Sipzee simplifies recycling while doing good during COVID-19

The idea that would eventually become Sipzee was developed by Bryan Stratton about 10 years ago when he was searching for a service that would recycle his bottles and cans. The investment needed for securing trucks and employees was too significant at the time, so he put the idea on hold. Years later, as the gig economy grew with businesses such as Lyft, Uber, and Shipt, Stratton revisited his idea, thinking he could apply a similar business model to the recycling service. 

Grand Rapids-based Sipzee was launched about six weeks ago by Stratton and co-founder Jason Hornor. Similar to companies in a gig economy, Sipzee connects households wanting to recycle with independent contract workers who will pick up and recycle their bottles and cans. 

Customers can go to the website, enter their ZIP code, and follow a series of simple steps to request a pickup. Recyclers then select whether they want to count their bottles and cans. or have Sipzee’s estimator tool count them. From there, customers will be asked to place their recyclables outside for a contactless pickup. 

Registered Sipzee contractors, or returners, will be able to view, claim, and schedule pickup requests. Upon scheduling, the system then sends a detailed email to the customer including the date and time of pickup, along with the name and photo of the returner. Once the cans and bottles are picked up, a digital check is sent to the customer. 

“About two days after we launched, we started getting really clear messages from our customers that they would like to be able to donate their cans and bottles to local organizations in the community,” says Stratton. “Based on this feedback, we immediately updated our application so that we could sign up organizations and allow our customers to donate their proceeds from recycling their cans and bottles.” 

In the first six weeks of operation, 29 nonprofits, small businesses, and fundraisers have signed up to accept donations on Sipzee’s website and nearly $1,000 has already been donated. Some of the current organizations customers can choose to donate to are Wealthy Theatre, WYCE, Carol’s Ferals, Grand Rapids Community Media Center, and the Humane Society of West Michigan

Despite being a difficult time for many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic propelled the launch of Sipzee. Not only was there going to be a backlog of recycling after Michigan shut down, but Stratton and Hornor realized that many people were switching to grocery delivery and therefore would be less likely to travel to the store to return bottles and cans. With an increase in unemployment, there would also be a likely group of candidates who would be interested in becoming returners. 

Stratton and Hornor also realized that they could help reduce the spread of COVID-19. “If we can have one person recycling cans for 10 households instead of 10 households recycling their own cans, that would reduce congestion in the stores and help reduce the spread of COVID-19,” says Stratton. 

“Our company was founded on the idea of simplifying recycling, creating jobs, supporting local businesses, charities, and fundraisers, and keeping Michigan communities safer amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Stratton. 
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