Don’t let that mountain of discarded frame boxes go to waste.

Few retail sectors can compare with optical for the sheer snazziness of the packaging. The flipside, of course, is reconciling that with your social and environmental conscience. It has become fashionable to set ambitious targets like “zero waste” and “100 percent customer recycling,” and having an eco-friendly image is good for business. But for a variety of reasons — patchwork laws, lack of infrastructure, competing technologies — the recycling industry is still frustratingly underdeveloped. As with most things in independent retail, sometimes you just have to come up with the ideas yourself. So, if your best-selling frame line comes in a box-within-a-box … within a box, check out this ingenious approach from Lynda Winter at Great Spectacles in Stockton, CA.  Hopefully, it’ll get your recycling ideas flowing before you sneak guiltily out to the dumpster tonight.

“We started saving frame boxes,” Winter recalls, “because we didn’t want to waste a good quality box.” A vague idea that something could be done with them started to take shape when customers began asking for the boxes. “Soon a retired educator asked to take the boxes to the Children’s Museum to use for projects.” As Winter jokingly puts it, a “reach-out recycle business” was born.

Leave it to a retired teacher to see classroom gold in a pile of small cardboard boxes. Winter soon realized that schools more than any other type of institution would be able to make the most immediate use of the boxes. “We save them for a variety of different teachers at many different schools around our area. We consistently collect them all year long, and once we have a bagful we reach out to our customers who are teachers. It’s first-come-first-serve, unless there has been a specific request.”

In one case, the kids at nearby Rainbow Elementary School had been assigned an engineering project. The children read a book about Italy and were challenged to build a Duomo. (That’s a kind of cathedral – we looked it up.) The building blocks for these architectural marvels were Winter’s trusty frame boxes. Ultimately, she’s just happy to see the boxes go to good use, and doesn’t make any requests of the teachers.

“This is a feel-good project for Great Spectacles; we enjoy giving to the community and expect nothing in return. We also enjoy seeing all the creativity that comes from these boxes.” It also sets a great example for the students themselves to see a business recycling its material in this way. “We have been doing this for over 10 years, and yes, we plan to continue,” she says.


DO IT YOURSELF: RECYCLING CAMPAIGNS

1. TRASH TALK. Tell customers, staff and vendors about your activities and bolster your image as a responsible business.

2. ASK AROUND. All kinds of people may covet your castoffs. Places of worship, community centers and thrift stores accept donated items.

3. COLLECTION POINT. Set up a box-collection booth in or outside your store with images showing what becomes of donated items.

4. CIVIC MINDED. There are an estimated 10,000 municipal recycling programs in the U.S. See if your area has one.

5. GO GREEN. Why not take it even further? Go for fully green status; ask your utility company about an energy audit. Many offer these at no charge.

 


This article originally appeared in the April 2018 edition of INVISION.