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How to recycle that potato chip bag

A couple of weeks ago, a friend tweeted out a question about recycling Tyvek™ envelopes. I responded that she could – if she mailed them to a location that accepted them. She was a little put off: after all, the envelope was marked with a #5 plastic recycling symbol, so shouldn’t she just be able to throw it in her recycling bin?

Making recycling convenient through curbside programs and readily available dumpsters has increased recycling rates, but it’s also conditioned us to expect ease when it comes to getting rid of materials responsibly. Unfortunately, if you’ve read the list of materials that your recycler will or won’t accept, you know that it’s a bit more complex – and if you’ve dug into the topic even more, you recognize that a combination of economics and technology determine what can be recycled where (because, in some places, there is a market for #7 plastics). If you’re not willing to forgo certain kinds of packaging, that still means a lot of trash.

Or not. Terracycle’s Brigades program figures out what can be done with waste generally seen as unrecyclable, and even awards points that can be used as donations to local schools and charities for taking the extra steps of mailing these materials to them. Among some of the items that they can recycle (or at least repurpose as a base material for other products):

  • Chip bags: Take a look at the video above to see the many products that the company can create with a humble potato chip bag.
  • Digital cameras: Electronic waste is a huge landfill and pollution problem, but in some places, you still have to look hard for a recycler. Terracycle accepts nine different types of e-waste for recycling.
  • Glue sticks: In partnership with Elmer’s, Terracycle can recycle glue sticks and bottles of glue into a variety of plastic products.
  • Wine pouches: I honestly didn’t know such a product existed, but, apparently, there are people that want to carry wine with them on climbing trips and such. Terracycle works with Clif Family Winery to provide a recycling option for those pouches.
  • Gum wrappers: You probably don’t give much thought to it, but consider the fact that most sticks of gum are individually wrapped – that’s a lot of waste!

Many of the “brigades” for specific waste types are sponsored by brands, and focused on that company’s products, so there are still waste streams that are, well, waste. But as you can see from the list of brigades, the company provides options for many materials that would’ve previously gone into the trash. And if you’re looking for unique gifts, the products that Terracycle makes from these materials are genuinely unique.

One could argue that such an approach encourages  manufacturers to not think about disposal issues surrounding their products and packaging. That’s true, but there’s also no reason to think that manufacturers themselves will come up with the perfectly benign disposal solution if they do give it some thought. And, regardless, few of us have stopped buying chips because the bags aren’t recyclable. Terracycle creates options where none existed, and that’s a step forward.

Used Terracycle before? Let us know about your experience.

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Featured image credit: Screenshot from Terracycle video