Ben Grossman has set his intentions on transforming the promotional products industry into a “greener” place. The goal and challenge to reduce, reuse and recycle is something he’s seen many firms experience, including his own. It was also an observation that inspired Grossman—co-owner of Somerville, Massachusetts-based Grossman Marketing Group, a fourth-generation, 110-year-old, family-owned marketing services firm specializing in promotional products—to launch his company’s Green Marketing and Sustainability Practice more than 10 years ago, which helps clients navigate eco-conscious marketing and business solutions. But over time, this initiative would lead him to another venture—SwagCycle, a startup focused on providing companies with access to the resources needed to responsibly recycle or repurpose obsolete, branded items in a way that is cost-conscious and ethical.

Grossman founded SwagCycle in July 2019 with a forthright vision. “Our goal, quite simply, is to transform the branded merchandise industry by helping companies think about product stewardship, from the brainstorming phase all the way to the rebranding stage,” he says. Although Grossman Marketing offers green products, like pens and bags made from recycled materials, he wanted to build on these solutions by providing professionals with an alternative to discarding used items, particularly after a rebrand. “One thing that has bothered me for years is that when companies rebrand or get acquired, a lot of ‘swag,’ unfortunately, can find its way to the landfill,” he says. “An important term to consider is ‘landfill divergence.’ We want to ensure that items do not get thrown away, but instead get repurposed or recycled responsibly.”

To make this plan a reality, Grossman looked to his connections, both inside and outside of the industry. “I’ve been personally involved in environmental causes for many years,” he says, referring to his time on the Environmental League of Massachusetts Corporate Council and the Corporate Advisory Board for the Product Stewardship Institute. “I tapped into my contacts to put together a network of recycling partners across the country that can recycle hard-to-recycle items. In addition, we reached out to a number of charities to see if they would be interested in receiving donations of branded items. The response has been amazing.” Some of the charities that have partnered with SwagCycle, so far, include Dress for Success, United Way, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Boston and Delivering Good.

SwagCycle works with companies by encouraging them to follow three simple, yet effective steps. First, companies must assess the inventory of their unwanted items. Next, they need to confirm brand guidelines to determine if the items can be donated or need to be removed from the marketplace and recycled. Lastly, the items are then matched with appropriate charities and/or recycling partners. And of course, Grossman Marketing continues to lead by example. The company recycles “everything,” Grossman says, “from electronics to batteries to paint,” and employees are encouraged to bring in items from home to recycle there, too. “We work hard to minimize waste and leave the smallest footprint possible.”

But even if the three-step process seems as simple as 1-2-3, Grossman believes there is still room for a lot of improvements. “There is so much work to do. We have a growing waste problem in the United States and around the world,” he says.

PPB spoke with Grossman to learn more about how SwagCycle has impacted the local community.

PPB What does your typical donor look like?

Grossman We have worked with our clients, end users (who are not our clients), other distributors and some suppliers. We have heard from a number of distributors who clearly recognize the value that a service like SwagCycle can provide to them, on behalf of their clients. We were recently contacted by a California-based distributor, Wunderspoke Marketing, that needed help on behalf of a client, a major international technology firm. They had approximately 1,500 t-shirts that were no longer brand-compliant due to some changes in marketing initiatives, and reached out to SwagCycle to have us help them recycle these shirts. We paired them with one of our partners in the region that was able to take the shirts to be cut down and turned into painters’ rags for reuse.

PPB Can you share with us a case study of donated products and where/how these products helped the greater community?

Grossman Recently, a leading educational company came to SwagCycle with 1,000 obsolete 25-ounce, BPA-free, aluminum sport bottles. The marketing message was not current and the company no longer had a need for branded bottles. This company is a forward-thinking organization and was pleased to have us help facilitate charitable donations of these bottles to worthy causes, thus keeping them out of a landfill or even a scrap metal or recycling plant. We were able to split the bottles between two leading charities: United Way Greater Boston Project Connect 2019 and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Boston.

United Way Greater Boston Connect 2019 is a one-day event that invites the Boston community to come together and support families in transition who are experiencing homelessness or are in need of the services offered at the event. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston is an organization that works to ensure that young people in the Boston area are able to reach their full potential, and serves more than 14,000 children every year. The bottles we helped donate were distributed at their summer camp, a full-day camp for children, ages 6-12, that provides them with education and recreational experiences, like arts and crafts, science and tech projects, field trips and swimming.

We couldn’t imagine two more worthy causes, and we’re thrilled that SwagCycle was able to help make this happen.

PPB Tell us about your partnership with Project Stretch.

Grossman One pharmaceutical client sold a part of its commercial portfolio, thus leaving some of its marketing materials obsolete. One patient kit included individually wrapped toothbrushes. This is a niche item, and it was not appropriate for the majority of charities. We were able to facilitate a donation to Project Stretch. Project Stretch was founded in 1988 by a small group of dental professionals interested in providing vital dental services to needy children. Project Stretch is a private, voluntary, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by fundraising events as well as contributions from private citizens and corporations, with programs currently in the U.S., Mexico and Honduras.  


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.