Thursday, July 03, 2014

Candy wrappers are being transformed into recycled material cutting boards

When you take a look at a park bench, I bet the last thing you think is that it looks like a waste by-product. Well you might be surprised to know that many benches are hiding something from you; in fact, they are often hiding millions of pieces of what we used to consider traditional trash. The company that is behind this transformation from garbage to park benches, picnic tables, and even coolers is a Canadian company called Terracycle.

The founder of this company is Tom Szaky, who was inspired by the mighty earth worm. When Tom discovered worms digest dirt into compost, at the formative age of 19, he was flabbergasted. He created a business case at Princeton University to transform table scraps into fertilizer. You can now buy "Worm Poop" in major department stores. You can even get specialized Worm Poop for certain plants.

Today, Terracycle handles a lot more than just compost. The company is an aggregator of major companies, each one investing in their own particular stream or recycling. Garnier, for example, pays for the recycling of their traditionally non-recyclable beauty product packaging. These containers are then transformed into other durable products, like park benches. Other companies are recycling coffee bags, pens, water filters, and candy wrappers into things like bags, containers, and cutting boards. Items that were once destined for the dumps and now finding a second life.

And the projects don't stop there... cigarette butts are transformed into plastic shipping pallets. More precisely, the plastic in the cigarette filter is transformed into hard plastic (I mean come on, the paper and tobacco can't become plastic, it is composted instead).  I could go on but there are more than 200 programs and I don't want you reading this post all day.

Terracycle's programs are a great example of how to care about the environment but they don't necessarily get individuals to reduce their overall consumption, because the best solution reduce what you consume before you have to recycle it. Our society is based on consumption and recycling doesn't go right to the heart of the problem. Many Terracycle programs don't get you to change your habits to help create a zero waste society; to the contrary, they might even eliminate some of the guilt that might be associated with generating garbage. The company does a great job of quantifying and acknowledging waste even if they are not focused on reducing consumption.

Nevertheless, Terracycle is doing great work bringing together companies and getting them to manage the waste generated by their products. But to sustain their great work they need you and me, the generators of waste, to keep supporting them. More than 24 Million people are currently sending their waste to Terracycle in 15 countries. Who would have thought that a first year student from Canada studying at Princeton could have accomplished so much from the excrement of worms.

~ sophie - free store coordinator

*The University of Ottawa participates in several Terracycle programs.

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