CREATING A CIRCULAR ECONOMY

TerraCycle is an environmental company that specialises in recycling ‘hard-to-recycle’ waste that is not typically accepted in kerbside recycling. The company collects complex waste streams such as coffee capsules, cigarette butts and oral care products and melts them down into plastic pellets to be used in the manufacture of new products as an alternative to virgin plastic. TerraCycle was founded by Tom Szaky, a Princeton University drop out, who has made it his mission to eliminate the idea of waste by proving that everything can be recycled. He recently launched a game-changing new shopping platform at the World Economic Forum in January that promises to bring back the milkman model of consumerism where goods are purchased online, delivered straight to your door in ultra-durable, reusable packaging, then collected from your home to be refilled again. “This initiative will close the loop on packaged goods and propel us into the circular economy. We’re hoping to bring Loop to Australia in 2020-21 and New Zealand in the years to follow,” said Szaky.

TerraCycle works closely with brands such as Colgate, GLAD, Dolce Gusto, Fonterra and The Collective, to improve and create recycling strategies. “In New Zealand, we’ve partnered with Colgate who fund the Oral Care Recycling Programme through which kiwis are able to collect and ship their used toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and floss containers to us for free. We’ll then recycle the waste and turn it into new products such as garden beds, park benches and playgrounds. We also have recycling programmes in New Zealand for various brands of coffee capsules, food storage waste, yoghurt pouches, and collagen products.”

Left: Jean Balliard, general manager of TerraCycle Australia & New Zealand

“Many household items are not accepted in kerbside recycling schemes simply for one reason: the value of the recycled material is worth less than the cost of recycling it. The only reason we’re able to fulfil this economic gap is due to our brand partnerships sponsoring the recycling programmes, thereby allowing everyday New Zealanders to recycle their waste for free. Once received at our warehouse, the waste gets sorted, washed, shredded and then melted down into plastic pellets to be used in the manufacture of new products.”

According to Greenpeace, FMCG companies are the driving force behind the plastic pollution crisis. When asked, consumers often cite recyclability as one of their main concerns. This is because recycling is a tangible aspect of sustainability; consumers can see it and are part of the process. Szaky’s advice for FMCG companies is to think about the design of their products to ensure they can be recycled in kerbside recycling. “Try to avoid single-use plastic packaging as much as possible and, if it can’t be avoided, then look for solutions with companies like TerraCycle to make sure your products don’t end up in landfill.”

The recycling industry has faced many challenges in the last few years with the China ban and soft plastics recycling scheme suspension. “There’s currently a dichotomy because the general public is now much more aware of global environmental issues and waste issues, but at the same, we rely on export markets to other countries to deal with the waste. We’re seeing these markets collapse, with the very recent news of India banning plastic waste imports as well as Malaysia and Thailand reviewing their policies.” Fortunately, TerraCycle operates outside of this sphere by getting funding from brands so that they don’t have to rely on the value of waste. In fact, TerraCycle has since expanded to 21 countries worldwide, diverted more than four billion pieces of waste from landfill and helped generate US$21 million for schools and non-profit organisations.

New Zealand produces over 15 million tonnes of waste a year with just 28 percent of that ultimately getting recycled. According to reports New Zealand currently sits behind many Western countries when it comes to our waste management. “It’s estimated that if New Zealand were to expand the waste levy by 2025, we could have diverted three million tonnes of waste from landfill per annum and increase our recycling rate to 60 percent.”

The ultimate goal is to create a functioning circular economy; however, this is easier said than done. “Creating a circular economy requires brands, consumers and government working together but everyone likes to think of the problem as someone else’s.” One of the biggest challenges for consumers is our reliance on convenience packaging that is typically single-use and hard-to-recycle. “A circular economy would mean opting for closed-loop solutions that give consumers the ultimate zero waste experience. This is what we took into account when we designed Loop.”

“Acknowledging that you have a responsibility for the waste you’ve created should be the first step we all take towards creating a more sustainable future.”

For anyone wanting to know more information about TerraCycle and to sign up to any of its free recycling programmes, head to www.terracycle.co.nz.