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How to Donate or Recycle Your Old Branded Merch With SwagCycle

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How to Donate or Recycle Your Old Branded Merch With SwagCycle

hen Facebook rebranded to Meta, SwagCycle founder, Ben Grossman, got a call from the social media behemoth’s marketing team.

“They wanted to donate 20,000 apparel and drinkware items worth $100,000 stored in their U.S. and U.K. warehouses. They also wanted to get these items in the hands of people who needed them most, but as close as possible to their warehouses to not generate unnecessary carbon emissions.”
Ben Grossman, founder of SwagCycle

Grossman’s mission at Boston-based SwagCycle, founded in 2019, is to help companies repurpose, recycle, and donate their obsolete branded apparel and merchandise responsibly, ethically, and affordably via a network of charitable and recycling partners. “We work nationally and in Europe to transform the promo industry to help keep outdated items out of landfills,” he said.

For Facebook, Grossman matched their donations with Atlanta-based charity Caring for Others. This international human services organization provides food, clothing, and other services to families struggling with natural disasters, poverty, or temporary misfortune. The U.K. items went to Giving World, which distributed apparel to Ukrainian refugees.

By the end of 2022, SwagCycle had kept an impressive 1.4 million items out of landfills and facilitated more than $2.7 million in charitable donations.

Let’s explore the inspiring story behind SwagCycle – and discover how you can join the movement to make a positive impact on those in need and the environment.

The Drive Behind SwagCycle

For the last decade, Grossman and his brother, David, have run Grossman Marketing Group, a fourth-generation family distributorship where most revenue comes from branded merch like t-shirts.

“We saw the challenge of goods becoming obsolete virtually overnight when a company changes its branding or there’s an acquisition,” he said. “Seeing good-quality items go into a landfill was painful. We built this platform to help distributors, decorators, suppliers, and end-users responsibly divest their goods to charities and people in need.”
Ben Grossman, founder of SwagCycle

Often, companies don’t want their products circulating in the market after a rebrand, acquisition, or for security reasons. “Companies that do home visits, like telecom or healthcare, don’t want someone impersonating a worker, so recycling the garments is for compliance and security,” Grossman said. “In other cases, an owner doesn’t want someone to wear their garment and do something that causes negative PR for their organization.”

SwagCycle taps into its national network of partners to recycle these textiles in those situations. “They get shredded and repurposed into things like industrial wiping cloths, carpet pad fill, insulation, and a whole host of other products,” he said. In one case, a major tech company reached out to SwagCycle.

“They were sitting on 20 pallets of metal water bottles with an outdated brand they wanted us to help them recycle. We worked with a metal recycling partner to have those removed from circulation and not go into the waste stream. There’s significant industrial demand for metal, so it was a good outcome for everyone.”
Ben Grossman, founder of SwagCycle

The SwagCycle team also facilitated the recycling of several truckloads of outdated consumer stationary items and tech accessories, including old iPhone and iPad cases, for a retail brand. “Our recycling partner processed them into an asphalt mix, ensuring they’re reused instead of ending up in landfills,” Grossman said.

Here’s How to ‘SwagCycle’

SwagCycle’s process is straightforward: the team will help you donate or recycle your branded merchandise to keep those items out of landfills. The organization redirects goods to charitable partners like United Way, Dress for Success, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Second Chances, and YMCA – and these charities use the items for their participants or resell them. Other items go to suitable recycling centers.

SwagCycle uses a simple and efficient three-step process to help organizations keep their branded items from landfills.  

Step 1:

SwagCycle works with you to inventory leftover goods at your various locations to determine the best course of action.

“This is the most time-intensive part, since you’re doing an internal audit of what you have,” Grossman said. “In one case, we had a company contact us who wanted to donate 6,000 pairs of toddler socks. Where do the goods reside? Are they sitting in a supply closet or a warehouse? Are you waiting on approval from management about whether you’re donating or recycling the items?”

Step 2:

SwagCycle discusses with you whether your excess items can live on with charitable partners or should be recycled responsibly.

Grossman explained that most items SwagCycle handles are clean, coming from warehouses where they were decorated and stored – with only about 5% being unusable due to mildew or other contamination.

Step 3:

SwagCycle matches your items with the right charity to divert them from landfills. If your items need to leave the marketplace, they work with their recycling partners to minimize environmental impact.

If you’re a promotional products distributor, here’s how this process could look for yourself or a client.

“First, we ask if the goods can live on in the marketplace through a charitable donation and if we can donate them to any area. Then, we look at your list of goods and find an appropriate match in our charitable network of several hundred organizations nationwide and internationally.”
Ben Grossman, founder of SwagCycle

For example, SwagCycle might let you know that the Greater Houston YMCA can use your items for Afghani refugees who are resettling in the U.S. with special immigrant visas.

“If you approve of that donation, we don’t charge a fee outside of the shipping costs to get the goods from the warehouse to the charity,” he said. “There’s no shipping charge if you use your account.”

Regarding recycling, SwagCycle does charge fees based on the quantity of items or poundage. Still, the good news is that the organization can recycle 80% to 85% of branded merch, including apparel, bags, drinkware, notebooks, tablet, and phone cases, and even metal lapel pins. Grossman’s team just helped a distributor on behalf of one of their clients, who had a change in marketing messaging and several boxes of t-shirts they didn’t want to donate to charity. “This part of our process is a bespoke waste management service, which helps clients dispose of items responsibly,” he said.

SwagCycle provides certificates for charitable donations, ensuring proper handling for tax purposes. For recycling, its partners issue certificates of recycling or destruction, guaranteeing transparency and compliance with state regulations.

The Future of Sustainability in Our Industry

Grossman envisions a future where companies prioritize environmentally friendly products and consider the entire lifecycle of their goods. He also believes consumers will become more conscious of product circularity and lifecycle. “You need to incorporate sustainability into everything you do, by offering more environmentally friendly products and decoration options. It’s also our job to recommend products with a high perceived value so they enjoy a long shelf life and create a lot of goodwill between a company and the recipient.”

Get Started by Doing Your Part Today

Clothing and household textiles make up more than 6% of the waste stream in the U.S., which is the equivalent of 81 pounds per person thrown away annually. And nearly 95% of used clothing and textiles can actually be reused and recycled.

“That’s where SwagCycle comes in, to help companies find ways to divest of these goods in reasonably easy ways to keep them out of landfills and help facilitate reuse and recycling which makes it easier on distributors, decorators, suppliers, and most importantly, their clients to try to manage their brands properly and treat the environment as responsibly as we all can."
Ben Grossman, founder of SwagCycle

To learn more about SwagCycle, visit the organization’s website at SwagCycle.net. “If you fill out our contact form, a team member will get back to you the same day.”

Apr 21, 2024