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