Many of our longstanding collectors (you know who you are!) will be well aware that TerraCycle® has grown enormously in the last year or two, largely due to growing awareness surrounding the issue of single use plastics and pollution thanks to programmes such as Blue Planet II. The main contributing factor to TerraCycle®’s continued success however, has been you, the collectors.
As a thank you, and in order to answer some of your most frequently asked questions, we created a series of short videos titled “TerraCycle® Answers Your Questions”, featuring our resident Recycling Expert Stephen Clarke explaining what, how and why we do what we do.
Use these videos as handy resources that you can easily share with your networks to clear up any queries or encourage more people to drop off their hard-to-recycle waste to your public drop-off location. To accompany the videos we also wanted to write this blog post so that you can have all of the relevant information in writing, and so, without further ado, please find a break down of the questions asked in each video below…
1. What are the economics of waste?
Here at TerraCycle® HQ, we are regularly asked why certain waste streams cannot be accepted by local councils. As a general rule, councils across the UK will accept simple waste streams such as paper and cardboard, aluminium cans and tin cans, plastic bottles and certain rigid plastics. These are the materials that are considered “high value” as the end recycled product is worth more than the costs of transporting and processing the waste.
Councils do not want any materials that are costly to recycle. This includes things such as flexible packaging like crisp packets and biscuit wrappers, waste that is made up of multiple materials such as pens and toothpaste tubes, and anything else where the cost of recycling the waste outweighs the value of the end product.
This is where TerraCycle® comes to the rescue. TerraCycle® partners with your favourite brands to cover the costs of transporting, separating and recycling “hard-to-recycle waste” which means we can offer the solution as a free programme to collectors on our website.
As a member of a free programme you are able to download shipping labels which you can use to send your waste to us, and as an added thank you, the brand partners also offer a charitable donation for each shipment collectors send in. Without these brand partners we simply wouldn’t be able to make the economics work and would therefore be unable to offer a solution.
2. What happens to the waste you send for recycling?
Once all of your hard work sorting and packaging is complete and you’ve sent off a shipment, you may be wondering “what happens next?”. It’s a good question, and one that Recycling Genius Steve Clarke has the answer to.
Once the UPS driver collects your shipment of waste, its delivered to our partner SUEZ’s site in Darwen, Lancashire. The materials are then “baled” and stored together by waste stream until we have enough to send for recycling. Generally we need between 10-25 tonnes of each type of waste before the economics of processing it make sense. We use a number of processors across the UK and Europe depending on the process required to recycle a waste stream, and availability.
Flexible plastic snack wrappers for example, are shredded, cleaned and converted into pellets which can then be supplied to manufacturers who mould them into new products. The products that can be produced depend on the material composition. The material can be moulded into lumber which can then be used to make benches, outdoor furniture and even playgrounds! More information about the processes for various materials can be found here and watch the full video here.
3. Why are changes made to the recycling programmes?
In recent months, you may have experienced some changes to the programmes you are signed up to. Changes can range from increases in the minimum shipment weight, the charitable points awarded per shipment, or in some cases, removal from a programme.
While we appreciate that these changes can be inconvenient, we assure you they are decisions that are not taken lightly, and they are made to ensure the efficiency and success of the free recycling programmes. But why are these changes made? Once again Recycling God Steve Clarke has the answers.
While TerraCycle® would love to be able to recycle absolutely everything, it is important to bear in mind that it is not possible unless you can make the economics work.
This is waste that was previously non-recyclable in the UK and which TerraCycle® has found a solution for by partnering with brands who provide us with the resources to launch a free programme.
With the resources provided, TerraCycle® is always striving to make the programmes as efficient as possible, enabling us to recycle more waste and giving more consumers access to the free recycling solutions. While we use existing and optimized shipping routes (UPS in the UK for example), larger shipments of a certain type of waste means fewer shipments, and therefore lower carbon footprints for the programmes. This is why the programmes’ minimum shipment sizes will invariably increase.
The public access and community-based public drop-off locations also provide larger, more efficient and more environmentally friendly collections, which is why we always encourage collectors to use their nearest public drop-off location if there is one nearby, or to set one up themselves if there is not. Often when a programme launches, or even as it evolves and scales, we will look at a public collection only model as it makes more sense to have hundreds of publicly accessible locations sending large shipments, than thousands of private locations sending smaller, more frequent ones.
Currently there are more than 8,000 public drop-off locations across the UK and we are constantly working to build the network and fill in any gaps. Of course, we appreciate the frustrations of those collectors who are affected by these changes but rest assured that they are made so that we can make the programmes as big and as inclusive as we can.
We sincerely hope that you find these videos helpful. We are currently working on the next series, so do let us know if there is anything you’d like us to focus on. Comment below what would you like to see in the next edition of “TerraCycle® Answers Your Questions”?