Message in an Up-Cycled Bottle

TerraCycle is sending an SOS to the world that so-called "waste" should be a resource!

Founded in 2001 by Toronto native Tom Szaky, TerraCycle is a world leader in the collection and reuse of post-consumer waste. Actively collecting non-recyclable or hard to recycle materials and turning them into affordable green products, TerraCycle Canada has collected 4,038,378 units of waste to date and is forecasting 6,800,000 units for 2012, with its international operations collecting over 2.8 billion units of waste globally. TerraCycle Canada works with more than 14 major brands to collect used packaging and products that would otherwise be destined for landfills. Glad, Mr. Christie’s, Nestlé, Sally’s, Tassimo, Kool-Aid, Huggies and Garnier are just a few of the corporate giants already on board. The company’s Mississauga warehouse is filled with stockpiles of used products like sandwich bags, drink pouches, pens, inkjet cartridges, e-waste… and an assortment of other packaging from cookies, to personal care products. (A complete list of items for collection can be found at All of this waste was reclaimed through TerraCycle’s Brigade® programs, which pay individuals and groups for the items they collect.

In his book, Revolution in a Bottle, Szaky describes how to look at waste in a different way – seeing it as a commodity with some unique characteristics including its abundance: “…[I]t has negative or very low value (typically people pay to dispose of it), it is always a by-product of some other function, it is all around us, it is created in almost every part of our lives, and there is a tremendous amount of it (much more than you would ever imagine). Since 1960, the amount of waste generated in America by consumers alone has nearly tripled to over 250 million tons per year. That’s almost one ton per person. It’s no surprise that America’s biggest export by weight is waste. There are hundreds of different waste streams out there, and many of them are almost completely hidden from the consumer’s view. So much waste has been wantonly discarded in the oceans that there is an accumulation of floating plastics the size of Texas slowly swirling in the Pacific. This gyre of plastic has been dubbed the Asian Trash Trail, the Trash Vortex, or the Eastern Garbage Patch.”

Individual components used in making hybrid materials might degrade naturally or be recycled but in combination are totally resistant to either. 

TerraCycle up-cycles and recycles waste products and packaging. True recycling requires a pure, stable supply of inputs like glass, aluminum or plastic, which are ground down and reformed into something new. Today, we manufacture goods using designer materials. Recycling is too costly, time consuming or, in some cases, beyond current technologies. A juice pouch is an example of a highly designed package made out of a fused plastic & aluminum material. It is what McDonough & Braungart call a “monstrous hybrid” in their book Cradle to Cradle. They point out that individual components used in making hybrid materials might degrade naturally or be recycled but in combination are totally resistant to either. This leaves landfill as the only option for such items - until you get the message and change your thinking.

Using their ”imagineering” skills, TerraCycle up-cycles branded waste like Kool-Aid juice pouches or Clif Bar wrappers into usable products like pencil cases, duffle bags or binders. They also produce items through recycling: pencils from newspaper, composters from decommissioned wine barrels and plant food from worm poop! The company then sells these goods through big box stores like Wal-Mart and selected e-tailers. Szaky is careful to point out that, “just because they make things out of other people’s waste (trash) doesn’t mean that that they don’t care about their quality, or their qualities. We still demand that our products be outstanding not only in their ability to accomplish the job, but also in their appearance and durability.”

Brands who are willing to be industry leaders – to be greener – and to embrace sustainable business practices are now looking to TerraCycle. Sheila Morin, Garnier Brand Director had this to say about the company’s partnership: “The TerraCycle team told us that one-third of worldwide waste is made up of beauty products. We want to change this, at least in Canada, by providing a fun and interesting option to consumers. Garnier Canada has an ongoing commitment to sustainability. Through the TerraCycle partnership we saw an opportunity to take a leadership role in the reduction of the waste to landfill from beauty products.”

Read this next part closely all you educators, members of school parent councils, teams and clubs who are looking for fundraising ideas! Denise Barnard, Communications Manager for TerraCycle Canada, says that there are more than 800,000 people collecting across the country and that 70% of participants in these collection Brigades® are schools! It’s a concept deserving of top marks: kids learn something valuable, help the planet, and turn “trash into cash” for their school. If you’d like to do something really smart this academic year – heed the environmental SOS and start a TerraCycle Brigade at your own school!

The top 3 brigade choices for schools are:

Drink pouches: did you know that a whopping 4.5 billion are produced a year in the USA alone!

Glad sandwich bag & container brigade: any brands of sandwich bags or plastic disposable containers are taken. A great way to underline the need for litterless lunches!

Mr. Christie’s® cookie & cracker wrapper brigade: any brand of cookie or cracker wrappers or pouches are accepted

One collection brigade of special note:

Old Navy flip flop brigade: back-to-school means saying good bye to summer and they are accepting any brand of flip flop!