It is estimated that industrial activities currently generate nearly 7.6 billion tons of solid waste in the U.S. each year, amounting to 3,000% of the total municipal waste generated by Americans annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Though industrial outputs contribute a significant amount to the country’s overall refuse, they continue to largely avoid the current municipal recycling stream and are instead destined for linear disposal methods such as landfilling or incineration.
The truth is that most of the waste we generate is not considered recyclable by the public system, and in today’s inefficient waste management infrastructure, there is little economic incentive to capture industrial waste materials for recycling. The cost of collecting, processing and separating these items exceeds their value in the market for recycled commodities. And while non-linear technologies for industrial and hazardous waste management do exist, most companies dealing with industrial materials do not offer regenerative waste solutions for their products and packaging.
At TerraCycle, we strongly believe that nothing is beyond recycling and work with companies, manufacturers and other organizations that are seeking to take greater responsibility for their packaging’s part in the waste economy. Regardless of the fact that comprehensive systems are not in place to effectively address the growing industrial material waste stream, one such manufacturer has taken it upon themselves to put forth the resources to solve for it, allowing us to apply cyclical solutions to a new product category.
An innovative new recycling program sponsored by Henkel, a leading global manufacturer of adhesives, sealants and functional coatings, including the Loctite brand, is the first to offer a solution for anaerobic adhesive packaging. Through the Loctite Anaerobic Adhesive Recycling Program, Henkel customers can purchase a postage-paid recycling box that they fill with empty anaerobic Loctite adhesive containers and send to TerraCycle for processing. TerraCycle will thermally treat the containers and turn them into new plastic products, such as park benches, chairs, watering cans and even paving stones.
This is the first time that TerraCycle has recycled in the industrial category, which is quite significant for us. But Henkel taking responsibility for its anaerobic adhesive packaging, a previously “unrecyclable” material, has great implications for the packaging world.
Packaging experts constantly seek new tools to help meet sustainability goals, as consumer brands that have not embraced sustainability and CSR initiatives are at risk on many fronts. The reason that some businesses have not been able to integrate more environmentally sound packaging practices is a matter of mitigating costs and reducing uncertainty; reallocating the resources necessary to improve the sustainability of their packaging practices may not make sense to them economically.
Henkel’s name in the packaging arena will undoubtedly help this initiative have massive impact and influence the way businesses view sustainability and how they can make it work for them. The global industry leader undertaking such an extensive recycling initiative is impressive, and proves that large corporations can turn a profit while being stewards for the environment.
It is not that recycling anaerobic adhesive packaging without its challenges; the main reason the containers are not accepted by the conventional waste management infrastructure is due to the residual adhesive. Putting forth the resources to solve for its packaging, Henkel allowed us at TerraCycle to learn about the adhesives and how they cure so that we could develop a solution and recycle this category of material for the first time.
TerraCycle is exploring other potential applications of this technology with other difficult-to-recycle materials, and is working closely with Henkel to expand the list of different adhesive technologies (and their packaging) that can be recycled. When you consider the number of products that use adhesives, the size of this recycling challenge—and opportunity—is immense, and touches every industry.
“Sustainability in packaging can be a profit-making strategy” was deemed a provocative statement made at the inaugural Sustainability Conference sponsored by Packaging Digest in 2007. Nearly a decade later, it is clear that sustainability in packaging is an essential aspect that more and more businesses strive towards. When companies like Henkel step up to pioneer packaging solutions for their previously non-recyclable materials, the global product economy gains the tools it can use to bring it closer to success in sustainability.
Author Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, has won more than 50 awards for entrepreneurship, writes blogs for Treehugger and The New York Times, published a book called "Make Garbage Great" in July 2015 and is the star of the television show "Human Resources" on Pivot TV, now in its third season.
Learn about the latest developments in sustainable packaging at PackEx Montreal 2016 (Nov. 30-Dec. 1, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada).