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From waste to reuse: Business finds success in unusual recycling

October 19, 2011
By KURT HAUGLIE , Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

HANCOCK - In 2008, Faye Carr began to collect wrappers from energy bars for recycling at the Keweenaw Co-Op Natural Foods and Groceries in Hancock.

And after a few glitches, the co-op's effort to keep some items out of the waste stream continues.

Carr, who is communications coordinator at the co-op, said in the three years the store has been collecting, tens of thousands of metal-based wrappers have gone to New Jersey-based TerraCycle

The company pays a certain amount per wrapper, and the money goes to a charity chosen by the group doing the collecting.

Getting involved with the food and drink wrapper recycling program took awhile for the co-op, Carr said.

"When they started, they had to get on a waiting list," she said. "We finally moved to the top."

Carr said a bin for collecting the wrappers is next to the shelf where the energy bars are sold, and early on, people weren't flattening their bars, which took up a lot of space.

Some people were putting in wrappers with part of the bar still in them. Eventually, people got the message, and most of the wrappers now are flattened and free of leftover food. The wrappers for recycling must be from a company TerraCycle works with.

The charity the co-op chose in 2008 was the Copper Country Humane Society, Carr said, but now she leaves the choice of charity up to the people at TerraCycle, who have a list of accepted organizations they'll support.

Carr said co-op customers have embraced the wrapper recycling effort because they appreciate the effort to remove even a little from the waste stream.

"We have a pretty dedicated community here," she said.

Lauren Taylor, TerraCycle director of United States public relations in Trenton, N.J., said the company started in 2001 as a manufacturer of worm waste fertilizer. The idea for the business was actually a university class project for company creator and CEO, Tom Szaky.

"He thought of this business of making waste valuable," Taylor said. "That was TerraCycle's first product."

After a conversation years later with the CEO of a company called Honest Tea, who was concerned about the waste created by his products, Szaky got an idea to expand his company into something which removed items from the waste stream and turned them into other usable items.

"He decided he could find a solution," Taylor said.

That part of the business - which they call upcycling - started in 2007, Taylor said, and now they take waste packaging for snack items and juice pouches and turn them into such things as backpacks, purses and other carrying items.

The process for getting the waste packaging involves organizations or schools collecting the items in special boxes, Taylor said, which when filled are shipped to TerraCycle for a cash refund.

"The only caveat is the money we pay has to go to a charity," she said.

TerraCycle now has 70,000 collection sites in the United States and 90,000 worldwide, Taylor said.

Organizations or schools which want to take part in the recycling/upcycling effort contact TerraCycle, Taylor said, which then sends them the information and mailing boxes they need to get started.

The collected items TerraCycle accepts which can't be directly upcycled, Taylor said the company grinds up and manufactures other items, such as recycling bins, plant caddy's, garbage cans and plastic lumber.

"We can pretty much do anything we want with it," she said. "We're constantly growing. We're finding uses for everything."

Taylor said officials at some of the schools the company works with are indicating the collection program is going well.

"A lot of them say the kids really embrace it," she said.

Taylor said no schools in the Copper Country are currently involved in the wrapper and container recycling effort.

Carr said although there is no room in the co-op to expand to collecting other types of wrappers and containers, they will continue to collect energy bar wrappers.

"We have no plans to stop it," she said

 
 

 

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