Recycling & Re-use

TerraCycle: How to recycle the ‘unrecyclables’ in your life

Recycling. A good thing you might think. And it is in so many ways. But do you ever think about what happens to your recycling when it’s taken away? Ever wonder how much of it actually does get broken down and meaningfully reconstituted into other things? 

Even if you’re a recycling pro and put out loads of things in your kerbside collection, there’s no guarantee that it all will get recycled.  World Wildlife Fund’s report on UK waste management and plastics consumption provides much food for thought. This estimates that only one third of the UK’s plastic waste was recycled in 2018. That’s right, around 30%.

And that proportion is not expected to grow much in the next ten years. So although recycling is miles better than doing nothing at all, it’s not the main solution to dealing with empty bottles, packets, containers and the like. 

Also, as I’ll share in future posts, knowing how to recycle effectively can be a total minefield. Although certain materials are technically recyclable, the reality is that many aren’t accepted kerbside. You won’t be surprised to hear where they end up.

Unrecyclable waste

TerraCycle is a global recycling company that recycles materials that are typically hard to recycle conventionally and therefore, tend to end up in landfill.  Such things are often made of composite materials.

One example is the humble crisp bag. Did you read the reports a while back about so many loose empty crisp bags being sent back to Walkers that Royal Mail had to beg the public to stop? All the bags were damaging sorting machines.

With some investment, I have no doubt that a recyclable (or even better, compostable) crisp bag could be developed. I expect the failure to fix this issue really comes down to costs and profits. Most large crisp companies say they are “working on it”.  Hmmm. let’s hope that’s true.

Of course, crisp bags are the tip of the unrecyclables iceberg. So many other snacks, biscuits, treats and other food and household items come in single-use plastic wrapping too. Just like crisp bags, these contain polypropylene and can’t be readily recycled. Sadly, once this stuff is left to decay in the natural world, the effects on our environment are devastating.

TerraCycle schemes

So what can you do with non-recyclable packaging to ensure it doesn’t end up in landfill? You may have heard about the various free TerraCycle collection schemes that launched in the UK in 2019.  There are currently 36 recycling schemes for items that can’t be put in your kerbside box.

Popular schemes include the following:

Note: ALL brands are accepted for each scheme and outer packaging from multipacks can be included.

Drop-off points

If you’d like to get involved, it’s simple. All you need to do is save up empty items for your chosen scheme(s). Then bring them to your local TerraCycle drop-off point(s).  You can find your nearest on the TerraCycle website. They tend to be places like primary schools, clinics, post offices etc as well as some residential addresses. Many places participate in multiple schemes which minimises faff as you can avoid multiple journeys. 

You could also put a TerraCycle drop-off point at work or anywhere in the community that you hang out, such as a leisure centre or town hall or even a pub. The crisp bags in the picture for this post all came from my office (I love crisps but not this much!).

If you’re really keen and have time you could apply to be an official TerraCycle drop-off point either at home or work. But you’d have to be comfortable with people turning up unannounced. You can restrict the operation hours but whether or not people would stick to the hours you say is another matter!

If you do operate a drop-off point, each time you send waste to TerraCycle, it will allocate points to your account. These are then totted up and money is donated to various environmental good causes nominated by you.

What happens to the items?

Once collected, TerraCycle melts down the materials for reuse in various made-to-order upcycled products such as watering cans, planters, coffee tables and even playground equipment. These are available to order on TerraCycle’s online shop.  Don’t you think there is something cool about watering your flowers with reincarnated snack bags?

If you start collecting waste for TerraCycle schemes it’ll really open your eyes to how much unrecyclable waste you generate in different areas. Then you can think about how to reduce this. It’s definitely makes you more conscious about what packaging is made of. 

Wouldn’t it be great if packaging like this was reduced and eventually eliminated in favour of compostable alternatives? Of course TerraCycle should be commended for facing the problem and trying to find a way forward, but really this is only an interim solution. A bit like fast fashion, constantly generating large quantities of unrecyclable waste is just not sustainable. 

I’m keeping an eye out for responsible brands doing positive things in this space. In the coming months, I hope to share some of these soon on the blog. If you have any ideas or recommendations for products in compostable or otherwise sustainable packaging in the meantime, please do share in the comments below. 

TerraCycle, find out more at:

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