Have you been seeing TerraCycle on social media or are they just targeting me? Today, while I was exploring the Natural Products Expo’s education track, TerraCycle showed up again. Tom Szaky, founder and CEO—the shaggy-hair rock star of waste management—is delivering the conference’s keynote. I figured the universe was telling me I ought to find out what they’re all about. But first, some context:
When I was in college, after the dinosaurs but before recycling was mainstream, I wanted to launch a company that collected paper and other office waste from large businesses. The plan was to charge for removal and then selling it, thus creating two revenue streams. When I met with a mentor for advice, he all but laughed at me. He aptly cited not just the immense investment in vehicles but a myriad of other reasons why waste management wasn’t a place for me. The most interesting of his deflations was the long line of established ‘families’ already in the business. Wink. Wink. That ended that. No matter, recycling continues to be of interest to me, despite its many complexities.
It’s for this reason the What’s Good Send Back Program came to be. We wanted to give our customers a free and easy way to recycle things that most home recycling programs won’t take. Things that should never ever go to a landfill, like batteries and nail polish. Both can contain toxic chemicals like mercury, lead and formaldehyde (and other evils) that you, me, and they don’t ever want leaching into the ground water. You’ll notice we’ve also included eyeglasses. No they’re not toxic. Just because your red readers or your big Warby Parkers are no longer haute couture doesn’t mean they should be tossed. Send them to us, we’ll donate them to an organization that sorts, cleans and distributes them to folks who need eyeglasses.
Already we’ve received about ten pounds of batteries, a bunch of old nail polish, and about 20 pairs of glasses. Our goal is to expand the program to include other items that are tougher to recycle. In the grand scheme of recycling, our service is just to encourage our customers and make it easy.
For help finding out where to recycle just about anything, you have a few options. For starters, earth911.com. These brains have put together the largest recycling database in America. They’ll help you figure out how to recycle just about anything; you can use their website to search or call 800-CLEANUP.
You can also explore RecycleNation.com, a dynamic recycling and green living-focused website that makes recycling, conserving, and reusing easy. Like Earth911, RecycleNation offers a comprehensive recycling location database but along with eco content, ideas, and news, but no ads.
Now that I've shared all that, back to TerraCycle… in addition to also having a comprehensive recycling search, they are a leading innovator pushing for packaging reuse and redesign. And they have become the go-to company for free recycling programs. Everything from beach and cigarette butt clean-up kits to brand recycling programs like Burt’s Bees and the Solo Cup Company. Note: If you can’t imagine your beer pong invitational without this iconic cup, please follow this link. For musicians, there’s the D’addario string collector box. For kids, there’s an action figure collection box. There’s even a hair collector box (gross!).
TerraCycle isn’t just about a product’s end of life, they are also working with large brands to eco-improve their packaging for better resource use at the start. Blog story longer, I’m excited about this company and if I make my way to California in March, I’ll for sure go to the Szaky’s keynote to learn more.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to be choosy about the products I buy. Taking into account how and where they’re made, what they’re made of, and what the possibilities for disposal, reuse, or recycling are when I’m done with them. Together we can do good-er.
P.S. Definitely check out this EPA infographic, easy to read and chock full of information at a glance. If you want to geek-out on facts, check out the EPA's 2017 Fact Sheet. Funny how it hasn't been published since 2017, but was every year previous.