Frito-Lay has announced plans to partner with ‘Upcycler’ Terracycle to give their chip bags a second life. Frito, which on Earth Day of 2008 unveiled a solar thermal generation facility at their manufacturing plant in Modesto, CA, with the capacity to power that entire plant, is making public its desire to reduce the environmental footprint of their packaging. By partnering with Terracycle, they are making a significant stride toward that end with an innovative program wherein they provide incentives for people to upcycle their chip bags (people will actually ship them directly to Terracycle, but Frito pays the postage). Terracycle will then do what they do best, turning the chip bags into everyday products like clipboards and tote bags.
Personally, I can’t wait to see what cool designs they come up with for all those brightly colored Frito’s, Cheetos, Doritos, and Lay’s bags. I’m ready to buy an upcycled rainbow-colored hammock, just give me the word!
But why Terracycle, why not just a traditional recycling effort? And how much can 2 cents per bag really add up to? And perhaps most importantly, how much good will this do for the waste stream?
Terracycle ‘upcycles’ items by directly turning them into new products. One of the problems associated with recycling is that used materials must be broken down (plastic bottles must be chemically, physically, or thermally broken down into usable raw materials, for example, before being processed again into a new product). Recycling, therefore, is much more energy intensive than ‘upcycling’, though still far better than making products from virgin raw materials.
Frito will donate 2 cents to a non-profit organization of your choice for each bag returned. It doesn’t seem like much, but the potential for restaurants, school or hospital cafeterias, and catering companies could be substantial, due to the volume of small chip bags sold through those outlets. The potential for the waste stream could also be substantial: Frito’s written goal is to divert 5 million chip bags from landfills in 2009 alone.
Frito is looking for Captains of local “Bag Brigades”, collecting bags from coworkers, friends and family, and sending them to Terracycle. Interested? Apply for captainship here.
Initial success for the program can be seen clearly in the number of applications already received. Frito is limiting participation to 1,000 captains, and already 591 have been filled. In fact, in the time it took me to write this blog post, 3 more captains were approved and the number of openings dropped from 412 to 409. Here’s a fun game: keep this page open on the side, and occasionally hit refresh. You can watch sustainability happen.
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and hopes that someday, the green economy will simply be referred to as…the economy.