At my company, TerraCycle, we’re always asking ourselves what the next recycling innovation we can bring to consumers might be. Our first answer came in the form of free consumer-facing collection and recycling programs (sponsored by major brands and consumer packaged goods companies) for pre- and post-consumer packaging waste streams. While this free model has seen a lot of success, our capacity to collect and recycle is limited by the funding we are able to secure from our sponsors. To solve for this economic gap and engage with even more consumers, we began asking ourselves a new question: Are consumers willing to pay a premium for zero waste packaging solutions?
Enter the Zero Waste Box, our newest recycling model for difficult-to-recycle packaging waste streams. Using the Zero Waste Box is easy: purchase a box, fill it with waste and send the full box back to TerraCycle for recycling. This waste collection and recycling model avoids any need for corporate sponsorship, and gives us a chance to offer consumers a far wider range of recycling solutions for packaging waste typically destined for landfill.
In 2014, we launched this new zero waste model with Staples Canada, listing hundreds of Zero Waste Boxes on Staples.ca. Despite our initial uncertainty about premium recycling options for packaging waste, the Canadian launch saw success quickly and won Environmental Leader’s “2015 Top Product of the Year Award.” With a benchmark for success set, we were able to grow our partnership with Staples and finally bring the Zero Waste Box platform to American consumers. Just this year, we started listing our Zero Waste Boxes on Staples.com.
Despite a successful launch in Canada, a premium waste collection and recycling model of this scale remains largely untested in the United States. Leading into our recent launch with Staples U.S., the question remained: Will American consumers pay a premium to recycle packaging waste they can’t recycle through traditional means?
Our free recycling programs have been incredibly successful for years here in the U.S., so we know that an interest in zero waste packaging solutions already exists. Through these programs, millions of people and tens of thousands of schools and community groups are collecting and recycling materials and products that, previously, were unanimously considered “waste.” And with more than 60 million people across the world collecting through a TerraCycle program, we know that support for alternative recycling options (especially for difficult-to-recycle packaging waste streams) is there.
We also know that sustainability remains a top concern in the consumer products market and packaging industry. Many consumers are willing to purchase sustainable products at premium prices, and more consumers today are creating waste reduction and zero waste goals for themselves and their families. The Zero Waste Box helps consumers achieve some of those sustainability goals in an easy to manage and simple way, especially if municipal recycling programs and other options are insufficient.
Individuals aren’t the only ones who seem ready for premium recycling options for packaging waste. Businesses are being pressured into moving toward “zero waste” as well, and the Zero Waste Box can be a great way to help companies achieve their zero waste goals.
For example, an office can push their breakrooms toward zero waste by purchasing a Breakroom Separation Zero Waste Box for products and packaging like coffee capsules, disposable dishware, and plastic or paper packaging. A waste-diversion initiative like this shows employees that their employer is conscious of its environmental impacts, and gives the company a chance to market their waste reduction strategies to consumers.
While only time will truly tell if premium recycling options and the Zero Waste Box have a place in today’s market, we believe that many consumers and businesses will find value in this new platform. It gives us at TerraCycle a chance to bring even more packaging waste recycling solutions to the market without corporate sponsorship, and serves as a great zero waste tool for consumers, businesses, community organizations and offices alike.
We are eager to see where the Zero Waste Box and our partnership with Staples will take us. For now, and as we continue down this path toward zero waste and more sustainable packaging innovations, the future looks bright for premium recycling opportunities.
Author Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, has won more than 50 awards for entrepreneurship, also writes blogs for Treehugger and The New York Times, has an upcoming book called "Make Garbage Great" and is the star of the television show "Human Resources" on Pivot TV.