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Startup aims to refill what can't be recycled

Colleen Vandersteen describes herself as the "recycling queen," taking pride in the fact she spends at least 30 minutes a week washing containers and cutting up cardboard to prepare for the weekly recycling collection.

"My neighbour used to laugh at how much time I put into preparing my recycling," she says. "I bought four recycling bins, and would have them lined up neatly for pickup. He then advised me it was all garbage. I did not want to believe him."

Not wanting to see her recycling efforts go to waste, Ms. Vandersteen did some research and discovered that many plastic bottles can't be recycled.

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This realization spawned an idea for starting a business to have people visit a self-service depot to refill their containers - anything from cleaning supplies and juices to ketchup and shampoo.

With a passion for recycling and the zeal of an entrepreneur, Ms. Vandersteen is still seeking $1-million in financing to get it off the ground. She believes it is viable given the growing interest in recycling at a time when throwing garbage into a dump is getting more expensive and limited in many cities. She says North American municipalities and cities collect 750 tonnes of plastic container garbage a day - which could be refilled.

Aside from the challenges of raising financing, another major hurdle she faces is convincing consumers that refilling is, indeed, a better, more convenient and eco-friendly option.

While many are happy to recycle by throwing items into a blue box, the key question is whether they will be willing to drive to a depot to refill their plastic containers.

Ms. Vandersteen hopes to educate consumers about the benefits of refillable containers through advertising on TV, newspapers, radio and online.

If all goes well, she expects a pilot depot to open in Winnipeg later this year at a location still to be determined. The goal, she says, is to expand through licensing and franchising.

"My passion and concern for the environmental future is peaking. I am motivated for the children. Society cannot leave all this garbage for the next generations to resolve this huge problem," she says.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

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About the Author
Content/Communications Strategist

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a strategic communications and content consultancy that works with start-ups and fast-growing companies looking to drive their marketing, communications and content activities. More

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