“The good news is that most trash is technically recyclable.” This is the philosophy behind TerraCycle’s recycling program — an organized system for recycling, and upcycling, many items that are not recyclable at a local level. 

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The problem with municipal recycling is that only a few materials are profitable enough to recycle. All other materials take too much time, energy, machinery and manpower to be worthwhile. With this in mind, TerraCycle takes a full-cycle view of ways to keep waste out of landfills, roping businesses and other stakeholders into the process. 

Related: New solar-powered robots will clean up Argentina’s waterways

The TerraCycle recycling program mirrors most similar operations. Shipments of waste arrive at one of the company’s 35 Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), which are located in the same country in which the waste originates. The waste is then sorted by material makeup, using a variety of innovative machinery and manpower. Once sorted, materials are sent to third party partners who process it into usable forms. This might be plastic pellets or metal sheeting, for example. 

Recycled materials are then given new life in a wide variety of products. Manufacturing companies use the newly-raw materials from TerraCycle to produce outdoor furniture and decking, watering cans, flooring tiles, playground surface covers, athletic fields, planters, compost bins and much more. TerraCycle even sells a small selection of upcycled products directly from its website.

TerraCycle is a global program, yet also a community-based one. Presently operating in 21 countries, materials are collected worldwide. However, the power of collection happens at a community level where businesses and individuals can set up collection centers. The setup is easy and anyone can do it, although a fee is charged up front so businesses are often the best option for sponsoring boxes. Simply apply for the program and request boxes. When the boxes are filled, send them back using a prepaid shipping label at no cost. 

TerraCycle partners with an array of businesses who sponsor different recycling efforts. For example, Subaru (the car maker) offers drop-off locations at many of their dealerships where customers can drop disposable cups, lids, straws, candy and snack wrappers and coffee and creamer capsules. Several other recycling programs accept pet food bags and pouches, including Wellness, Holistic, A Pup Above and Halo. Similarly, there are programs for many lotions, face cream and other beauty products. Gatorade allows you to recycle Gatorade, Propel, EVOLVE and Muscle Milk sports nutrition pods and bar packaging.

Other packaging waste includes toddler squeeze tubes, drink pouches, cigarette waste, clothing, cooking supplies, ink pens, and aerosol cans. Notable brands include Arm and Hammer, OxyClean, Barilla, Babybel, Burt’s Bees, Colgate, Febreze, Gillette, Hasbro, Lundberg, Popsockets, Rubbermaid, Swiffer, Taco Bell, Ziploc and many, many more. 

Since shipping items is an essential part of the process, TerraCycle works to minimize its carbon footprint with zero-carbon shipping on the initial box delivery and boxes made from certified responsibly-sourced forest products. Upon return, the plastic liner and the cardboard box are recycled. 

The company has also developed the Zero Waste Case, which is used to ship the Zero Waste Boxes. The case is made from 100% recycled PET (or polyethylene terephthalate, represented by resin code #1 on plastic containers) and TerraCycle encourages customers to reuse the case. If you no longer want the case, you can send it back to the company for use on future Zero Waste Box orders. 

TerraCycle is constantly investing in the research and development of new recycling processes with the goal of converting waste into usable products at the highest level. The company reports nearly all of the products returned are reused and that only a very small percentage is incinerated — basically only those items that shouldn’t be in the bin or those that are legally required to be incinerated, such as medical waste. 

In addition to recycling plastic and other waste, the TerraCycle Global Foundation arm of the company is working to clean up waterways with the goal of collecting waste in rivers before it reaches the ocean where it impacts the marine animals and ecosystem. The foundation achieves this mission by working with local communities who are highly impacted by water pollution. River traps help in the collection of waste from the waterways.

The collected materials are then sent to a sorting center where they are weighed, sorted and baled. The system creates local jobs and workers are supported by the TerraCycle foundation. The company explained, “The Foundation works with local waste pickers to improve collection rates by providing fair wages, tools, supplies, financial literacy, education, care for children, and health and safety training.”

The foundation’s project is funded through the sale of bracelets, frisbees and other products, which are made out of the waste materials collected from the water

+ TerraCycle

Images via TerraCycle