Thursday, August 28, 2008

IKEA that's brilliant!

IKEA, the faux-Swedish furniture chain, is one of many retailers leading the way in large-scale recycling efforts. Not only do they have color-coded, source-separated trash and recycling receptacles prominently placed throughout the store, they also have recycling stations near the entrances that accept plastic bags, household batteries, and CFL (and incandescent!) light bulbs. Store patrons can bring their spent batteries and light bulbs to the nearest location for recycling instead of tossing them in the trash, where they would inevitably leak toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the soil and groundwater.

IKEA also began charging for plastic bags back in 2006, and has since reduced the number of bags handed out each year by 90%. By design, the minimal packaging of the largely unassembled furniture they sell allows for easy stacking and less expensive shipping, which leads to less waste all around. Although the do-it-yourself aspect of assembling their furniture can be frustrating (the instructions are kept to a minimum as well), theirs is a novel concept indeed. The latest catalogs also advertise certain items made from recycled materials, yet another way the retailer is trying to minimize their environmental impact.

According to their Web site, many IKEA stores also have stand-alone recycling centers, and a simple phone call to the "environmental specialist" can arrange educational tours for school children and scout troops. By educating the public in addition to taking back hazardous products and creating a market for recycled materials, IKEA has hit upon the triumverate of actions necessary for a highly effective recycling program. IKEA is a model for other retailers of how to manage their business in the twenty-first century. They are taking greater responsibility of more stages in the life cycles of the products they sell-- from product design to end-of-life management. And like their stores-- those enormous blue and yellow beacons alongside the nation's highways-- the overwhelming benefits of their trailblazing recycling program are hard to miss.

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