There are some things that simply can’t be recycled in the usual sense (of being melted down and remade into more of the same), usually because they are made of composite materials, like the plastic and metal laminate that makes up potato chip bags. But they can be upcycled, which means that instead of heading directly to the landfill they can be made into a new product first. A lot of the materials that TerraCycle accepts are upcycled: Capri Sun® pouches are sewn together to make reusable lunch bags and backpacks, newspaper is wrapped tightly around graphite to make pencils, and soda can pulltabs are woven into chainmail-style purses. Some items really do get melted down or ground up before seeing a second life: otherwise non-recyclable plastic bath and beauty product packaging becomes faux-terra cotta pavers, cigarette butts and packaging are made into industrial pallets.
Schools and other organizations, like churches and clubs, can form brigades to collect materials of one particular kind or another (in the same way that we once hoarded cereal box tops and soup can labels for our teachers) to raise money for charity while ensuring that their items bypass the landfill.
If you are like me, a small household incapable of collecting the massive amounts of drink pouches and dairy cartons that are necessary to form a brigade you still help out. This isn’t made terribly obvious by the website, which is very heavily targeted toward brigades, but I sent some e-mails and got confirmation that, yes, you can collect whatever you’ve got that they accept and box it up in one comingled mess. When you have filled a shipping box you just print a prepaid shipping label from TerraCycle.com and away it goes!
There is a large surprising list of items that you can save for TerraCycle. (I mean — cigarette butts! Was no one else blown away by that? There’s a useful second life for cigarette butts? That’s enough to make me question reality.) Here’s what I’m stashing away*:
- Athenos packages (with lids)
- Candy wrappers (even fun size)
- Cheese packaging (any plastic cheese wrapper or bag — does not need to be washed)
- Chip and pretzel bags (any size bag from any kind of salty snack)
- Dairy tubs (with lids and even foil inner seals)
- Writing instruments (pens, highlighter, mechanical pencils, markers, and lids)
- Beauty products and packaging such as any personal care or beauty product packaging including, but not limited to, lipstick cases, shampoo bottles, powder cases, etc. Nail polish bottles, hairspray and deodorant cans are NOT acceptable.
- Oral care packaging such as any brand of toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, and floss containers.
- Plastic tape dispensers and plastic tape cores.
- Plastic cereal bags and plastic cereal bag liners.
*Parts of this section have been copied and pasted directly from TerraCycle’s website.