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U-Box-It. They Collect and Recycle It


With this easy service, you put your trash in a portable, cardboard container that is then picked up and recycled—box and all

The name is a little clunky. The color is a little loud. But the bright yellow U-Box-It "disposable bin" took home a bronze award in this year's IDEA competition, winning in the design strategy category. The cubic-meter box is aimed at the do-it-yourself (DIY) crowd with neither pickup truck nor space enough for a commercial-size dumpster, and is made of weather-proofed corrugated recycled cardboard. Said DIY-ers (at least those in Toronto, where the scheme is currently running) can dump up to 1,000 pounds of anything from drywall to old curtains in the box, call U-Box-It, and have the box picked up and taken to the nearest waste processing facility, where the box itself is also recycled.

The box is pretty cheap: $49.99, though that doesn't include the pick-up charge of $129.99 for the first box and $99.99 for subsequent boxes. But perhaps the most attractive feature of the product is its relative portability. "Instead of a huge, half-empty metal beast sitting out in your driveway, you can just stick this in your garage," says creator and U-Box-It president, Tony Mammone. Its size also means it can be used in service elevators, raising its sales potential among contractors working on smaller projects like condo renovations.

Keeping the focus on trash

Mammone—whose firm, Mammone Disposal Systems, generally manufactures the large metal beasts of dumpsters commonly seen at construction sites—spent two years developing U-Box-It after clients and family members kept bugging him for a smaller container for their small-scale renovation projects. So he and his inhouse team set out to create something suitable, and cost-efficient. The recycled cardboard blend that serves as the box's material was chosen because it's strong and cheap. One cubic meter volume matched the highest weight capacity with the least amount of space. Other design elements were tried but discounted. Wheels, for instance, were unnecessary and expensive.

A savvy self-promoter, Mammone is talking up his product's green aspects, too. Of course, not all the materials thrown into the box will be recyclable, but Mammone argues that the smaller amount of refuse will make it easier for facilities to sort the waste into recyclables and nonrecyclables. Larger containers, in contrast, contain an overwhelming amount of materials that Mammone says don't always get properly sorted.

It's early days for U-Box-It, and there are certainly huge challenges ahead. A key part of the expansion strategy involves setting up local franchises to pick up the boxes. None exists as yet, and the difficulties inherent in such a system could easily prevent profitable scaling. Mammone is currently focusing on Toronto, and while he would not disclose current revenue figures, says he anticipates $10 million gross from the program in the next year.

So far, three local hardware stores sell the boxes, which come packed flat, while Mammone is also in talks with a major home improvement store. But already, he's seen the product evolve to being a more reusable product for large-scale shipping and storage as well as residential moves. "We've had a lot of requests from people who want to know if we handle moves," Mammone says. For the time being, however, the company is focusing on trash. "We've been in the waste management business for more than 35 years," he concludes. "That's where we're staying for now."

Return to The Best Product Design of 2008 Table of Contents

Oriana Schwindt recently graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago, IL. She writes for the Innovation and Managing channels of BusinessWeek.com.

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