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TerraCycle offers multiple avenues to recycle in an attempt to eliminate the idea of waste. TerraCycle's Closed Loop Solution is an innovation that seeks to collect and recycle "hard-to-recycle" waste. TerraCycle's business model supports this innovation by addressing the logistics behind recycling first, or the collection of the waste, and then identifying the solution, or the process to recycle and the waste's end use. As Derek explains, "we know something is recyclable, we just do not know how yet... we would rather start collecting and getting the material... rather than waiting and waiting and waiting until we have the solution." Derek elaborated further by sharing that "a brand will come to us [TerraCycle] for a recycling program or process, and the R&D team will receive a sample and the specs," which allows TerraCycle to identify if the company is able to recycle in a current process TerraCycle already has, or if a new system is necessary.
In general, TerraCycle offers a variety of ways to participate in their movement, from purchasable zero waste boxes to free recycling programs funded by brands, manufacturers, and retailers around the world. These programs help people and companies collect and recycle what is usually extremely hard to recycle. TerraCycle provides a means for businesses to "close the loop" in their production processes by providing those companies' customers a way to recycle their packaging and products. TerraCycle has free national recycling programs with companies such as Arm & Hammer, Barilla, Brita, Burt's Bees and Colgate. These programs allow for the recycled use of what are typically non-recyclable wastes. Not only does this encourage consumers to recycle these companies depleted products, but also encourages consumers to continue their business with these companies knowing that their waste can be recycled.
Their Closed Loop Solution is an innovation TerraCycle uses to recycle products that usually cannot be recycled, customizing the recycling process specific to each company or organization’s outputs. TerraCycle actually collects the waste first and seeks the solution after, which is unique to their business model. Through this process and customization, TerraCycle is able to convert waste into usable material, like plastic pellets, that companies may purchase to produce anything from pencil cases to playgrounds.
Moreover, TerraCycle offers a range of free programs that are funded by conscientious companies. A customer is able to choose the program they would like to join, start collecting in their home, school, or office, download free shipping labels, and send TerraCycle their waste to be recycled. Customers can also earn rewards for schools and nonprofits. Additionally, customers are able to buy zero waste boxes from TerraCycle themselves if the program they seek does not yet exist.
TerraCycle also offers recycling programs for industrial waste, in which a waste stream (from a company that may produce thousands of units of waste per day) is purchased by TerraCycle directly from the facility instead of to a landfill. From there, additional companies interested in purchasing materials processed by TerraCycle as made-to-order raw materials (“as-is”), shredded or ground materials (uncontaminated, multiple plastics), reprocessed plastic pellets, or custom compounds dependent on the purchaser’s needs for their product. The type of product waste, and consequent waste stream of the company, showcases clear economic advantage as well as positive sustainable impact.
TerraCycle's founder Tom Szaky, an undergrad at Princeton University in 2001, collected "compost from the school cafeteria" and fed it to red worms. He used the byproduct to create fertilizer which he started feeding to his own indoor plants. From this practical success, the idea for TerraCycle was born. Initially, Szaky thought to help eliminate waste by creating quality fertilizer from food waste. This simple concept has grown and developed in the last 17 years, and has grown to the scale that TerraCycle operates at today.
The overall impact is largely a reduction in waste around the world! Whether that be waste from retailers, companies, or individuals, everything TerraCycle is able to recycle contributes to a healthier and more sustainable world. TerraCycle has sparked change in the way businesses think about their production process. Their ability to work directly with specific companies sets new standard in the recycling industry. Instead of simply hauling away whatever materials pile up from homes or businesses, TerraCycle provides a personal touch to make the world a better place. This allows recycling to stay at the forefront of companies' minds, allowing the idea of "zero waste" to percolate into the entire business model. Derek shares that "brands will come [for a number of different reasons, including but not limited to] because it is cheaper, fits core values and vision, or serves as a marketing communications point." Partnering with TerraCycle can serve many purposes, which allows this innovation to be that much more impactful.
Additionally, consumers will see and feel the effects of integrated recycling. There is some intangible sense of fulfillment when know that our waste can be reused. Consumers experience the negative consequences of excess waste, and because of this, commend and support initiatives to keep the planet clean. TerraCycle allows companies to show their customers that they understand their customers' desires to do right by the planet. In return, consumers support these companies by buying their products. This allows a greener and more sustainable interaction between businesses and consumers.
The innovation IS the business. TerraCycle has full-time chemists who are constantly working to find new ways to recycle what are typically thought of as non-recyclable materials. Understanding the chemical makeup of plastics and how they can be recycled are at the core of the business and everything grows out of it. Additionally, TerraCycle is innovative in how they think about using recycled materials.
TerraCycle has made their entire business model about making other businesses more sustainable. For example, Derek shared how TerraCycle was able to assist Brita by providing a way for customers to recycle their Brita water filters, which only further supports Brita's economically friendly product: "[Brita says to its customers] 'here's a Brita water filter, you'll use less bottled water...' But then the customer is left with the question, 'when I switch out my filter, I then have to throw it out?' Now you can also recycle your Brita filters [through Brita's partnership with TerraCycle]."
As one can see, TerraCycle continues to think about new and better ways to achieve their goal and has created beautifully unorthodox ways to recycle. TerraCycle's innovation not only IS their business but positively contributes to the operations and outputs of other businesses as well. Their actions have created international initiatives and projects to creatively clean up the oceans, repurpose "junk," and even to go as far as to eliminate the need for recycling in the first place.
TerraCycle's mission to find a way to recycle all wastes identifies with two of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12), and Climate Action (SDG 13). The company takes in all waste, sometimes before they know how to recycle it, vowing to find a way to put it to good use. This practice ensures that millions of pounds of waste do not wind up in landfills and incinerators each month.
Overall, TerraCycle has enlisted almost 81 million people to participate in their recycling efforts, resulting in over four billion pounds of waste recycled globally and effectively helping reduce both landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions (SDG 12 & 13).
Derek Noah, Account Management Brand Partnerships
TerraCycle is Eliminating the Idea of Waste® by recycling what is usually deemed “non-recyclable." Their innovations have changed the way we think about and handle our everyday waste in working towards more sustainable communities and a healthy environment. The waste that TerraCycle collects includes everything from cigarette butts to coffee capsules from your home, or even pens from a school to plastic gloves derived from a manufacturing facility. The differentiator that separates TerraCycle from other recycling companies is noteworthy: TerraCycle collects any type of waste prior to knowing how it can be recycled.
TerraCycle's business model was explained by Derek as a process: "First is logistics. What is the model in which we are collecting the material? Is it a zero waste box, is it a National Free Recycling Program? How is it that we are collecting the material? Second is the solution. How do we solve for it? What is the process to recycle it and is there an end use for that recycled material?"
TerraCycle actually starts with the logistics, or collection of the material, and following is the solution, where the recycling process is defined and the end use for each of the waste elements is specified. Other recycling companies seek the solution first. Instead, TerraCycle's mentality is that everything is recyclable, but the process of how and why to do so simply has not yet been discovered. On that note, TerraCycle relies on its scientists' brain power to explore how and for what purpose the waste will be recycled, even if it takes years to do so.
TerraCycle currently partners with individual people, companies, retailers, manufacturers, municipalities, and small businesses across 21 different countries. Most of their sales are through business-to-business sales, but uniquely, the programs that TerraCycle offers to these corporate sponsors also benefit the consumer directly. TerraCycle offers zero waste boxes and office programs to interested parties. Additionally, companies can partner with TerraCycle to create free recycling programs that are accessible to consumers like you and I; for example, Colgate partners with TerraCycle and offers a free recycling program for oral care product packaging. They have over 23,000 participating locations and over $64,000 raised. To participate, one only needs to sign-up online on TerraCycle's website. The fees are covered. It is truly impressive.
When supporting a partner's program, TerraCycle offers internal and external program resources, corporate social responsibility support, sales integration support, customized public relations and marketing, and much more. Some of TerraCycle's partners include Entenmann's Little Bites, Solo Cup, Bloomberg, Lärabar, BioTrue, and the list of prestigious companies continues. TerraCycle hopes to continue striving towards eliminating the idea of waste, but as a whole, the company has already had such a global impact. Over 80 million people have been influenced to recycle. This company is not only innovative but destined to become a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle waste.