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If you’ve never heard of it, TerraCycle is a unique company that offers boxes to recycle goods that previously you would have to trash. The company is for-profit but it offers a great service, if you and others are willing to commit a few pounds or dollars (a few items are sponsored by business, so the boxes are free). This may not be a gift to yourself, but it’s a gift to create trash-free communities that hopefully can stay that way. All recycled items are then recycled into other goods, which are then sold as part of a circular economy.

TerraCycle Zero Waste Bag was recently launched, to recycle most things that you can’t recycle from home (27 categories including flexible plastic packaging, fabrics and Styrofoam™). Just choose a subscription then seal the full bag and scan the QR code (or log into your account) to schedule doorstep pick-up. If many of you do this together, the new items made (like park benches) are donated back to your community!

free Terracycle recycling programmes

The free programmes are sponsored by industry, so it won’t cost you anything to order a box for your office or community. You then spend days, weeks or months filling the box up, send it off. Obviously some of these items are best avoided in the first place. But if you have a big office or government building filled with them (because they are no longer used or you can’t recycle them), now you can! And you can even earn rewards for each valid shipment, to earn stuff for your community or school. Some people have earned thousands of pounds/dollars for their local area. Shops and other places can also sign up to become public drop-off points, to help quickly fill the boxes for collection:

  1. Contact lenses & plastic toothbrushes
  2. Water filter cartridges
  3. Sweet, crisps & cheese wrappers
  4. Pringles containers & bread bags
  5. Hand soap packaging
  6. Foil balloons
  7. ‘Flash’ floor wipes & rubber gloves
  8. Plastic shampoo bottles & toothbrushes
  9. Disposable plastic razors & make-up pots
  10. Plastic pens

The paid boxes cost a few hundred pounds/dollars and are intended as one-off community recycling initiatives. For example, if everyone in a town or village paid a pound or dollar for a box, you can then collectively gather together all the waste for that box, it’s collected and sent off to be recycled, then hopefully you never have to buy one again, as your town will be litter-free! Example boxes are for:

  1. Office & e-waste
  2. Plastic cups & straws
  3. Hair & beauty salon waste
  4. Alkaline batteries & small car parts
  5. Aluminium cans, pots & pans
  6. Art supplies & paintbrushes
  7. Baby gear & food pouches
  8. Plastic bath accessories
  9. Cigarette waste & chewing gum
  10. Nappy waste
  11. Garage products & glue waste
  12. Holiday & party decorations
  13. Hotel bottles & waste
  14. Incadescent light bulbs
  15. Luggage & travel tags
  16. Pet food packaging
  17. Safety equipment & PPE
  18. Plant pots & garden waste
  19. Shoes & flip-flops
  20. Sporting goods
  21. Styrofoam & office waste
  22. Cassette tapes

does Terracycle not encourage consumerism?

Some people are critics of Terracycle, saying that by making money from communities purchasing big boxes to recycle cigarette butts and crisp packets and sweet wrappers, it’s just encouraging consumerism. That would be true if everyone tomorrow is suddenly gong to become eco-minimalists. But let’s face it, we’re a long way off. And most of the goods they can recycle cannot be recycled anywhere else. So they will just clutter up homes, offices and garages – or languish in landfills giving off toxic gases. Or worse, get littered on the streets or thrown in the oceans.

The reason why some boxes are paid-for is because the company does need to pay to get the items recycled, if industry is not sponsoring it. It’s true that Colgate and Bic are probably ‘greenwashing’ themselves to be eco-friendly by sponsoring the free boxes. But at end of the day, they are sponsoring them. So you can now deposit your plastic toothbrushes and ballpoint pens in boxes without cost to you, instead of them throwing them in the bin.

Co-founder Tom Szaky does seem genuine in his aim to reduce trash and pollution worldwide. The son of medical doctors, he and his family fled to Canada from their Hungarian home after the Chernobyl disaster, and grew up amid a strong conservation and environmentalist movement, and was astounded coming from a poorer background how people around him were just ‘throwing everything away’. He actively encourages everyone to campaign for tougher laws on waste in their communities.

We need to eliminate the idea of waste. And that’s why recycling (and I say this as as recycling company) is only a temporary solution. Tom Szaky

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