bottles.

4. Coca-Cola

It's barely 2020, but Coca-Cola already has big plans for 2030. By the next decade, the beverage giant plans to make all its bottles and cans fully recyclable anywhere in the world. What's more, it expects to build those bottles out of at least 50 percent recycled material.

For a company the size of Coca-Cola, that's a herculean task. To get there, it's investing around the world in recycling awareness. Although recycling programs exist in nearly every country, many consumers are still unsure which materials can and can't be recycled. 

Take your cue from Coke: Start with your product's packaging. Not only is the container the portion sure to be thrown away, but it's generally easier to build containers out of recycled materials than it is goods like computers or clothing.

Doing the right thing doesn't have to be costly. Through recycling, reusable packaging, and consumer education, plenty of companies are protecting their profits by protecting the world. Keep production costs down and customer satisfaction up by giving new life to old products.

Published on: Jan 10, 2020
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.