TerraCycle is known for collecting materials that can’t be recycled through traditional curbside recycling programs – like chip bags, water filters and cigarette butts – and turning them into innovative, affordable products. Now with the launch of its Zero Waste Box program, the New Jersey-based company wants to make it easier for businesses to dramatically reduce their waste stream.
Unlike TerraCycle’s recycling Brigades program where participants can often recycle a product from only one company, the Zero Waste initiative allows customers to mix products from different companies in the same box. For example, you can order a Zero Waste Box to collect baby food pouches made by any company, but you would have to sign up for one Brigade to recycle Earth’s Best pouches and a separate one for Ella’s Kitchen. Some of TerraCycle’s Brigades let participants recycle products from different companies together like its cell phone Brigade, but all of TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes are product-based, rather than company-based.
Why are many of TerraCycle’s recycling Brigades focused on a product from one company? TerraCycle frequently collaborates with a company to pay for the cost of shipping its products to TerraCycle for recycling; for example, TerraCycle partners with Brita to recycle its notoriously difficult-to-recycle water filters. This sponsorship allows the Brigade collection program to be free for consumers and is another difference between the upcycling company’s Zero Waste Box and Brigade programs: Most Brigades are free of charge, while businesses must pay a fee to order a Zero Waste Box. The box’s price varies, depending on size and the waste stream, and covers the box, shipping and recycling costs.
Businesses can also buy a special No Separation Zero Waste Box, where, much like a single-stream recycling cart, they can place all non-hazardous, non-organic waste that can’t be recycled through their curbside program. TerraCycle will then sort the materials for the customer and recycle everything inside. Just like single-stream recycling, these no-separation boxes can save companies staff time sorting out recyclables and prevent contamination from the wrong material. But this convenience comes at a price: Fees for the No Separation Zero Waste Box are more expensive than the standard Zero Waste Boxes, costing $48 for the smallest box and $177 for the largest. To save money and still reduce their waste stream, businesses can opt for the Zero Waste Boxes that collect materials separately and have their employees do the sorting.
But will businesses sign up for TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box program – especially when they have to pay to do the right thing? While businesses are accustomed to spending money on legally-required, proper disposal of hazardous wastes, will they shell out money to recycle items they could simply throw in the landfill for a lower fee? TerraCycle’s CEO Tom Szaky thinks some businesses will, motivated by the opportunity to promote their companies’ zero waste programs and attract new customers.
“Participation in TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box program can be a marketable, differentiating element in a crowded marketplace,” Szaky told Consumers Goods Technology. “With consumers starting to expect environmental responsibility at every phase of their favorite product’s lifecycle, it just makes sense.”
The Zero Waste Box program is geared towards businesses, but anyone can order a box to recycle unusual waste materials from his or her home, nonprofit or business, said Albe Zakes, TerraCycle’s vice president of media relations.
While, of course, the true definition of zero waste does not simply mean 100 percent recycling, TerraCycle’s new program goes a long way in addressing traditionally difficult-to-recycle materials, while we wait on companies to take a more sustainable approach: designing their products to be easily and efficiently recycled at the end of their useful life.
Image credit: TerraCycle
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru