Who are TerraCycle?
Founded in 2001, the company bought a continuous waste composting system which took organic waste and used worms to process it into fertilizer.
Those that know TerraCycle of today will be more aware of its waste collection programme which started as long ago as 2007. Plastic packaging waste is recycled into a raw material that can be used in plastic products, including playgrounds, plastic lumber, plastic pavers, bike racks, park benches, and rubbish bins.
They launched Loop in 2019, a circular shopping system delivering well known branded products to doorsteps in durable, refillable packaging, moving away from disposability and single use.
Loop provides anything from Herbal Essences shampoo to Haagen-Dazs ice cream – all in reusable packaging. After using the products, customers put the empty containers in a Loop tote on their doorstep. A delivery service then comes and picks up the containers to be cleaned, refilled and shipped back out to consumers.
I have been trying for some time to reduce my use of plastic and have always been a bit undecided about TerraCycle, but I have certain plastic items which I can’t switch and so for that purpose it’s a huge help. Due to a problem with my eye I have to use daily disposable contact lenses, for example. Then I have health problems that require me to take rather a lot of prescription medication, I can’t get away from this.
As part of TerraCycles free recycling programmes, members of the public can set up a public drop-off location (a recycling bin in an accessible place) in their community, in order to collect waste that can’t be collected by kerbside recycling.
More recently we have seen businesses also take part in becoming drop off locations. The public can use interactive maps to find these locations and drop off their specific TerraCycle waste. The programme is funded by brands, manufacturers, and retailers around the world.
Then, why do I have doubts?
One example that sticks in my mind is the Walkers Crisp packet campaign in 2018. Lots of individuals started to post crisp packets through the mailing system back to Walkers.
This resulted in Walkers linking into TerraCycle. The demand for boxes was so large that they ended up investing more money into the project. The crisp packets were cleaned and shredded to be turned into plastic pellets. The pellets were then transformed into park benches, plant pots, watering cans and cool bags. The great thing is that you can use this scheme to recycle any crisp packet.
My worry is that this option allows companies to stick with the status quo and not to innovate. Walkers promised it will look at alternatives and have these in place by 2025, but Two Farmers Crisps already use home compostable packets.
The Two Farmers Crips packets will compost in your own garden, they don’t need any fancy industrial composting. I have grown vegetables in them and seen myself the roots growing through the bag, so why could Walkers not make change more quickly? Why were they not the innovator?
How can I recycle my crisp packets?
The Walkers scheme was one of the fastest growing recycling schemes we have ever seen. As you can see from the map you don’t need to go far to find a drop off point. These can be mix of individual houses and businesses. In Chester- Chester Zoo is one location for Crisp packets, plus Dee Bank and Tarvin Primary Schools. CLICK HERE.
What do other people think about Terracycle?
What I have to say isn’t the be all and end all so I asked some friends.
Gillian – I’m a very pragmatic person, and I think TerraCycle has a role to play in the short to medium term; if you look at Joe Bloggs on the street, some really get the “zero-single-use-plastic” agenda, and will try their very best to get there, making sacrifices along the way, and significantly changing their lifestyle.
At the other extreme, a small group simply don’t care, and won’t make any changes at all (and eventually industry and legislation will make the changes to force movement). Stuck in the middle are the majority of people, those who do want to do something but get caught in the headlights by all the data and various agendas.
For me, TerraCycle offers an option to simply reduce materials going to landfill in the short term – yes, eventually I believe that most single use plastics will be replaced by other materials, but this is still some way off.
I think FoE posted something recently about changes being about “not one person doing something perfectly, but lots of people doing things imperfectly” (or words to that effect!). For me, that is what TerraCycle offers – it’s not perfect, but it’s a move in the right direction. I think that really appeals to the majority in the middle; to only offer “zero plastic” as a starting point could really alienate people.
Debbie – a couple of years ago, I was fortunate to attend a talk given by Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle. He was an inspirational speaker, whose enormous drive and enthusiasm was coupled with a clear vision of what he felt was wrong with our consumerist society and he offered a practical approach to remedying it.
As a result, I went home and immediately started to investigate how I could get involved and also whether it was something that was suitable to take into the primary school where I work. It is always a delicate balancing act with children, trying to raise awareness of environmental issues whilst trying not to worry or burden them with the anxieties which so many of us feel. We try and focus on solutions and taking positive action, so I was excited to discover that the TerraCycle scheme was easy to set up and administer, free, inclusive, achievable and rewarding.
The initial problem was to find something suitable to collect. Initially, I wanted to involve us in the Colgate scheme, which enables the collection and recycling of empty toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes etc. which seemed appropriate for a school: I wasn’t sure that we wanted to be seen to almost encourage our children to consume more sweets, crisps or soft drinks, the packaging of which feature in other TerraCycle schemes.
Unfortunately, there was already a collection point within five miles of school so our application was refused. We finally settled on the plastic ring carriers, which are used to hold packs of cans together. Children bring these in from home, from places their parents work, and, in pre-Covid times, ones that they have found as litter around local shops and off-licences. They are particularly aware of the potential danger that these pose to our wildlife, especially hedgehogs, and are thrilled to think that they might have prevented that from happening.
We have sent away 3 boxes of ring carriers and now have 248 TerraCycle points. When we have 1000 points we can decide whether to take a small donation to school or use them as a gift for a number of fabulous causes: providing orphaned baby orangutans with soft hammocks to sleep in; a seal bag to safely carry injured seals; or to send a chicken to someone to provide eggs to help them feed their family. We will probably have a vote in school, which again will emphasise the positive nature of the scheme.
Where can I drop off can rings?
You will find Debbie’s drop off point on the Map and at 36 Dicksons Drive Newton Chester- where she has a collection box outside her front door. Outside Chester – check HERE for a location near you.
I think I will always feel that TerraCycle normalises and encourages recycling, therefore letting big brands off the hook by not challenging them to innovate and find more environmentally friendly solutions and moving towards a more circular environment, zero waste and plastic free.
On the other hand, I accept I can’t get away from plastic completely and I hard core try and so accept it will remain a useful solution to those more difficult to recycle products that can’t be collected from the current kerbside collections.
– Helen Tandy