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Techie Clark Dinnison on Digitally Connecting Brands and Communities to Close the Loop

Clark Dinnison

Clark Dinnison is the mastermind behind a digital platform that connects global brands with local communities to facilitate recovery of recyclables and return them to the brand to put back in their products. As Head of Product at Replenysh, he’s learned a lot about how to engage customers so they want to be part of this circular economy model.

In this Q&A the Waste360 40 Under 40 recipient describes what he calls the “operating system of circularity” that Replenysh built under his leadership. Dinnison discusses the benefits of a business model whereby brands are its paid customers, and cities and citizens monetize their materials. He touches on what he and his team have learned about human nature and says how he believes technology will fit in with the concept of circularity.

Waste360: What exactly is the product you designed at Replenysh? How does it facilitate getting material back to brands to use again?

Dinnison: At Replenysh, we’re using technology to help brands recover their materials and engage with their customers in an entirely new way. To make this work, we’re building what we call the operating system of circularity, which is an integrated set of tools for everyone involved with helping materials get from the consumer’s hands back to their favorite brands.

Over the past few decades, companies have done a really good job of getting products TO customers in an efficient manner. Think of all the innovation that has gone into things like last-mile delivery, on-demand warehousing, autonomous trucks, and even drones. What nobody has figured out is how to get products FROM customers when they’re done with them. That’s what we’re building at Replenysh.

Entirely new infrastructure that enables brands to recover their products and materials from any community in the world, while engaging that consumer at a prime reorder moment (when they’re done with the product). Imagine a two-sided marketplace. On one side is the brand who wants these materials to reuse in their products. And on the other side are the consumers who have the used products.

When we launch into a community, we empower individuals and organizations to become host locations that accept source-separated materials from community members. We provide hosts with everything they need — including large sacks to store the materials, marketing tools for promoting their listing and, when they’re ready for a pickup, a mobile app to request that pickup and view their earnings. Local Replenysh collectors then aggregate and transport these materials from the communities to domestic mills, who process the reusable materials for brands to make new products.

This suite of building blocks creates the groundwork for circularity to happen in every community, eliminating the cost burden to the city and taxpayers, while resulting in extremely clean material that continuously feeds a brand’s circular supply chain.

Waste360: How has this product helped reshape the consumer experience?  How does it enable them to monetize their materials?

Dinnison: I think most people would agree that the traditional recycling experience is lacking (at best). There’s zero transparency into where the materials go, which leads to low trust in the system. On top of that, consumers have no idea that everyday materials actually have value to their favorite brands, so the cycle of “when in doubt, throw it out” continues. When you see access to curbside recycling increasing, but overall recycling rates decreasing, it’s a sure sign something isn’t working.

If you think about the current state of recycling, the cities and/or consumers are the paying customers. Put another way, recycling services charge citizens like you and I to get materials that are critical to brand supply chains. This cost makes it extremely difficult for brands to get the materials they need.

By flipping this model on its head, Replenysh makes the brands its customers, and the cities and citizens have the opportunity to monetize their materials. This is the first step in improving the consumer experience by 10x.

In addition to removing costs for the consumer, we’re providing transparency into material destination, impact reports for individuals and their communities, plus rewards from brands for doing the right thing. All of this is wrapped up in a readily accessible mobile app experience.

Waste360: What have you learned about human nature that has helped you design this product?

Dinnison: In designing Replenysh, we confirmed what we believed from Day 1 — people want to do the right thing; they just don’t have the right tools.

Each tool I design is anchored in this insight, and ensures we have empathy for each person who uses our product. It must be easy to use, rewarding, and impactful.

We have learned that humans want to feel part of something larger than themselves, so we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can build that sense of belonging into our products. For example, when someone opens the app for the first time, the first thing they see is how many people in their community have joined and are making an impact. These small, but important details add up to an experience that members really enjoy and spread via word of mouth to friends and neighbors.

Waste360: What do you most love about your job and why?

Dinnison: I enjoy designing and building something that has never existed before and has the potential to impact every human on this planet. I believe humans are at the critical juncture where we have the opportunity to evolve and redesign our relationship with materials to eliminate waste.

Working on such an important mission is what gets me up in the morning, and I’m surrounded by team members that share the same values and sense of urgency. I can’t imagine working on anything more worthwhile.  

Waste360: Why does circularity most matter in your eyes?

Dinnison: Circularity matters because it’s not a matter of if we run out of resources; it’s a matter of when. Over 75 percent of products we enjoy today end up in a landfill or are incinerated when we’re done with them. This means that each year, we are burying and burning billions of dollars’ worth of reusable materials.

It’s not just a monetary issue, either. Landfills emit insane amounts of methane gas (80x the warming power of CO2), a major contributor to climate change. The only way forward is to start reusing materials in an intelligent way—that’s important, and I am excited about my role in building the infrastructure to enable that.

Waste360: Where do you see the concept of circularity going, and how will technology fit in?

Dinnison: Circularity has the potential to completely change how we live.

We can move from scarcity (“use less”) to abundance and enjoy a much richer relationship with our favorite brands. Technology can simplify the complex global logistics required to make reusability feasible for every brand on the planet, and reward consumers for doing the right thing.

I believe we’ll look back a decade from now and it will be hard to imagine we just threw everything into a bin when we were done with it and had no idea where it went.

Looking to the future, I’m excited to continue building a world-class team and product at Replenysh that can help us on our mission to end landfills. It’s a future we can all get excited about, and one that allows us to live in a more harmonious, symbiotic relationship with our home planet.

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