Retail stores are rarely built by accident, particularly in the real world, if for no other reason than retail is sort of an intentional thing. Opening up a brick-and-mortar shop is usually not something one just happens to do.
But Recology CleanScapes — an operating company under Recology — is different from most of what is out there in retail. For example, its parent company’s core line of work is about as far from the retail industry as one could imagine: It works with trash. Specifically, Recology works with municipal governments to reclaim waste and make sure that stuff that can be recycled, well, is — instead of merely being buried in landfills.
When the company started working with the city of Issaquah, Washington, it didn’t intend to go into retail at all. It was initially tasked with building a physical space that was multifunctional — not a place where consumers could shop, but a place to pay bills or drop off items that would otherwise be difficult to recycle.
But, municipal projects have a way of growing, and Recology CleanScapes had a better idea. Instead of building a joint customer service/drop-off center, it wanted to do more.
So, the company built a multipurpose retail store that promoted the type of thinking and behavior the company wanted its customers to possess, which is a zero-waste lifestyle.
“When we were asked by the city of Issaquah to create a physical location, we saw an opportunity to develop a place where we could educate customers and sell durable, recyclable and upcycled products, in addition to providing customers with a place to pay their bills and drop off hard-to-recycle items,” says Kevin Kelly, general manager of Recology CleanScapes.
The first of these concept stores got off the ground in 2013. In the intervening four years, three new shops have opened in other Recology communities.
The stores — apart from selling eco-friendly goods — are also staffed with employees who are recycling experts, ready to recommend products to customers as well as offer them on-site educational experiences.
“We staff all of our stores with recycling experts so that customers can learn how to recycle or dispose of items properly, how our product offerings can replace their disposable, everyday use items, how they can contribute to the circular economy and more,” says Erin Harbour, retail manager at Recology CleanScapes. “In addition to the educational efforts in our stores, we do educational outreach at farmer’s markets and other events within our communities.”
What does one buy at a Recology CleanScapes store? A host of goods, most of which come from local vendors who work with recycled materials of all kinds. Tires, glass and wine bottles are customer favorites. The stores were originally conceived as niche stores with mostly gift items for sale, but that concept has expanded to include eco-friendly goods intended for day-to-day use.
“In our stores, customers can find a wide range of sustainable products that can replace the disposable items in their homes, such as reusable plastic bags, reusable containers, zero-waste lunch kits, reusable supplies, wax cloths, green cleaning supplies and more,” says Quinn Apuzzo, zero waste manager of Recology CleanScapes. “All of the products are selected with the intent that they will be producing zero landfill waste, and our goal is to try and get our customer base to think about purchasing and using products made from recycled goods so that they can live a more zero-waste lifestyle.”
The commerce elements, however, still go back to serving the firm’s main purpose: recycling and reclamation. These stores aren’t just places to make purchases, but to leave old ones — things that are hard to merely leave out at the curb. Bikes, batteries, textiles, cooking oil, Styrofoam, light bulbs and old electronics are all things that can be recycled, but doing so presents sort of a hassle. The Recology CleanScapes locations take all that stuff for free, and they send goods to end-market recyclers for recycling and reuse purposes.
“One of the partnerships that we are really excited about is our partnership with the City of Seattle, King County, Washington, and nonprofit organization Bike Works,” says Kelly. “Through the partnership, we have developed a program for refurbishing old bicycles so that they can be sold in our stores or donated to other countries. This program not only allows us to do something good, but it also allows us to keep functional bicycles out of landfills.”
And, while Recology CleanSpaces is small today, it is a growing: Four more locations are on deck for the next year. Alongside more locations, the brand is also looking to expand and enhance its product line — particularly with a focus on goods that speak to the specific needs of partner communities. Different communities look for different things, according to the firm, but the general demand for sustainable, everyday-use items is pretty stable — and noticeable.
“As we prepare to open up more stores, we are exploring new product offerings, looking into how we can get our customers to live a more zero waste lifestyle and figuring out how we can give customers more of a reason to visit our stores on a regular basis,” says Kelly. “The possibilities are endless, and I am excited to see where the future takes us.”