Does TerraCycle Really Recycle Everything?
If you read this blog regularly, you know that when there are no other options for recycling an item through the usual municipal waste channels or via drop-off locations, there is often one last option, and that is TerraCycle. You can send them many types of packaging and materials that are usually not recyclable elsewhere. But now there is a lawsuit that is asking the question, does TerraCycle really recycle all the products they receive?
If you have used or considered using TerraCycle’s services, you have probably wondered to yourself, “How do I know that TerraCycle is really recycling this stuff?” Without working there yourself and seeing what happens to the materials they collect, it’s hard to know.
However, under California law and the FTC Green Guides, companies are required to maintain records proving the validity of any environmental claims they make. So an organization called The Last Beach Cleanup is asking TerraCycle and their partner companies to provide proof showing where the materials go and how they are recycled. They are alleging that TerraCycle is simply helping companies “greenwash” their products by making it appear that they are doing something to offer recycling options to people, but not actually recycling the products.
TerraCycle’s founder, Tom Szaky, says that these allegations are false and that the company does in fact recycle everything they collect. I guess we will have to wait for the results of the lawsuit to know for sure. According to the court docket for the case (The Last Beach Cleanup vs. TerraCycle Inc.), there is a hearing scheduled for December 16, 2021, so perhaps we will learn more then. I will definitely be keeping an eye on it and will let you know what is learned.
How Does TerraCycle Work?
Assuming for now that TerraCycle really does recycle all the materials as it claims, you may be wondering what TerraCycle is and how it works.
TerraCycle offers a variety of waste boxes and pouches that individuals, businesses, schools and organizations can order for collecting hard-to-recycle items like drink pouches, pens and markers, contact lenses, cosmetics bottles and so on. Some of these boxes are free if sponsored by a company that is willing to pay for the service. Other boxes have to be purchased, and they aren’t cheap.
Recycling most of these materials is costly, especially if they are composed of multiple materials like plastic lined with metal, or sometimes there is paper, metal and several types of plastic all used on one package. So if the manufacturer isn’t paying for it, you will have to.
Even the programs that are sponsored by a company like Bic have limitations on the total number of participants allowed. And once that limit is reached, you have to go on a waiting list. Part of what the lawsuit mentioned above is challenging is the fact that companies are labelling or advertising their products as “Recyclable through TerraCycle” even though customers may be unable to find or get a collection box for that item. And then the only option still available are the boxes that must be purchased at a hefty price.
OMG, why is recycling so difficult???
I’m sorry, did I yell that? It’s just extremely frustrating. The whole concept of taking each different item to a different location for recycling is already so frickin’ complicated. I have my curbside recyclables, then I also have boxes and bins in the basement to collect #5 plastic tubs, batteries, beer can holders, miscellaneous metals, cosmetics tubes, plastic bags and more. These are the kinds of things that make me grumpy, especially if I can’t even be sure that the items are actually being recycled.
Recycling has been sold to the public as a solution to our waste problems, when it really isn’t, as least when it comes to plastic. Check out this summary of the documentary The Story of Plastic for a better understanding of why plastic recycling in particular is so screwed up.
More companies need to follow the example of Colgate who is moving to make their toothpaste tubes out of #2 plastic so that they can be recycled. Manufacturers should be figuring out ways to make products from materials that are easily recyclable rather than forcing the consumer to try to figure out how to recycle them.
But even better, corporations need to find ways to package their products in materials made from plastic alternatives and reusable packaging, because plastics simply aren’t sustainable in any form. Corporations need to be held responsible for dealing with the waste that they create. More states enacting bottle bills would also be an important step. And we as consumers need to look for products made from recycled materials and seek ways to reduce our use of disposables.
Many more recycling articles can be found on the Recycling Page.