Recycling Mysteries: Candy Wrappers

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You’ve got a sweet tooth you need to satisfy, but did you know that most of our favorite candies are wrapped in what has somehow become the unwanted stepchildren of waste management? Tossed in the trash or in a recycle bin, all candy wrappers make their way to the landfill. But why is this small, colorful package so seemingly difficult to recycle?

Although candy wrappers are made from plastic, they're hard to recycled because of their weight. Photo: Investorazzi.com

Although candy wrappers are made from plastic, they're hard to recycled because of the difficulty to recover valuable materials. Photo: Investorazzi.com

Packaging consultant, Sterling Anthony says it all comes down to the state of the recyclable materials market.

“PET plastic, the plastic used for most water and soft drinks, is made from one material, and that material can be broken down into materials that can be used for other items. So, there’s a market for it,” Anthony says.

Because plastic bottles can be recovered easily and economically, and there’s a healthy end-use market for their recovered materials, waste management facilities have an incentive for their collection and processing. However, candy wrappers are usually made up of mixed materials, making the recovery of useful materials difficult and expensive.

As a result, most waste management companies, manufacturers and municipal recycling facilities tend to turn their backs from candy wrappers.

The Volume Dilemma

While a healthy market for recovered candy wrappers may be in our reach, Anthony says the market overall is contingent upon the volume of discarded candy wrappers.

“Infrastructure always follows volume,” he says. “If volume is not great enough, there’s not an economic incentive.”

Waste management organizations are not inclined to collect and transport candy wrappers because, unlike higher volume recyclables like paper, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, candy wrappers do not account for a large amount of waste presence nor volume. Photo: Polyflow Corp.

Unlike higher volume recyclables like plastic bottles, candy wrappers do not account for a large amount of waste presence or volume. Photo: Polyflow Corp.

Waste management organizations are not inclined to collect and transport candy wrappers because, unlike higher volume recyclables like paper, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, candy wrappers do not account for a large amount of waste presence or volume.

But Joe Hensel, CEO of Polyflow Corp., says his company can remove the volume variable and increase the value of overall waste management strategy. Hensel says his team has developed a technology that turns mixed material waste into consumer goods without the need for sorting.

“A lot of these items are put into recycle bins, but because they’re all mixed in together, it becomes too expensive to sort out,” he says. “We can take these items without sorting them.”

Furthermore, Hensel says his facilities will have the ability to turn mixed and unsorted waste, including all candy wrappers and potato chip bags, into products like gasoline and diesel fuel, adhesives, household and industrial cleaners and paint.

“We’ll be able to take all post-consumer and post-industrial polymer waste from the community in which we’re going to build our first facility,” he says.

Hensel says his facilities will also be able to take other difficult-to-recycle items like lettuce bags, toothbrushes, plastic toys and plastic food containers like peanut butter, margarine and butter tubs. Polyflow Corp. is raising funds from investors to build a larger version of its successful pilot plant. Once that plant is in commission, Hensel expects Polyflow Corp. will dramatically improve the end-life cycle of candy wrappers and other waste typically sent to landfills.

Terracycle will be partnering with Mars, Inc. to upcycle candy wrappers into consumer products such as laptop sleeves (pictured). Photo: Terracycle, Inc.

Terracycle will be partnering with Mars, Inc. to upcycle candy wrappers into consumer products such as laptop sleeves (pictured). Photo: Terracycle, Inc.

A Sweet Alternative

Eco-conscious folks have thought of creative ways to repurpose candy wrappers. A quick search on the Internet for items made out of candy wrappers will generate page after page of handbags, wallets and even candy-wrapper jewelry.Upcycling company TerraCycle is working to reduce the amount of candy wrappers headed for the landfills by teaming up with one of the world’s largest candy makers, Mars, Incorporated.

The idea is to turn packaging, including candy wrappers, into consumer goods. TerraCycle will upcycle wrappers from M&M’S, , Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, Starburst, Skittles and 3 Musketeers. The material will be reused for backpacks, tote bags, messenger bags and even cell phone holders and laptop sleeves.

Albe Zakes, vice president of media relations for TerraCycle, believes the repurposing initiative, or upcycling, offers an easy and convenient way for consumers to recycle candy wrappers.

“We hope to inspire consumers and corporations to think about the end-life cycle of food wrappers,” he says.

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