Friday, 2 September 2016

Stop throwing money away for good


Recycling can be a source of frustration.

Of course, you want to do the right thing but, first, the lack of clear, useful information provided by certain food brands to their customers is truly infuriating (especially when the product is organic!); second, there are only some many types of waste recycled by the company used by your local council ; third, this list of items varies depending on where you live (including within the confines of the Greater London Authority). It's not surprising that many of us here in the UK end up throwing non-recyclable waste in the recycling bin by mistake. 

$15 millions raised for non-profit organisations 
Nevertheless, waste recycling can be a satisfying experience. It can even bring pride to your  community and enable you to raise money for your local school and/or your favourite charity. That's the deal offered by TerraCycle. The company claims to have collected more than 3 billions of pieces of waste and raised $15 millions for charities across the world.


TerraCycle European headquarters are located in Perivale, in North West London.
The waste they collect via their various recycling programmes is processed in Preston in Lancashire.


I've discovered TerraCycle about a year ago watching a TV report ahead of the COP 21, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. However, it took a visit to their London office for me to fully realize the positive impact TerraCycle has on local communities here in the UK.


A company created by a 19 year old
The company was set up in 2001 in the US by a student called Tom Szaky. Since then, it has become a serious player in the recycling field at the global level. The social entreprise inaugurated its European headquarters in London seven years ago. There, a team of 25 people runs its operations for the UK, France, the Nordic countries and other European countries. TerraCycle is currently established in 20 countries worldwide. It should enter the Indian market soon - interesting times ahead. 


The company was created in 2001 by a Princeton student, Tom Szaky.
Tom, the CEO of TerraCycle, has written several books about waste. 


"Everything is recyclable but there is a cost to it", Stephen Clarke from TerraCycyle Northern Europe sums up. To divert coffee packaging, baby food pouches, home cleaning products, aerosols and other materials from landfill, TerraCycle has struck a partnership with big international consumer brands. "Without those brands, we wouldn't be able to fund the programme", the communications director  insists right from the start.


The (coffee pod) money tree
The deals established by TerraCycle with Kenco, Tassimo, Ella's Kitchen, McVitie's and other brands enable the company to run free recycling programmes such as the writing instruments one, EllaCycle, the coffee packaging recycling programme or McVitie's biscuit wrappers programme. Volunteers order collection boxes from TerraCycle (for free), install them in public places (ex.: supermarkets, office buildings, companies premises) or in people's front gardens, for example. When they have collected a sizeable amount of pens, baby food pouches, biscuit wrappers etc., they send them back to TerraCycle (also for free). In return for their efforts, TerraCycle members earn points that can be redeemed for cash-payment to schools and non-profit organisations.


Collection boxes supplied by TerraCycle to its members for public drop-off points.
TerraCycle recommends installing them in supermarkets, office buildings 


"One of our more active members in the UK, George Thomson, has raised £5000 for MacMillan Cancer Support in the space of three years by collecting Tassimo coffee pods in Milton Keynes where he lives", communications executive Katie Saunders mentions during our meeting. "Tassimo pods recycling volunteers in the UK form a very dynamic group! They even have a Facebook page where they exchange tips and information about collection points", Katie adds, clearly impressed with the dedication shown by members of TerraCycle.



Poster posted by George Thomson on Facebook on July 22nd 2016. 
Initially the retired Milton Keynes resident was aiming at raising £50. 

In reality, George Thomson doesn't just collect Tassimo pods. He takes part in various TerraCycle free recycling programmes. In South Belfast, a group of friends baptised We Can Recycle also runs several TerraCycle programmes simultaneously. The money they raise is split between Kicks Count, a health charity, and Assisi Sanctuary Northern Ireland, a charity that re-homes pets. The small volunteer group also collects cigarette butts - just for the sake of clearing litter and recycling valuable materials.


The most littered item in the world
The cigarette waste recycling programme has been launched in the UK in September 2015 by TerraCycle. "Cigarettes are the most littered item in the world", Stephen Clarke informs me. TerraCycle members cannot earn points by collecting cigarette butts - "it's prohibited by the law", the communications director explains. But volunteers are motivated nonetheless. More than half a million butts have been recycled so far in the UK at 220 location points.

TerraCycle is not allowed to reward volunteers with points for recycling cigarette waste.
The programme, launched a year ago in the UK, is nonetheless popular.

Cigarette butts are broken down between down between organic and non-organic materials. The latter are used to make plastic pellets. "The pellets are then used to make construction pallets, for example. Those kinds of pallets are much stronger than wood", Stephen ensures.

TerraCycle doesn't manufacture any upcycled objects - with the exception of food packaging rolls that they sometimes turn into bags and other goodies for their brand partners at their demand. The raison d'être of the business is to orchestrate the collection of substantial quantities of hard-to-recycle waste and find specialised recycling factories for those items. The engagement taken by TerraCycle is to never incinerate or send to landfill the waste it collects.



TerraCycle manufactures a few upcycled items for the brands it has a partnership with.
Those items are very sought after by customers. 


At a personal level, I consider TerraCycle recycling programmes as an opportunity to reduce my waste even further. I am thinking about pens and coffee packaging, in particular - and other materials that I still use but are not recycled by my local council.

At a community level, those recycling programmes can also be a very good tool to get children in recycling. Also, think about the number of pens companies go through. The same for cafés and restaurants regarding coffee packs. If collected via TerraCycle, it's a lot of money that could be raised for schools and charities in Harlesden where I live.

Waste is a gigantic problem that needs tackling from different sides. As much as I am advocating for waste reduction first and foremost, I am aware recycling has to be part of the mix.


  • ACT
  1. To check the location of TerraCycle collection points in the UK click here.
  2. To set up a TerraCycle account click here.


If you collect waste on behalf of TerraCycle in the UK or somewhere else in the world, please share your experience with other readers by leaving a comment below. Thank you!