Over the years, recycling issues and waste reduction have been widely discussed in a collaborative attempt to eliminate waste. Throughout the pandemic, take-out and delivery services listened to the needs of their customers and delivered food in sustainable and recyclable packaging. Dining patrons are drawn to businesses that believe in sustainable waste management and promote recycling through the use of disposable products.
TerraCycle, which started as a waste management company, has grown internationally to help companies recycle waste back into their products. The company has just recently partnered with Dunkin’ to launch the first coffee recycling bag program in the United States. This partnership will allow both companies to stay committed to eliminating the waste that goes into landfills.
Entrepreneur and visionary Tom Szaky created the company during his collegiate career at Princeton University. “I came up with the idea during my freshman year in an Intro to Economics class. The first question the professor asked was ‘What is the purpose of business?’ The answer she was looking for was ‘to maximize profit for shareholders.’ That didn’t sit right with me, as I believed that profit was an indicator of health. If a company is profitable, it grows and proposes a solution to a need in the marketplace,” Szaky shared. Szaky left college during his sophomore year to pursue a business full-time. “I wanted to find a business that put purpose first that aimed to make the world better. I landed in the garbage industry and developed Terracycle. Garbage is the least innovative industry for dollar revenue purposes so I thought addressing this for waste management purposes would be beneficial.”
The mission of TerraCycle is to eliminate the idea of waste and the company achieves this in three ways. They consider how they can collect and recycle those things that are not locally recyclable, address how they can integrate recycled content back into products, as well as discuss how a shift from disposable to reusable ecosystems can be achieved.
Prior to starting TerraCycle out of his New Jersey dorm room, Szaky was inspired by his friends in Montreal who were growing plants in their basement. On a spring break trip to visit them, he noticed their plants were growing because of what they were eating. His friends were taking organic waste, feeding it to worms, and giving the worm waste to the plants. “I initially started TerraCycle as a worm waste company and then got an office and as orders came in, I invested in a facility and built the company one step at a time. The company grew and we were selling our products at Home Depot, Walmart, Target, and other companies. 4 years in, we had a turning point in sales and asked ourselves ‘Could we eliminate waste if we made a product out of waste?’
TerraCycle then took a new direction and wanted to start with waste that is not locally recyclable, meaning it costs more to collect and process. When they successfully got retailers to fund their project, their first initiative began. “We launched programs and took that model and expanded it internationally to 21 different countries. We then wanted to help companies impregnate waste back into their products and packaging. We were growing tremendously, and we were at about $50 million dollars in revenue.” Wanting to expand beyond recycling, the company then launched its Loop division, a shopping system that allows customers to shop their favorite brands in reusable packaging.
Dunkin’ is not TerraCycle’s first food industry partnership. The company has worked with Hilton hotels in using recyclable key cards, as well as helping Taco Bell launch a national recyclable program. “Helping Dunkin’ to become the first coffee bag recycling program in the U.S. is just the start. We want to bring this concept to other foodservice products they use and help carve the way for other companies to invest in a sustainable mindset.”
Rather than promote a linear solution of extracting materials from the Earth, developing a product, and disposing of it, TerraCycle hopes to promote circular solutions which reuse products for other purposes. By visiting terracycle.com and joining the program, stakeholders can take part in a meaningful way to increase sustainability efforts.
About TerraCycle: TerraCycle is an innovative waste management company with a mission to eliminate the idea of waste. Operating nationally across 21 countries, TerraCycle partners with leading consumer product companies, retailers and cities to recycle products and packages, from dirty diapers to cigarette butts, that would otherwise end up being landfilled or incinerated. In addition, TerraCycle works with leading consumer product companies to integrate hard to recycle waste streams, such as ocean plastic, into their products and packaging. Its new division, Loop, is the first shopping system that gives consumers a way to shop for their favorite brands in durable, reusable packaging. TerraCycle has won over 200 awards for sustainability and has donated over $44 million to schools and charities since its founding more than 15 years ago and was named #10 in Fortune magazine’s list of 52 companies Changing the World. To learn more about TerraCycle or get involved in its recycling programs, please visit their website.