Is TerraCycle Greenwashing the Waste Crisis?

Is TerraCycle Greenwashing the Waste Crisis?

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Although our municipal recycling applications accumulate only some sorts of merchandise, virtually every little thing — from diapers to cigarette butts — is technically recyclable. However, economics sometimes drive what these applications can really recycle. If the price of accumulating and processing a waste merchandise exceeds the worth of the recovered supplies, the recycler has no monetary incentive to recycle it.

TerraCycle is a U.S.-based firm that’s devoted to eliminating waste. Through collaboration and innovation, it helps producers discover recycling or reuse options. The firm could also be finest recognized for its recycling applications for hard-to-recycle shopper gadgets akin to disposable gloves, sweet wrappers, and markers. It additionally has an affiliate nonprofit group devoted to eradicating trash from waterways and is creating a worldwide system for reusable packaging.

However, a current lawsuit and allegations of greenwashing have eroded some public confidence in TerraCycle. Is it a reliable firm, and is TerraCycle greenwashing its accomplice firms?

TerraCycle Lawsuit

The Last Beach Cleanup filed a lawsuit against TerraCycle in 2021, alleging the corporate misled prospects of eight firms into pondering they may ship again merchandise for recycling at no cost. Unfortunately, solely a sure variety of prospects may recycle these merchandise at no cost, leaving others with the choice to both pay to recycle the product or eliminate it themselves.

Due to the settlement phrases, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Late July Snacks, Gerber, L’Oreal, Tom’s of Maine, Clorox, and Materne should now state on product labels if participation in this system is restricted. Also, TerraCycle should implement a provide chain certification program to assist earn buyer belief. The firm says it was already doing this internally.

TerraCycle Headquarters
TerraCycle headquarters, Trenton, New Jersey. Image courtesy of TerraCycle

How Does TerraCycle Work?

The firm was based in 2001 by Tom Szaky to repair the damaged recycling system. Municipal recycling applications accumulate sure merchandise however aren’t outfitted to deal with advanced merchandise, akin to toothpaste tubes and makeup packaging. Recycling many of those merchandise with out an added incentive is just not financially worthwhile.

So, TerraCycle companions with dozens of firms, together with the eight talked about within the lawsuit. Through these partnerships, it generates tens of millions of {dollars} that it makes use of to fund recycling applications for these firms’ merchandise or packaging. However, when the funding for a given product is exhausted, TerraCycle stops accepting new contributors — even when buyer demand for recycling is excessive.

Unfortunately, some shoppers might have made buying choices influenced by the provision of a free recycling program that wasn’t really out there to all prospects. This results in greenwashing, deceptive prospects into pondering a product is greener than it really is thru imprecise language and false or irrelevant claims.

TerraCycle additionally operates mail-in recycling programs for hard-to-recycle waste that buyers fund. These zero-waste bins vary in value from $42 to $199, and contributors merely mail again packaging and items.

Does TerraCycle Greenwash Companies?

The means we devour clothes, meals, and most items has modified dramatically during the last century. Previously, packaging was reusable, and merchandise have been made to final years and even many years. As a society, we would like low-cost, inexpensive, and glossy new issues. However, that is fueling the waste disaster. The quantity of plastic in the world’s oceans is a symptom of this consumption and using disposable packaging.

Many folks imagine firms ought to have larger accountability as a result of they manufacture these merchandise and put them on retailer cabinets. Likewise, lots of the merchandise they produce are exhausting to recycle, usually containing a number of supplies. As a outcome, a whole lot of plastic packaging ends up in landfills. Even if shoppers clear plastic takeout bins and clamshell containers and go away them of their recycling bins, many recycling applications can course of solely plastic bottles. The remainder of the plastic waste leads to landfills or incinerated.

One fascinating facet of the TerraCycle enterprise mannequin is that it consists of firms in creating recycling options. Currently, many of the burden of waste administration falls on native governments. When firms are paying at the very least a part of the recycling invoice, they’ve an incentive to fabricate packaging and merchandise which are simpler to recycle and extensively accepted by native recycling applications.

Unfortunately, the claims made towards TerraCycle for greenwashing plague the waste administration trade and will not be distinctive to the corporate. TerraCycle has been criticized for making the companies they partner with seem greener than they are as a result of recycling is merely a step in the best course and never a real answer.

Yet, misinformation plagues your entire recycling trade and isn’t particular to TerraCycle. For instance, lots of the merchandise on retailer cabinets function a recycling emblem, alerting prospects that the product is recyclable. However, this may be deceptive as a result of native recycling applications can’t settle for all sorts of merchandise and supplies.

recycling symbol

Is TerraCycle Fixing a Broken Waste Management System?

Although recycling efforts can definitely be improved by making packaging simpler to recycle, utilizing renewable power when processing supplies, and making certain that there’s correct infrastructure in place to deal with waste, recycling isn’t basically sustainable in lots of purposes. After all, within the EPA’s waste reduction pyramid, reuse is increased than recycling.

To deal with this, TerraCycle launched Loop, a worldwide reuse platform for a number of stakeholders, together with producers, retailers, operational companions, and shoppers. The objective is to create a round provide chain for packaging that producers refill and use repeatedly. Loop is now out there within the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Japan, and sure quickly in Australia.

“Recycling — whether or not by TerraCycle or by municipal recycling — is simply a Band-Aid,” said Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle. “We imagine reuse is the best reply and we’re persevering with to pour all our earnings into making Loop work. And frankly, if Loop actually takes off, it should really cannibalize our different enterprise, type of like Netflix’s streaming killed off their DVD enterprise. That will likely be a great factor.”

Whether or not Loop is in the end profitable, TerraCycle is in a novel place to carry collectively varied stakeholders to create reusable packaging options. The current lawsuit and greenwashing claims have harmed TerraCycle’s repute, however the firm has achieved quite a bit.

It has gained quite a few entrepreneurship and sustainability awards and launched a nonprofit group, TerraCycle Global Foundation, which has eliminated almost 1 million kilos of waste from waterways. In 2020, it stored 3,600 tons of waste from landfills or incinerators throughout 22 international locations.

In explicit, the corporate’s capability to encourage collaboration amongst stakeholders to seek out options is very promising. After all, the waste disaster wants holistic options that contain redesigning merchandise, establishing new infrastructure to get rid of waste, and stakeholder collaboration. Although TerraCycle might have let shoppers down considerably previously, the corporate is attaining leads to an trade plagued with points.