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Leon Kaye headshot

UPS, TerraCycle Divert 40 Million Pounds of Waste from Landfills

By Leon Kaye

You might be diligent about pitching anything and everything into that blue bin, but there is a good chance that many of those items do not end up becoming recycled. Certain types of plastic cannot be reprocessed depending on what municipality you live in; that vinyl binder you no longer need is actually lined with cardboard, not mention the metal fasteners in the middle; and your favorite brand of toothpaste may be comprised of a material that cannot be shredded and churned into something new.

But there are some companies filling the gaps in the U.S. and global recycling system. TerraCycle, for example, has long enjoyed a reputation for transforming trash into more useful products, therefore offering companies a compelling waste diversion option. And integral to TerraCycle’s growth as a circular economy solution has been shipping and logistics giant UPS.

According to UPS, the relationship it has built with TerraCycle has resulted in at least 40 million pounds of waste diverted from municipal landfills since 2012. That’s a lot of snack bags, dental floss dispensers, toothpaste tubes and even contact lenses. In fact, UPS claims that at least 3.5 billion pieces of trash have been upcycled into useful items such as building materials for park benches as well as garbage cans. Some of the ways in which UPS has assisted TerraCycle’s mission are not completely obvious.

For example, while most of us know of UPS by the brown-clad drivers zipping through our neighborhoods, the company is also a giant customs broker both in the U.S. and abroad. UPS’s customs crew assists TerraCycle’s various recycling teams to handle the complex tangle of import and shipping regulations and restrictions between countries. TerraCycle says its partnership with UPS has helped millions of people across 21 different nations participate in the company’s various recycling programs.

Furthermore, it has to be easy for consumers to mail in those pouches and envelopes containing items that otherwise would end up in the kitchen or bathroom trash. Then there are those boxes, including ones that hauled empty bottles of Garnier personal care products to TerraCycle's operations earlier this spring and summer. Other companies have gone beyond their own products; Tom’s of Maine, for example, launched a program earlier this year that allowed consumers to send in unwanted toys to TerraCycle. All these various programs require their own individual packaging requirements, and UPS deserves credit for harnessing the technology necessary to manage the 400 to 500 shipments that arrive at TerraCycle’s facilities.

According to UPS, the company’s wide-reaching global logistics network has allowed TerraCycle to access hundreds of thousands more business and residential locations worldwide, with the end result that more waste is being recycled or upcycled instead of simply ending up as municipal waste.

UPS’s partnership with TerraCycle is just one of many ways in which the delivery service says it has become a far more sustainable operation. Over the past year, the company has accelerated investments in solar power, advanced hydrogen fuel cell technologies and has strived to develop more commitments to procuring new sources of sustainable fuel and transport options.

Image credit: Andrew W. Sieber/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye