Canadian eco-startup TerraCycle’s international reputation for innovative recycling has caught the eye of one of North America’s largest waste management companies, Progressive Waste Solutions, which just bought a 20 per cent stake in the non-profit recycler to battle waste streams no other company will touch.
Since its founding in 2001, TerraCycle has turned heads with its creative upcycling methods. It takes a wide range of products considered to be non-recyclable, such as used chewing gum and cigarettes, and finds new uses for them.
Progressive Waste has entered the fray by offering its vast recycling infrastructure and resources to TerraCycle, but CEO Joe Quarin wants to let TerraCycle and CEO Tom Szaky alone when it comes to the actual ideas and innovation that make the non-profit a visionary Canadian outfit.
“They’ve built a business model, and they’ve got the economics figured out,” Quarin told EcoLog News at the January 29, 2014 Toronto launch of the partnership. “We bring the infrastructure, and hopefully, a lot more efficiency to reduce the cost of aggregating that material,” added Quarin.
While environmental critics argue that products like coffee pods, pens, chip bags, ink cartridges and toothbrushes should be designed and manufactured to be recycled on a large scale, reform has yet to come.
But Szaky told EcoLog News that TerraCycle’s work is inspirational for regulators worldwide. He proudly boasts that his company’s efforts against two of the most littered products in the world, chewing gum and cigarettes, have been replicated in seven countries. The gum is used to make “minty fresh” polymer-based products, says Szaky, while cigarettes can be used to make items like factory pallets.
In 2013 alone, says Szaky, both Israel and Brazil enacted major extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation. He believes that with every new TerraCycle venture, it encourages legislators to go a little bit further to reduce the waste stream. TerraCycle, he says, demonstrates the possibilities. He considers his organization’s own work, along with the help of the caring Canadians who submit products, to be “voluntary EPR.”
“Every time countries [enact EPR], companies around waste think more, and wonder how they can proactively solve this instead of just paying a tax and stepping back,” says Szaky. “It opens up innovation in the world of waste, and that’s the essence of this partnership that we hope to bring with the sheer operational might of a company like Progressive Waste and the innovation of TerraCycle,” adds Szaky.
Globally, TerraCycle has repurposed more than 2.6 billion pieces of food and beverage products, office and school supplies, e-waste and other hard-to-recycle waste streams such as diaper packaging. These collections have raised more than $8 million dollars for charity through various packaging reclamation programs.
One of the most ambitious aspects of the new David and Goliath partnership between TerraCycle and Progressive Waste is a zero-waste pilot project set for Maple Ridge, British Columbia (B.C.). The project allows the municipality of 76,000 to have curbside recycling for virtually any used product, from bathroom supplies to automotive parts, toys, even human hair.
Maple Ridge is the first of 25 communities where TerraCycle has curbside pickup for non-recyclable products.
The Maple Ridge project works by using a consumer-based bag pickup system. Dozens of bags representing different product categories can be purchased from TerraCycle’s website. While most of the bags are in the $12 range, some, like the ones for coffee, cigarettes and breakfast cereal liners, are free.
“Making recycling as easy as possible for consumers is a key step towards one day reaching a zero-waste society,” says Nina Purewal, TerraCycle Canada’s general manager.
TerraCycle uses the funds it receives from recovered products to maintain its practices and reinvest in its core mandate of leaving no waste stream behind.
Szaky says that within the next couple of decades he hopes that waste management companies won’t even need to exist — there would just raw material companies that view used products as valuable and reusable.
Szaky also wants to see more partnerships between major waste companies and eco-startups. He hopes the new TerraCycle-Progressive partnership will help get the ball rolling.
In the meantime, Szaky says he wants consumers to think about the products they buy, and whether it’s worth supporting unsustainable designs. Every purchase is a vote for that product, he says.
“Consumers need to rethink what they vote for, and companies need to innovate from ever needing our systems in the first place,” says Szaky.
TerraCycle’s next big sustainability project? Feminine hygiene products. Stay tuned.
This news item originally appeared in EcoLog News. To learn how to subscribe, visit www.ecolog.com