How TerraCycle is completely changing the way you see recycling with a company culture built on lasting impact.
TerraCycle is eliminating the idea of waste by developing ways to make things that are typically non-recyclable nationally recyclable.
Written by HYER NEWSROOM
TerraCycle is the world leader in the collection and reuse of non-recyclable post-consumer waste. This is the waste that local authorities don't collect to be recycled and would otherwise be destined for landfill or incineration, due to the recycling process costing more than the recycled product is worth. TerraCycle is turning this waste into new materials and products.
Where TerraCycle doesn't have a free recycling programme for a waste stream, they offer Zero Waste Boxes – a paid-for solution that can recycle any kind of waste, from PPE to stationery. Founded in 2001 and launched in the UK in 2009 as its first European market, TerraCycle now operates in 21 countries across the globe. They work with hundreds of leading brands - including fast-moving consumer goods, beauty, personal and homecare brands, and food manufacturers, creating free programmes for consumers to recycle hard-to-recycle waste.
Waste is everywhere. Every single thing that we buy and consume, from the chair you sit on and the books you read to the pen you use to write, pretty much all of our possessions will one day become waste. Currently, this is dealt with in much the same way as any other industry; with a focus on the financial gain. Can a waste management company make money from a product if it is recycled?
This is usually the key question as to whether or not something does get recycled, as opposed to whether or not it is recyclable. Luckily there are items we use on a daily basis that have such a value and therefore will get recycled. But what about those that won’t? In those cases only a very small percentage of everything produced gets recycled back into a circular economy.
The main issue that TerraCycle is trying to solve is tackling these waste streams that currently have no outlet to be recycled. As much as TerraCycle is pushing recycling, they also focus heavily on the “reuse” aspect.
Interview with Julien Tremblin, General Manager at TerraCycle Europe
“Recycling is super important and is something we want to keep pushing, but there’s also a key aspect of potentially receding what we consume and then reusing as much when it comes to packaging and products as is physically possible.”
Julien Tremblin, General Manager at TerraCycle Europe
The fact that a huge number of items are not recycled because of economic issues tends to drive millions of items to be thrown away, when in fact there are technical solutions that a company like TerraCycle can bring to life. So far they have addressed about 60 to 80 different waste streams that are more unusual, tackling materials that are widely viewed as non recyclable.
At the root of this problem is the fact that, due to there being no economic incentive for companies to take care of these sorts of materials, the result is a situation where the only outlet currently existing for many of these materials is in the best case scenario incineration, and worst case landfill.
This is a difficult problem to tackle because of the fact that anything which has an economic challenge will obviously remain a challenge. One of the biggest hurdles TerraCycle faces is incentivising brands, governments, and even individuals, to spend resources and money to ensure things actually get recycled or reused rather than becoming waste.
Whilst a tricky issue to solve on an immediate basis, TerraCycle believes it’s one that can be solved, purely for the reason that the main obstacle is economics; outside of that, we have the technical capabilities to collect and recycle pretty much anything (short of nuclear waste). Technologies are constantly evolving to ensure previously non recyclable items can be recycled. This gives TerraCycle hope for the future and reiterates that things can be achieved with the right mindset, the right mechanics, and the right resources.
So how is TerraCycle starting to solve this huge problem? Their approach is threefold; through educating widely on the matter, working directly with companies to create solutions, and focusing on the re-use aspect. Julien says he is “very cognisant to the fact that recycling is not the whole answer to the waste problem.
You aren’t going to be able to recycle your way out of everything. And actually a big big change that needs to happen is the change in relationship from disposability to reusability.” By creating this movement via their Loop initiative, TerraCycle aims to show that reusability doesn’t need to be more complicated than disposability.
“Generally people want to do the right thing. Maybe that’s the best way to summarise the impact that Terracycle is having.
Citizens want to go and reuse and recycle more, but they were faced before with this idea that reuse is with refill stations and recycling is only what you can put into your bin at home. Terracycle has been able to prove that in fact, reuse can be done with pre-filled products and that recycling can be done outside of the home.”
Julien Tremblin, General Manager at TerraCycle Europe
TerraCycle would like us to live in a world in which recycling services would be relevant only for the hardest to recycle materials. Ideally recycling as a whole would become less relevant, because the world would have moved more towards a reuse model. And TerraCycle are also, unusually, dreaming of a future where their own relevance goes down.
If TerraCycle achieves its mission then by default, the work they are doing would become less relevant. Julien says; “Do I really still want in 20 years to be recycling some of the products we do today? Probably not - I would like for us to really focus on the things that haven’t yet been moved to a reuse or circular model.” At the moment it can feel like recycling is one of the only things we as individuals can do to play our part, so the idea of moving away from it is really quite radical. But if we can recycle the unrecyclable and create a circular reuse model for all other materials, a waste-free future could stop being a pipedream and become a tangible reality.