Since TerraCycle came to the UK in 2009, its recycling programmes have grown in popularity. The company boasts that 80% of us living in the UK now have a TerraCycle collection point, for hard to recycle waste, within just four miles. This seems like a fantastic step forward to reducing waste for landfill and incineration, and we can all get involved. However, as TerraCycle’s founder agrees “We can’t recycle our way out of waste. We need to change our buying habits to support durable goods, used goods and ideally not buying whatsoever“.
Reading about TerraCycle and its founder Tom Szaky, it’s evident that his heart is in the right place, and the company and sister companies are earnestly trying to find sustainable solutions to the global garbage problem. It’s good to know that serious thinkers like Szaky are calling for a complete gear change when it comes to waste, and we can see that large corporations, brands, retailers and manufacturers are being involved at ground level. However, it’s also obvious TerraCycle hasn’t ‘solved’ the problem. Well not yet!
So, is it worth getting involved in their recycling programmes?
Why we need to do our bit
We all know that burying or incinerating our waste is detrimental to the environment, wildlife and us. Our waste problem affects air-pollution, land-pollution, delicate ecosystems and global warmingix. The facts are undeniably stark, especially when it comes to plastic:
Did you know?
- 40% of plastic is used just once and then tossed
- Packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste generated
- 73% of beach litter is plastic
- 5 trillion pieces of plastic are already floating in our oceans
- The average person eats 70,000 microplastics each year
- The average time a plastic bag is used for is 12 minutes
- There has been a 30% increase in the demand for plastic since the Covid-19 crisis
- 1,500 tons of masks and gloves are thrown away every month in the UK alone
Looking at the UK’s household waste statistics it’s easy to see we’re not doing nearly enough when it comes to dealing with our garbage. From 2010 to 2019 the volume of waste collected per person has fallen by roughly only eight percent. Recycling rates of household waste in England were only 43.8% as of March 2020.
“One issue with the amount of recycling that can be done in England is that not all local authorities collect the same materials. As recently as 2017, just 18% of local authorities in England collected plastic film, nearly half as many as in Wales, which has a significantly higher recycling rate than England. Currently, plastics account for just 8.5% of the composition of dry recycling waste from households in England.”
Published by Ian Tiseo, March 17, 2021
If we continue to rely on local authorities to collect our waste we’re simply not tackling the problem. And this is where changing our habits is key. One way to do this is to look at the services that TerraCycle offer.
What is Terracycle?
TerraCycle was founded by 19-year-old Tom Szaky in 2001, and was primarily to help eliminate the idea of waste by making quality fertiliser from food waste. As the company grew, Szaky knew that producing fertilizer was not the solution to the world’s waste problem and decided to focus his efforts on the wider problem of how waste is recycled.
In a 2020 interview he said, “We decided that we needed to switch the ‘hero’ of our equation from the product to the garbage, and that’s what led to what the company is today.”
Since refocusing the business, TerraCycle now runs several recycling schemes, and launched the first ever recycling programme for cigarette butts in 2021.
TerraCycle’s mission statement is “Whether it’s coffee capsules from your home, pens from a school, or plastic gloves from a manufacturing facility, TerraCycle can collect and recycle almost any form of waste.”
How TerraCycle works
It’s quite easy to take advantage of TerraCycle’s recycling services, but to begin you need to think about which one of their schemes you want to join, as there are quite a few. At first, I assumed I could just collect all my recycling, bag it up and have it collected. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but thankfully the TerraCycle website is straightforward and simple to use. Here’s an overview of the many schemes you can get involved with…
Free Recycling Programmes
TerraCycle offers a range of free recycling programmes in partnership with brands, manufacturers and retailers. Instead of bagging up all your hard to recycle plastics together, you can target specific packaging and waste. For example, you can recycle Acuvue® Contact Lenses, bread bags, crisp packers, Colgate® Oral B Care products, pet food pouches, cheese packaging, Febreze® Air Fresheners and even Ferrero Rocher packaging. There’s also a beach plastic recycling programme for rigid beach plastic you find along the shoreline, but as of April 2021 this programme is not accepting new members in the UK
Three ways this recycling get collected
- Drop off recycling at your nearest local collection point, which you can find using interactive maps on the TerraCycle website.
- If you can’t find a collection point within a five-mile radius of your house, you can set up a drop-off location in a public place.
- Alternatively, become a private collector and arrange a free pick-up using labels printed from their website.
Collecting TerraCycle points
TerraCycle points are credited to the accounts of public drop-off location administrators and private collectors as a reward for their collection efforts. Points can be redeemed into financial donations to the charity or school chosen by the owner of the points.
So what if you can’t find what you want to recycle in these free programmes?
For waste that can’t be recycled through the Free Recycling Programmes for whatever reason, TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box™ Solution may be the answer.
Zero Waste Box™ Solution
You still can’t put all your recycling in one box for this one, so you still have to look on the website and see what kind of waste you want to recycle. This scheme doesn’t just stick to specific brands and takes more generalised waste such as 3D printing materials, baby equipment, glue sticks, glasses and school backpacks. Plus, one that particularly caught my eye, disposable gloves and face masks. It seems if you can’t find what you want to recycle in the free programmes, paying for a box is the answer.
How much do they cost?
This all seems great but you do have to pay out a considerable amount for the boxes themselves. You choose from small, medium or large boxes depending on how much you estimate you will collect. To buy an All-In-One Zero Waste Box™ you pay £151.39 for a small box, £246.46 for a medium box or £415.60 for a large box. The good thing is that this particular box takes non-hazardous waste including flexible and rigid plastics such as art supplies, eye wear, home cleaning accessories, office supplies, beverage capsules and party supplies.
TerraCycle say, “The Zero Waste Box™ system is convenient and easy to use, making it the perfect option for households, schools, businesses, manufacturing facilities, and events looking to offset their impacts and lighten their footprint”.
So, where does the waste go and how is it recycled?
TerraCycle promise that collected waste won’t end up as litter, in landfill or incineration, but instead will be used to make new materials and products. Unlike municipal recycling, they focus on a wide range of waste streams. They work with scientists and specialists to analyse the materials to determine the right way to break it down into its building blocks and how to process it into new materials.
The different material types are cleaned, then sent to third-party processing partners that recycle the materials into usable forms. Metals and aluminium are shredded and smelted into metal sheeting, ingots or bar stock. Glass is crushed and melted to be used in new glass bottles or brick, cement or concrete applications. Rubber is generally cryo-milled to freeze, then size-reduced into a powdered state for flooring applications. Organics are composted or used in industrial and commercial fertilisers. Plastics are melted and reformatted into pellets, flakes or a powder format.
But here’s the rub
Speaking to the World Economic Forum (WEC) during a live Facebook webinar in February 2016, Tom Szaky said, “We show that if you promote recycling platforms around waste then you will drive consumerism”. This is the main criticism of TerraCycle’s Recycling Programmes and Zero Waste Box Solution™. While these schemes are great, they’re not giving an incentive to big companies like Nestlé, Walkers, Pepsi to change their thinking on how they package their products.
TerraCycle’s solution – Loop
To give TerraCycle their due, they recognised the problem and in 2019 launched their most ambitious attempt yet to eliminate plastic waste from the household shop. Their new solution is Loop, which sits alongside their previous schemes.
Szaky says, “The idea for Loop came up when I was talking to colleagues. We asked ourselves whether or not recycling and making products from recycled content was going to solve the garbage problem. We realised that it’s an incredibly important thing to do, but it’s only solving the symptom of waste and not really eliminating the idea of it – or solving the root cause.”
As they say on the website: “Why own a product’s packaging (and have to throw it away when you’re done), when all we really want is the stuff inside? With Loop, temporarily place a 100% refundable deposit to borrow the packaging, and we’ll professionally clean and reuse it once you’re finished”.
Loop is now available in the UK in partnership with Tesco and is the UK’s first online shopping service that delivers food, drink and household essentials from leading brands in reusable packaging. Loop is currently being used for some 300+ products, including Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Crest mouthwash and personal care product Dove.
But can we all do even better?
TerraCycle’s recycling programmes are a great start and perfect if you rely on products such as contact lenses and baby products and want to ensure they are recycled responsibly. However, looking at the long list of waste they take on, you have to ask yourself if using alternative products is just a whole lot smarter. There are plenty of sustainable eco-friendly swaps you can make, and ways to upcycle at home. Plus, we need to start asking ourselves if we can do without items such as coffee machines, plastic cotton buds, wet wipes, disposable gloves and disposable masks.
But remember to check in with this blog for tips on how you can make easy, smart choices which will help the environment without perpetuating the problem by checking out this blog. You can also sign up to our newsletter