How to Recycle Defective Product Parts

Posted by Regina Vatterott on

It is inevitable that, as you invent and scale a product, you are bound to have some units turn out to be defective or have imperfections. We don't see these units as failures but rather as risks worth taking. Here's what we did to recycle the units, in order to make sure we were kind to the planet.


In the summer of 2016, our team was thrilled to receive the first 720 Ellie Smart Pill Boxes. We had spent months of hard work on crowdfunding and prototyping. We all woke up early for the truck to deliver three huge boxes. When we opened the boxes, we were crushed to find out that the plastics were flawed. We spend days trying to fix them one-by-one but finally decided that the products were still too defected to give to the people. As a result, we ended up ordering another batch of plastics and delaying our shipping date. We thought that it would be better to be late than give our backers a flawed product.


This left us with 720 units of unusable parts (just to the plastic parts, not the electronics). I started researching and found a few eco-friendly options for recycling defective product parts.


1. Recycle

My first thought was to recycle our products but this turned out to be more complicated than I anticipated. Recycling facilities all seem to have their own list of materials that they will and will not collect. Our units included POM, soft touch TPE and magnets, and I couldn't find a single recycling center who was willing to accept our plastics. If you are ever in a similar situation, you can search for a recycling center near you and ask if they will accept the plastic you have.

Pros: Theoretically easy

Cons: Don't accept all plastic


2. Junk Removal Service

I could not find a recycling center near me that would accept our plastics for free but I did find Junk King, which is a national company that accepts all sorts of stuff from furniture to appliances. The catch is, they only recycle about 60% of what they pick up. You would have to call ahead and see if they would recycle your specific product.

Pros: Flexible

Cons: Costs money and they don't always recycle everything


3. Donate

Being on a startup budget, we were bootstrapping and decided not to pay for a junk removal service. I kept researching and finally found a program run by our city that accepted construction materials which could be used for free by non-profits. I called to see if they would be interested in accepting our defective product parts and they were! I loved this option for so many reasons. For starters, it is environmentally friendly because the products are re-purposed. Non-profits could use the materials from these centers, make, and then sell their creations. Another great perk is that programs like this often times offer special tax incentives which can be helpful. Ask if your city has a similar program! We found ours under the City Solid Waste Management Department. 

Pros: Eco-Friendly and Tax-deductible

Cons: It may be a long time before all the parts are used.



4. Art

It may sound super cliché but I believe it is very empowering when people are able to take a mistake and turn it into something beautiful. This is what our team is intending to do with the lids of our product that we did not donate. Creating an art piece out of broken electronics is also a great option! One of the reasons we decided not to donate the lids was because they had our logo on them. I highly suggest you not donate any of your product parts that have a logo on them. Instead, turn your unused parts into an art piece for the office to celebrate your failures because it means you are learning and taking risks! 

Pros: Create a one-of-a-kind keepsake

Cons: Might cost additional funds to complete.

Have any suggestions for how we can turn 720 lids into an art piece? I would love to hear them! Comment with your suggestions below.

healthy manufacturing planet prototyping recycle startup

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