How to Recycle the Unrecyclable – Terracycle shows the way

Terracycle recycled wrapper messenger bagIt’s encouraging to see the increasingly wide assortment and availability of products made from recycled materials, but there’s a problem on the other end: A lot of things aren’t accepted for recycling by curbside collection services, at least not in the US.

As this recent article in Fast Company details, it’s not currently profitable for recyclers to take much beyond the most common, high volume items, like aluminum, paper, and a select few types of plastic. You can forget about candy and snack wrappers. Too many comingled materials, too difficult to create a consistent, usable result on the other end.

But, thanks to Terracycle and companies like mega food producer Kraft Foods teaming up, that’s changing, on a potentially huge scale.

Continuing the innovative thinking that started with their Worm Poop garden products being bottled in cleaned and reused soda bottles, this time they will take things like energy bar wrappers, braiding them to make purses and backpacks. Nabisco cookie wrappers will find new life as waterproof fabric for shower curtains and umbrellas. And things like Kool Aid drink pouches will transform into tote and handbags.

Enabling all this to happen will be thousands of Brigades.These brigades cover everything from the above mentioned items to the oft shunned yogurt containers. Cork even sees some action here. In all cases, brigades get from $0.02 to as much as $0.05 per item sent in, via free shipping, to Terracycle.

Brands such as Stonyfield, Clif Bar, Bear Naked, and Capri Sun are all sponsors of brigades for their respective categories. Anybody from individuals to schools, non-profits and community groups can participate in a brigade. When you add a monetary incentive to the recycling equation, take out the logistical speed bumps of shipping and the costs of it, and have messages on the targeted products about this unique opportunity to divert what would otherwise be landfill bound waste, you’ve got a powerfully impactful thing happening here.

Readers: What are other ways you’ve seen or participate in recycling/upcycling into new uses? How is recycling being encouraged in your community? Have you used any of these new TerraCycle products? What’s been your experience?

Further reading on recycled/upcycled products:

An Example of How to Go Green with Integrity: Act2GreenSmart Bags
: Ecopreneurist

Journals, Journals, Journals: Recycled, Upcycled, and Handmade : Crafting A Green World

Recycle Your Water Bottles on Your Laptop : Ecopreneurist

About the Author

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media. Who he has and wants to work with includes consumer, media, clean tech, NGOs, social ventures, and museums. For more on GreenSmith Consulting, see He also writes for Triple Pundit
  • Terracycle is a great company. They were putting product out there long before it was really profitable, and they have helped put sustainable products on the map. Thanks for the post!

    Alter the eco and keep up the good fight!


  • freelulu

    You should check out these recycled magazine gift bows at Bellybuzz’s Etsy shop.

  • Great sites you two.

  • Ditto to what Adam said. TerraCycle is a great company that does more than create fabulous products from materials previously destined for landfills. it also offers bricks and mortar companies an excellent, targeted way to implement a recycling program. For example, I work with a children’s retailer who is about to become a TerraCycle Cookie Wrapper Brigade collection location. The store wins two ways: they now have a turn-key, recycling program that also brings their target consumers into the store (Oreo Cookie consumers, aka moms, are their prime customer). In this case they are also planning to sell the final products in a perfect example of cross promotion.

    By creating a market for cookie wrappers, juice pouches, energy bar wrappers, etc… Terracycle provides a variety of businesses an easy way to implement a great recycling program with terrific promotional benefits.

  • Thanks for the info on all these cool products.

    It’s really amazing to see how fast recycled products are progressing. 5 Years ago NO ONE would be into this stuff, now that it is the hipster thing to do, it just keeps getting better.

    The more time I spend working in the green space, the more I respect innovative companies like this.


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  • Lonnie Farr

    I am very interested in TerraCycle and its products and also their innovative recycling program. I belong to a socially responsible investment group and this is just the kind of investment we are looking for. Problem, I cannot hook up to their site. I also could not hook up to any of the links you provided in your article.
    I would like to get a hold of Tom Szaky or someone from his company. Do you have any other contact information? Thanks, Lonnie

  • I wrote an out of mind out of site story to the local news paper .And I worked at a recycle place for 1 year to gane truck driving expereince.
    And was shocked oun how much we were told to put in the land fill becouse there was no market for it!but other countries did recycle that number marked.Did you know about The bio fuel cars are made out of carbonfiber 0% recyclebul .I respect you gies but just stop and look around at a recycle place or go in to a land full I bet its off limits.And I know why
    I am a security office now and drive the money truck and got keas for places in the forest .Its veary bad that I might get the sack for speeking out but I still feel good keep it up from Rich hid with aspergers.cheers
    from david Greer

  • Are Ok I Have To much to tell you. I dont know how the Rich hid ting got in to the last blog I was just emailing about how peopel with Autism see what is going on not just directly /But How stuff works Thats All .Egg cartons can not be recycle ! most things from the packing like leather sofas Pollastring -Spelling sorry can not be recycle Any thing with soaps or oils petrolem baced can not .The list is to long ..The Terracycle is A good Idear ..Super lets carry our Rubush away With it !Year From David rs
    Greer A man With Aspergers syndrome ..
    good site for letting eveone feel like thay are doing some thing ..Been difrant from the Rest!

  • Taking Terracycle to the ultimate conclusion appears to be They are taking soda bottles and creating T shirts, made in the USA, printed in the USA and using enviromentally friendly water based ink. EccoBabble, this is incredible !

  • Faye Zimmerman

    Some months ago I saw your ad in Better Homes and Gardens and also in one of Reiman Publications magazines (I forget if in Birds and Blooms or Farm and Ranch). The ad was for some flower pots to be available at Home Depot. I have checked Home Depot, Wal Mart and other local gardening centers but can not find them. Is it possible to purchase them online???

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  • Warren Gorden

    I think what you do is awesome. By using the unusable you are helping save our planet. Thank You

  • If only more than 24 people would read about this..

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  • Salutations,
    Ok, my opinion carries just about as much weight as a mustard seed, but let me tell ya I am in awe of Mr. Szaky. To think of the stubbron, bull headed, driven, determination coupled with the insanity only few visionaries in the history of our world have had the curse/blessing to possess; IT IS MIND BOGGLING, and when I use the term possessed, I mean possessed, because Mr. Szaky has apart from corporate America, while oprating within the confines and constrictions of corporate America, taken that which corporate America shuns with dogged unclean stigma and raised it up, as if out of the ashes, transformed into some sort of preverbial dove that only good & postitve energy can eminate from.(hows that for a compound complex sentence, wow)
    Anyway, personally, I’ve been contemplating going to my landlord and asking if I could start a composting gig here on the rental property. Thus far, this project is still at that stage, I’m ‘thinkin’ about it?!? I am second guessing what my landlord might think. The neighbors are all in for it, as long as it is not on their side of the property, so as an impotent visionary not yet even able to consumate my idea into actuality, I applaude Mr. Szaky and, in my humble opinion, view him as the exact opposite of the robber barrons of the industrial age such as the Hearsts (loss of forests) and the Fords who started the consume with no care or reguard for consequence, apart from & against nature, way of living… no existing.
    Thank you Mr Szaky!
    With more respect than you can imagine,
    Lance Martin

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  • That is a wonderful element, I am very willing to read this write-up, and I agree with the issues of this essay. I think this is the best viewpoint. I am going to do something after reading it.