TerraCycle was founded in 2001 by Tom Szaky, then a freshman at Princeton University, who wanted to create products that were beneficial for both consumers and the environment. What resulted was a creative and eco-conscious company that now offers more than 50 products in major retailers like The Home Depot, OfficeMax, Whole Foods Market, Walmart and Target.
Schools and organizations interested in joining TerraCycle’s recycling brigades can simply visit the company’s website, set up a team and select the materials they are interested in collecting and sending in.
Participation is not limited to just schools, however. Offices and even individuals can also sign up and either become a member of a school or nonprofit organization or utilize any one of TerraCycle’s default charities, such as Adopt a Classroom or The Nature Conservancy.
Once a member’s account is established, he or she can print out a pre-paid UPS shipping label to return the collected materials. In total, TerraCycle has 28 different brigades, ranging from drink pouches to cookie wrappers to cell phones.
Each type of product varies in value. For instance, while chip bags are worth only 2 cents each, a discarded cell phone nets 25 cents. Plus, each program comes with minimum return suggestions between 25 to 100 pieces.
Albe Zakes, vice president of media relations at TerraCycle, explains that while the company collects all recycled materials, regardless of brand, TerraCycle can legally only advertise, market and manufacture products from the brands that currently have licensing deals and participate in funding.
“The other ‘off-brand’ wrappers are processed into plastic pellets. There are a few programs that collect all packaging types from one brand, like all types of Kashi packaging or all Colgate packaging,” Zakes explains. “These programs allow us to give unilateral waste solutions to brands, but most are focused on one type of waste and will accept any brand.”
Customers who even briefly scan TerraCycle’s goods will notice that the end product clearly advertises the recycled materials it is manufactured from. While many other eco-friendly companies attempt to hide this fact, TerraCycle has a good reason for keeping its products at a raw and transparent level.
“Directly reusing the wrappers is always more sustainable. The less processing, the better the carbon impact. We do a range of processes but always try to use the simplest, if possible, with the new materials we start to take on,” Zakes says.
“Also, we think there is more of a message, more of an educational aspect to the programs if the products we make look like the wrappers collected. Kids better understand and are inspired by the transformation they can see! Finally, we think they are branded pop art, even ‘Andy Warhol-esque.’ But we are starting to turn the wrappers inside out and make more non-branded types to attract customers who don’t like the branded look,” adds Zakes.
TerraCycle’s products have gained nationwide attention and can be found online at Shop Only Green, Petco and Toys “R” Us, in addition to other independent websites. At the present time, most items submitted to the company are “upcycled,” though TerraCycle is developing a process closer to traditional recycling such as turning chip bags and diaper packaging into coolers and trash cans.