Why do Zero Waste Boxes cost money?

Have you heard of TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes? They are boxes that you can purchase and which will enable you to recycle almost any type of waste. If we offer free recycling solutions through our recycling programmes, why do Zero Waste Boxes cost money? This week, Sam Angel, our Customer Service Executive, answers this very frequently asked question. 

Recycling is not always easy. Simply working out what can and can’t be recycled through your local council is sometimes not very straightforward, and then there’s the dilemma of what to do with those non-recyclable items that you just can’t live without: pens, coffee capsules, biscuit wrappers, crisps bags etc.

Luckily TerraCycle has a solution for these types of waste, and many more. We, at TerraCycle, pride ourselves on being able to offer good hearted, eco-conscious people such as yourselves the opportunity to recycle a wide range of rubbish. We do this by teaming up with a number of brands who sponsor programmes which allow us to offer you a solution for free, and even donate a sum of money to the charity or school of your choice.

But what about all the other hard to recycle things we throw away on a daily basis? This is where Zero Waste Boxes come in. There is a Zero Waste Box solution for almost every conceivable waste stream out there, from toothbrushes and contact lenses to suitcases and footballs: there’s a Zero Waste Box for everyone. However, as you might have guessed, Zero Waste Boxes are not free.

Why should I pay to recycle? 

Some of the questions we are asked most frequently are “Why should I have to pay to recycle?”, or “Why do I have to buy a new box every time I send one back?” or “How can you expect me to pay that much for a cardboard box?” The answer to all three questions is because recycling hard to recycle waste costs money. These waste streams have very little value once they have been recycled and the cost of collecting and processing is higher than the value of the recycled material. As forward thinking and planet saving as we are, TerraCycle is only a small company, and we need to recover our costs.


But where do these costs come from? The costs of recycling can be broken down into three main parts: transport, storage, and the recycling process itself.


The process of sending your waste to us involves a courier, and where the council have a large number of trucks and drivers at their disposal, we have the amazing people at UPS to help us. Part of the price of a Zero Waste Box goes towards a pre-paid shipping label which comes already attached to your box once you purchase it. Once your box is full, all you need to do is organise your collection with UPS, who will travel to any location in mainland UK, scan your prepaid label, and take your waste to our warehouse.


The warehouse is the second step in a piece of waste’s journey towards its new life. Here waste will be checked in, sorted if necessary, decanted into bigger packaging and stored alongside other similar waste until there is enough of it to be recycled. Because the amount of waste we collect through Zero Waste Boxes (up to 30kg), is significantly smaller than the amount of waste councils receive through kerbside collections, it is not technically possible to recycle until we have a large enough amount to process in one go. We can’t recycle just a single bag of crisps or a few coffee capsules at a time!

Therefore we have to wait until we have approximately one truckload, or several tonnes, of a particular waste stream before we can send it off to be recycled. Depending on the waste stream this can take varying lengths of time, and time of course costs money which is why the price of a Zero Waste Box also includes the cost of storage and handling.

The Recycling process

The recycling process is the most exciting part of the whole experience (for me at least!). As you can imagine, recycling facilities are very busy, and receive huge amounts of waste from councils and industries on a daily basis, and as a result, the quantities of waste they receive from us are tiny in comparison. Consequently, conditions have to be just right for us to be able to send waste to be recycled: once we have collected enough waste, we need to find a processor with the right facilities needed to recycle particular waste streams. Different streams require different equipment and processes all of which vary in terms of costliness and some waste streams need to go through more than one processing facility to be recycled. Furthermore, the industrial machines need to be cleaned and configured for each waste stream, and this can take up to a day, which adds up to the cost!


In a perfect world we would not need to recycle because there would be no waste at all. Unfortunately there is waste, and without a generous sponsor, or a kerbside collection scheme to negate the costs of recycling that waste, a Zero Waste Box is often the only solution.

How to make your Zero Waste Box more cost efficient? 

While Zero Waste Boxes might be too expensive for some individual collectors, there are ways to make them more cost efficient. They are very popular among companies and organisations for example, and so it might be worth suggesting a Zero Waste Box solution such as the  Break Room separation or Plastic Packaging one at your place of work. If your office or business partners love it – and we’re sure they will – you can even create a business account with us to make purchasing Zero Waste Boxes a whole lot easier.

You could also share the boxes with others, and some people chip in for a Zero Waste Box with their friends and family to spread the cost. It is also worth pointing out that you have well over a year to send your box back to us, and depending on your waste habits it might take you that long to fill one. This means that a Zero Waste Box may end up costing you about as much per month as a Netflix subscription, and you can’t save the planet with a Netflix subscription.

Furthermore, purchasing a Zero Waste Box might also be a great opportunity to learn more about your waste habits and look at what you are throwing away on daily basis to try and reduce your waste. The blogger Pip, from the blog A refugee for Daffodils, bought a Zero Waste Box from TerraCycle and wrote a very interesting piece about how she used it, listing everything she put in there, from crisp bags to plastic hangers, toothbrushes and medicine packets!

The Zero Waste Box then, while it may seem expensive, is more than just a cardboard box. It is a solution for the unsolvable, the last obstacle diverting waste from landfill, it is a passport which gets your waste where it really needs to go to have a second life. Plus it can (of course!) be recycled too.


More information on Zero Waste BoxTM on https://zerowasteboxes.terracycle.co.uk.  If you would like to speak to a TerraCycle representative, please call us at our free phone number 0800 0470 984 or send us an email at zerowasteboxes@terracycle.co.uk.

6 thoughts on “Why do Zero Waste Boxes cost money?

  1. I am not sure that people realise that they will no longer raise money for a charity when they opt for
    Buying zero waste boxes. I didn’t know that until
    I spoke to Terra cycle


  2. How do I know you actually recycle the contents of my box? Or am I just buying an expensive box from you and when my stuff arrives you just put it in landfill?


    1. Hi Joanna, we understand your concern.
      We can guarantee you that the waste we receive is recycled to make new products. We don’t send any waste to landfill or incineration.
      You can learn more about what happens to the waste we collect with this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lg_9_Dz1FMc.
      I hope this helps.
      Best wishes and happy holidays, Claire


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