Thoughts on Recycling with Terracycle

A common question we get at Rethink Waste is what about TerraCycle? Why doesn’t The Environmental Center sign up to get some collection boxes for hard to recycle items such as candy wrappers and Keurig cups? I thought it would be good to address this in a post for everyone to see.

Bottom Line:

Yes, I put the bottom line at the top. ­čÖé Don’t worry I put it at the bottom, too. Recycling is a very important party of a circular economy. We need it to be successful. But it is not the solution. Reuse and reduce are at the should be put first for that is where the most difference can be made. Yes! Recycle! And do it right. But remember to reuse and reduce first.

What’s TerraCycle?

If you are unfamiliar with TerraCycle, here is a description from the horse’s mouth:

TerraCycle® is a social enterprise Eliminating the Idea of Waste®. In 21 countries, we tackle the issue from many angles. We have found that nearly everything we touch can be recycled and collect typically non-recyclable items through national, first-of-their-kind recycling platforms.

Leading companies work with us to take hard-to-recycle materials from our programs, such as ocean plastic, and turn them into new products, and our new Loop platform aims to change the way the world shops with favorite brands in refillable packaging offered with convenience and style.

Before I say anything else, I am 100% behind TerraCycle’s initiative to be innovative and take the recyclable bull by its horns. No one else in the country has the infrastructure or capacity to accept MANY of the materials they do. Don’t get me wrong: they are awesome! And I am very excited about their endeavors with their project “Loop” dedicated to reusable packaging for many major brand name products.

It sounds great! What are the cons?

To be frank, TerraCycle is a hot albeit mildly controversial topic in the zero waste world.

  • First, it is expensive to order their boxes. (side note: they do have some free recycling collection options). Not only is it costly for an individual OR an organization to participate in their programs, it is also debatable whether shipping a large volume of undesirable material to New Jersey does, in fact, outweigh its utility, particularly when coming all the way from Oregon.
  • Second, TerraCycle doesn’t appear to be particularly transparent about what, exactly, happens to the goods that they “recycle”. I do not doubt that they are recycled! But I do think they are probably downcycled: turned into some kind of final product in which they will remain for eternity. I think if I lived in New Jersey, I would be more inclined to speak their praises, but their recycling center is nearly 3,000 miles away from our home. I know I sound like a real sour puss here, but I’m just being honest.
  • For those two reasons, it’s not a scaleable solution, even if it is the best we have right now.

So to answer the question more directly: TEC has thought about ordering and setting up collection boxes, and we have come to the conclusion that it’s better to encourage people to avoid buying them (I know! I can hear you rolling your eyes. I get it, I promise) rather than to try to collect the packaging.

Are there TerraCycle collection spots in Deschutes County?

HOWEVER, there are periodically businesses around town that advertise public use of their purchased TerraCycle boxes. Here’s what I have seen in the past, although with COVID this could be different:

  • Snack wrappers: REI, Inc
  • Coffee and tea accessories and packaging: Subaru of Bend Dealership
  • Plastic bags or sandwich bags: As long as they are clean and dry, stretchy plastic (a ziplock but not the bag in which your shredded cheese comes), these can be collected along with plastic bags at participating grocery stores. I have seen collection bins recently at Safeway/Albertson’s, Home Depot, and Winco, although www.plasticfilmrecycling.org has a longer list.
  • Pet products and packaging:┬áWilco has a big bin that collects some animal food bags. You can check to see if what you have can go in there. Some of those heavy duty dog bags are really great for other uses because they’re super durable.
  • Beauty product packaging:┬áAOS! Angelina’s Organic Skincare shop downtown has had a TerraCycle box in the past. I’m not sure exactly what they collect, but it’s worth a look.

I hope that’s somewhat helpful. I know it’s not as convenient as one place to bring it all, but if you’re an excited and dedicated recycler, and this is the best I can offer at this time.

Did we miss any?

Do you know of any other TerraCycle collection boxes (or other unique collection sites) in Deschutes County?

Bottom Line:

Yes. Here it is where it belongs, now! At the bottom. Recycling is a very important party of a circular economy. We need it to be successful. But it is not the solution. Reuse and reduce are at the should be put first for that is where the most difference can be made. Yes! Recycle! And do it right. But remember to reuse and reduce first.