Portland residents have bins for waste, recycling, compost and glass. Portland State School of Business Instructor Adam Gittler saw an opportunity for another one: a bin for reusable goods. His pilot business, The Give Bin, has already proven there’s a smarter way for cities to approach reusable goods as part of their sustainability strategies.
Many of us have unused clothes, electronics, furniture, art supplies, cardboard or other materials sitting in our homes, collecting dust. What if there were a more convenient way to donate all those materials to nonprofits and businesses that can actually use them?
There are a few ways to get rid of reusable goods responsibly, but they can’t scale to meet the volume of reusable goods available and are often thrown out. Goodwill, which has 50 locations around Portland, resells donated home goods and clothing. Some for-profit clothing companies like REI have reusables dropoff programs but have even fewer locations, and only accept a limited number of product types back. The problem with these options is that people “don’t want to walk further than the end of [their] block” to donate items.
There are also platforms like Craigslist, Buy Nothing, Freecycle and NextDoor, where users can post requests and offers for items, participating in what has been called “the sharing economy.” But these options have limited appeal because “individuals don’t want to deal with strangers for every toaster they don’t want” to get rid of reusable goods, says Gittler.
He knew that there was a more convenient, cost-effective way to redistribute reusable goods at scale in Portland. Gittler, who teaches supply chain sustainability, circular supply chains and supply chain strategy, knew that the biggest barrier to reusing goods lay in what he calls the First Mile Problem, referring to the difficulties users have in getting goods from their homes into a transportation network for reusables.
His answer to that problem is to bring collection bins and events to Portland residents. The Give Bin has piloted a collection bin at the Leaven Community Center and a recurring collection event in Dekum Court (both in NE Portland), with the help of his partners Trash for Peace and RCSG Supply Chain. After receiving goods for collection, Give Bin employees drop off items to local nonprofits, including Transition Projects, Scrap Creative Reuse, Free Geek and Reclaim It. Unsuitable items are landfilled, but so far, The Give Bin has landfilled just one single item.
In addition to donating conveniently and efficiently, The Give Bin has demonstrated itself to be a low cost supply chain channel. Each pound or cubic foot of material touched costs under 20 cents to collect, sort, and redistribute. This is due in part to The Give Bin’s light asset base, consisting only of a truck and two employees per run. Collection events and bins have no overhead. In fact, Gittler calculates his approach can operationalize 50 collection locations for what an average Goodwill store spends on rent each year, equal to 2500 dropoff locations around Portland. “And we take everything but batteries,” he notes.
Gittler developed the idea for The Give Bin over two years ago, and has since worked with both Master of Science in Global Supply Chain Management and The Portland MBA Capstone teams in his research to plan the pilot. Currently, The Give Bin pilot is receiving fiscal sponsorship from Trash for Peace and private sources. He hopes to diversify his funding to scale the idea through grant money and for-profit partners. More financial resources will mean that The Give Bin can expand to a greater number of collection sites, channel a greater volume of goods, and benefit a greater number of Portland communities.
In the longer-term, Gittler envisions a Portland that has a donation bin at the end of every block. He hopes to remove all barriers to conveniently donating all possible reusable goods so they are diverted from landfills to people in need and to others who can use them responsibly.
The Give Bin’s focus on Portland is its strongest differentiator from other collection bins, including apparel and unpermitted bins that mark up donations and sell them overseas. While diverting reusable goods from landfills is always a worthy goal, The Give Bin keeps all its donations local, in a multisolving effort that reduces both waste and supports marginalized communities in Portland.
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Karen Lowe is a 2020 graduate of The Portland MBA. She manages marketing and strategic partnerships for The Give Bin and writes regularly for Portland State’s Graduate Business Blog.