How to Turn Unrecyclable Waste Into an Asset

terracycle backpack image

Image via Terracycle

How many billboards did you pass today? If you can even keep count, you're lucky. Most of those are made with vinyl. And most of them get thrown away. Over 3 million a year in the US alone. That's nearly 10,000 tons, or to give you a visual, about the weight of 2500 adult elephants. Once it makes it to the landfill, it's not going anywhere. Vinyl does not biodegrade. We thought something should be done about that. Starting this month, we are.Terracycle together with Yakpak will be turning those billboards into messenger bags, backpacks, and more. As a byproduct of those billboards being built to withstand the elements, these have a lifetime warranty. As Yakpak founder Stephen Holt put it to me, "The only way one of these bags will ever end up in a landfill is if someone chooses to throw it away."

It's About More Than Backpacks. It's About People
Beyond being a sustainable reuse of the resources we bring them, Yakpak for their part takes care of their workers in a factory of their own (not outsourced) in El Salvador. In doing this, they can be sure fair wages are being paid and the staff treated well. Plus the factory is carbon-neutral, powered by a hydro-electric plant. We support this environmental and social responsibility through and through.

It's because of this partnership that we are able to offer these products at a price that will remove the cost barrier for consumers, green minded or not, meaning that ultimately, more billboard vinyl finds it's way to a new life, out of the dump. Other companies are making billboard bags, and charging boutique prices for them. More power to them, but that means less of them being sold, minimizing the impact.

A Perfect Example of Upcycling
These new products are a prime example of what's known as "upcycling," where something is transformed into something of greater value than when it started, ideally with minimum energy used to do so. This is as compared to recycling, which for the most part uses a fair amount of energy to create a resource that's either of the same or less value/structural integrity, and requires additional energy to process and make it into something else.

We do this, not only to continue innovating as a company, but to be an example for you out there. If a billboard can become a backpack, what else that you see around you can become more than fodder for the dump? Next time you pass a billboard, imagine which part you'd want in bag. Makes them slightly more tolerable, right?

More on "Eco-Bag" Designs:
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The Apprentice Features Eco Bike-Bag
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