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TerraCycle is a global company that operates 4 business streams developing various waste solutions around the world, while the TerraCycle Foundation is active in emerging regions.
The company’s activities are based on examining 4 questions about any type of waste:
1. Is the item locally recyclable? The answer to this question produces a linear stream solution – diverting waste from burn or bury to recycling.
2. Can a (particular) packaging be made from waste? The solution here is a product that is either partially or completely made from recycled material.
3. The 3rd stream is going one layer deeper, aiming at eliminating the idea of waste entirely. This is where The Loop initiative was born – solving the waste problem at the root cause.
4. The 4th and the most recent development is based on the recognition that certain waste streams contain diagnosable samples (e.g. diapers, pets’ excretions, etc.). Collecting and analyzing the data that can be acquired from them has the potential of improving people’s lives. This is where TerraCycle has entered into the business of Big Data in healthcare.
The main question that the company is asking and that will help to shift from solutions within the linear system paradigm to solutions in the circular system paradigm is: “Where did the idea of waste come from?”
Tom shared that he had identified that the idea that “waste is great” had emerged on the public radar in 1950s where through advertisement people were encouraged to stop wasting their time and energy washing and returning containers through deposit systems. Instead, they were prompted to start throwing away packaging made from aluminium and plastic that were lighter, cheaper and designed to be disposable. All the important parameters to instigate behavioural change were accounted for: convenience and affordability. The only thing that was not accounted for was waste. Massive amounts of it.
Now, in trying to solve the challenge that waste had become, one must answer this question: “How to make the economics work? What makes something recyclable?” Tom shared that there is a simple equation to follow: cost of logistics + cost of processing < material value = recyclable. As long as the cost of processing and logistics is lower than the material value of the final product, recycling the waste stream is viable. If costs are higher than the material value of the final product, then it is not viable to recycle the waste stream. Following this equation, TerraCycle unlocks the funding potential through partnerships and programs in such a way that the economics work in favour of recycling for almost anything one can find in waste streams today. This only means one thing – if there is a will there is a way!
The second stream of work in TerraCycle is creation of products from recycled materials. The key factor here is construction of unique supply chains, e.g. ocean plastic collected from around the world, sorted at TerraCycle facilities, processed by partners and purchased by brands to manufacture their products.
So far sounds great! But TerraCycle didn’t stop there. Instead they asked: “Is recycling the answer?” “It’s the answer to a symptom, but not to the root cause of the waste problem” – says Tom Szaky.
With the emergence of disposable packaging, companies no longer saw durable packaging as an asset, were no longer the owners of the packaging and were no longer responsible for the waste. Users became the “owners” and the packaging became a “cost of goods sold” to manufacturers, i.e. cost being fully allocated per fill. It was then in the manufacturers’ interest to make the packaging cheaper, lowering the cost per fill.
Over time companies had gradually reduced the amount of material used in packaging, reducing the associated costs and the environmental impact. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, recycling rates had declined - when the packaging became lighter, there was less value to be recovered, hence no financial incentive for recycling. Furthermore, an additional unintended consequence was that consumer delight had deteriorated - it is much nicer to drink from a glass bottle than from a multi-layered pouch, for example.
How to solve the unintended consequences of disposability while maintaining its virtues? Moving on from a linear to a circular system, solving the waste problem in its roots – disposability. The Loop solution redesigned the relationships customers have with products. There is a change in ownership. Companies are now again owning their packaging and therefore responsible for the use and its end of life.
Durable design enabled a number of exciting positive outcomes:
1. In the single-use container, the price of the packaging is embedded in the product itself, while in the multiple-use container only the use is embedded in the price. The more durable the container is, the more use cycles it can serve, which lowers the cost of the packaging, making it cheaper over time than the single-use packaging.
2. Reusability is better for the environment, reducing the amount of generated waste.
3. New elevated design: futuristic or the heritage look, e.g. Coca-Cola bringing back its original bottles.
4. New features: opportunity to innovate with new materials and better properties.
So, for decades companies avoided ownership. What pushed them to partner with TerraCycle in The Loop initiative? “Of course public pressure to eliminate waste is very helpful” – shared Tom. But beyond that, The Loop enabled the creation of a single holistic sustainability solution as well as stimulation of massive innovation and definition of future trends.
In the future, The Loop will be a solution that will not only expand geographically and will add more products, but will also expand into other sectors. For example, take away food packaging, baby and children products, clothing, etc. TerraCycle is intended to be a B2B, not only a B2C company. It is envisioned to become an engine, not a retailer and manufacturer of its own products. TerraCycle creates ideas and systems and uses partnerships as well as existing platforms to achieve its goals. No to competition, yes to collaboration!
Tom Szaky from Terracycle and well known from Loop & Sustainavistas speaker from our 3 July 2019 Webinar - Effective circularity solutions
TerraCycle reuses, upcycles, and recycles waste instead of incinerating or land filling it. This moves waste from a linear system to a circular one, allowing it to keep cycling in our economy.
Some of the questions covered: However, asking questions like: "Where does the idea of waste come from?" and "How to solve the root cause of waste?" reveals that there is more to waste and TerraCycle than recycling.
#waste #sustainability #circular #effectivesustainabilitysolutions #sustainavistas #recycling
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