TerraCycle is Saving the Holidays and the Planet

We're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Ambassadors in their own words. Our Be Zero Ambassadors bring life to the Be Zero Mission by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles. In this post, our Ambassadors teamed up to talk to the people at TerraCycle. 

By Be Zero Ambassadors: Jenica Barrett, Katie Mabardy, and Eniko Olah



If you’re really into recycling, you’ve probably heard of a company called TerraCycle. But just in case you haven’t, let me tell you a little about them. Two weeks ago we contacted Joy Nemerson and Lauren Taylor who work for TerraCycle to get the inside scoop on exactly why TerraCycle is a leader in the recycling movement.


TerraCycle was founded in 2001 by Tom Szaky who wanted to repurpose used soda bottles to hold organic fertilizer (worm poop). Tom figured out that he could get people to send him their “waste” to be reused in a new product. This allowed for an earth-friendly and cost effective business model. Through a licensing agreement with some of the largest soft drink manufacturers in the world, Tom used their bottles to hold the fertilizer and began selling them nationwide. Now, TerraCycle no longer makes fertilizer but has expanded into 21 different countries with a growing list of critical corporate partners working on reducing the amount of waste going to landfills..

TerraCycle does this by collecting waste through three different models:

(1) Free Recycling Programs

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The Recycling programs run off of sponsors from large companies trying to improve their impact on the planet by recycling products. The companies sponsor a collection of certain products (usually the ones they produce) that TerraCycle reuses or recycles through contracts with third-party processors. Consumers only have to sign up to the TerraCycle website and download a shipping label when enough items have been collected to return those items for processing (with no charge to the consumer). This helps companies and consumers know their products are being recycled and avoiding the landfill.. A full list of participating brands and products can be found at https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades. There is even a cigarette butt recycling program!

(2) Zero Waste Boxes

Zero Waste Box model allows anyone to purchase a zero-waste box with a shipping label based on categories and specific waste streams. Boxes are shipped to the consumer, filled with items, and then shipped back to TerraCycle for processing. Some examples of Zero Waste Boxes are for school supplies or protective equipment and medical waste. Fun fact, TerraCycle is the world leader in recycling K-cups! A full list of current Zero Waste Boxes can be found at https://zerowasteboxes.terracycle.com/.

(3) Partnering with Manufacturers

TerraCycle also uses a freight recycling model to recycle large volumes of singular waste streams from facilities.  These facilities can include manufacturing plants, packaging suppliers, distribution centers, and warehouses.  Many different types of scrap plastics are generated at these locations, and TerraCycle provides recycling services ranging from a few pallets’ worth of scrap all the way up to multiple truckloads of scrap.

So you might be asking yourself, what exactly does TerraCycle have to do with the holiday season and Christmas? Well, for all of you planning on giving gifts this year, wrapping paper waste can be a huge issue. On average, U.S. citizens purchase over $7 billion of wrapping paper every year and most of that ends up in the trash (Siner, 2016). Given the laminate on many types of gift wrap, the paper can’t be placed in the recycling bin. Many municipalities also don’t accept wrapping paper at all. And this is where TerraCycle comes in…


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The first step, as Joy kindly pointed out, is for consumers is to use a recyclable alternative to wrapping paper. But if snowflakes and gingerbread covered paper is calling to you, TerraCycle offers another option. Through their Zero Waste Box campaign, TerraCycle  offers a box specifically for any type of “wrapping paper, ribbon, bows, tissue paper or party supplies such as garlands and confetti”. It is available for purchase on their website for $78-221 depending on the size. The box can be a great Holiday gift to yourself or for your friends and family! Once the box is filled, mail it back to TerraCycle where they will separate out the plastics and fibers to reuse or compost. In the month of December it will be 20% off so remember to check their website soon!

We’d like to say a special thank-you to Joy Nemerson and Lauren Taylor for answering our questions and providing us with valuable insight into this innovative company!