Pushback On Packaging

In 2001, Tom Szaky, then a freshman at Princeton University, founded TerraCycle in hopes of building an eco-capitalist company built on waste. The company’s first product was an organic fertilizer (Worm Poop), made from composted ingredients and packaged in a reused one-gallon milk jug. The lawn and garden care line has expanded, and, several years ago, Szaky set his sights on expanding the reuse concept to grow his business.

Today, the company is working with an increasing number of manufacturers (a majority food companies) to collect defective or surplus product packaging from their plants; these are then transformed into items such tote bags and pencil cases. Retailers such as Home Depot, Office Max, and Walgreens are selling the products in their stores. Companies that TerraCycle has formed partnerships with include drink maker Capri-Sun, Kraft Foods, granola company Bear Naked, and yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm.

A messenger bag made from Oreo wrappers
A messenger bag made from Oreo wrappers

Consumers can also get into the act by signing up to be part of one of the TerraCycle “Brigades”. Participants make money for the charity of their choice by collecting packaging from products that are part of the TerraCycle program and sending the items to the company’s warehouses in Trenton, NJ. Each package sent in earns two cents for the Brigade’s chosen charity. In 2008, according to TerraCycle, about 4,000 schools, churches, and other groups from 46 states sent in more than 300,000 Capri Sun drink pouches. (That’s $6,000 donated to charities and a lot of waste diverted from landfills.)

The most recent manufacturer to partner with TerraCycle is Frito-Lay North America, a division of PepsiCo, in May 2009. Frito-Lay is asking consumers to form Chip Bag Brigades; for every bag a Brigade collects and sends to TerraCycle, Frito-Lay will donate two cents to their charity of choice. Initially, there will be 1,000 collection sites and more are expected to be added during the year. The goal of the program is to engage at least 150,000 people and divert more than five million bags from landfills.

Faciities with vending machines that house Frito-Lay products, as well as with occupants who bring these snacks from home, can learn more about the Brigades at www.fritolay.com/terracycle. The packaging from all the company’s brands, such as Lay’s potato chips, Doritos and Tostitos tortilla chips, and Cheetos cheese flavored snacks, will be used in the effort.

Meanwhile, information about all the TerraCycle Brigades can be found at www.terracycle.net.