Talking Trash

When you want to get rid of something, I’m the one who ends up with it. Not literally, of course, but wherever you live, whatever you do, it’s me, or someone like me who works for your local trash and recycling department, who is on the receiving end of it. What does this have to do with promotional marketing? Sadly, a lot.

Here’s why: Much of what I see in your promotional catalogs will be landfill-bound within hours or days of being distributed by your clients to their customers. Sure, there are many green offerings, but many talk the green talk while badly bungling the green walk.

Take the ubiquitous “100-percent recycled” mini Frisbee®, for example. Once the recipient gets home, and the thrill of having gotten something for free wears off, the only toss most of these products will get is right into the trash. A show of hands: How many of you have ever tossed one around for fun anywhere besides your tradeshow booth? How many of you live in a city or town where mini Frisbees are actually accepted for recycling? Exactly my point.

I run the marketing department for the Chittenden Solid Waste District in northwestern Vermont, and I don’t believe I’m alone in wanting my logo and messaging to stay out of the trash. I get your catalogs. I visit your websites. I search for affordable items made from recycled material, that are actually useful and, better still, unique and well designed. The options are few or relegated to a thin smattering in your catalogs or websites. Even if my job wasn’t to get people to stop wasting resources, I still wouldn’t want my logo, or my messaging, to be stamped on something that is going to end up in the trash. I want my marketing products to enjoy the extra mileage of being seen repeatedly in recipients’ homes or offices. My money goes to the promotional marketing tool that:

Uses resources wisely: When made from as much recycled material as possible, recycled promo items help support the market for recycled glass, metal, paper, wood and plastic. These products should convey as much value as the promotional logos you stamp onto them.

Is designed for durability and fulfills a need or purpose well: If it doesn’t look good or fulfill its purpose well, it’ll end up in the trash in no time. Anything less and you’re turning your own customers into middlemen for trash barrels. That’s no way to treat your clients’ customers’ logos.

Isn’t biodegradable: Biodegradable materials need air and sunlight to break down. A landfill is an airless, sunless tomb where those “biodegradables” will remain for centuries. Additionally, it’s a small, crowded world we live in. As such, one person’s “away” is another person’s (or creature’s) land, sea or air. Biodegradables that don’t make it to the landfill (also known as litter) simply break down into small pieces, which are mistaken for food by smaller and smaller critters. Scientists have found zooplankton with more plastic powder inside them than actual nutrients.

Is recyclable: The material the promotional product is made from may be recyclable, but what it’s made into isn’t always recyclable. Make a call to your local trash and recycling district to find out if something you’re considering carrying is recyclable. If it is, you can bet many other places around the country can as well. The product manufacturer may not have correct information on this point; ask those who run actual recycling programs.
The more you demand truly green products from your suppliers, the more there will be a market for them, and the more choices you will have to offer your ever-greening world of customers.

Clare Innes is marketing coordinator and a buyer of promotional products for Chittenden Solid Waste District in Williston, Vermont.


If The Label Says It’s Green, That’s Good, Right?
Late last year the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a revision to its Green Guides, a collection of guidelines aimed at helping marketers avoid making environmental claims that are unfair or deceptive. The Green Guides were first issued by the FTC in 1992 and have been revised twice since then, not counting the revision expected for release later this year. Find a summary of the proposed revisions to the Green Guides at http://www.ftc.gov/os/fedreg/2010/october/101006greenguidesfrn.pdf.

One Response to Talking Trash

  1. Denise Taschereau (Fairware.com) says:

    Thanks for a refreshing and frank look at our industry. We work with North America’s leading sustainable brands and organizations and it remains a struggle to find products that have utility, are ‘on brand’ and have a reasonable end of life scenario. Suppliers have made strides over the past few years but there is much to be done. A key challenge that is still lacking attention is the packaging waste in the industry. I’m hopeful that commentaries like yours (from our end customers no less) will encourage change. Thanks.

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