This month, TerraCycle celebrates the important milestone of a decade Eliminating the Idea of Waste through free recycling programs and custom recycling solutions in Canada. Since opening in 2006, TerraCycle Canada has engaged two million people to recycle, diverting 150 million units of difficult-to-recycle waste from landfills and raising over $400,000 for charity.
Through key partnerships with consumer goods companies and brands that seek to take greater responsibility for their difficult-to-recycle waste, such as Febreze®, Nespresso and Schneiders® Lunchmate®, we are able to provide individuals, businesses, schools and organizations access to free recycling programs. This also means that consumers have the opportunity to divert waste from landfills and the ability to participate in the nationwide movement to bridge the gap to zero waste.
Conceived in my Princeton dorm room, TerraCycle’s original business model of worm poop fertilizer was like a lightbulb going on in my head: we could take the school’s food waste, feed it to worms (which is an environmentally friendly process, and free labor), get beautiful worm poop (which my friend back home proved made fabulous plant fertilizer), and sell it. And instead of buying the bottles we needed (with the no money we had), we’d reuse used plastic soda bottles to serve as the product’s packaging. A new product made entirely out of garbage. The Home Depot Canada was the first retail partner to carry TerraCycle’s worm poop fertilizer.
But then, I found myself wondering: What if we tried to eliminate the idea of waste? Instead of focusing on making plant food from food scraps, we would strive to solve for all of the world’s waste and reduce the strains on our environmental resources.
The first step to solving for waste is to look at any object from three components: the material it is made from, the form it is in, and its intended purpose. We thought it at the time, and TerraCycle has found today that every consumer waste stream, even cigarette butts (TerraCycle Canada was the first in the company’s history to recycle them in 2012), can either be reused (values material, form and intention), upcycled (values the material and form), or recycled (values the material).
TerraCycle’s current “sponsored waste” business model allows us to circumvent the economic limitations of municipal recycling and create new infrastructures for regenerative waste solutions. Working with companies paying to solve for their difficult-to-recycle product and packaging waste lets us make the previously unrecyclable nationally recyclable and break ground in new categories along the way.
We now operate in 20 countries, but I’m really proud that the first successes for TerraCycle came in Canada. TerraCycle Canada celebrates ten years of making garbage, the real hero of this story, great, and we look forward to a future of a cleaner, greener Canada.