Posts with term TerraCycle X

Will Packaging Taxes Solve Waste Issues, or Escalate the Problem?

Many environmentalists would say that packaging taxes (like bottle bills) are the solution to low recycling rates and the packaging waste problem. The way these programs work is that they charge packaging companies a “tax” per unit produced as a “deposit” and then give that deposit back to the consumer when they return the package to a center (could be a supermarket or a recycling center). Currently there are bottle bills in over 10 states and a number of Canadian provinces. While all manufacturers should take full ownership over the entire lifecycle of their product (especially their packaging) is forcing “bottle bill type” laws the most optimal solution? In certain Canadian provinces (such as BC), there are such programs for even non-recyclable packaging waste including waxy milk/orange juice cartons and drink pouches. The program is a government partnership and has shown 40-45% increases in the total number of containers collected in BC. Bravo!

Will Recycling Survive the Recession?

The recycling industry is in a state of panic, hit by two forces beyond its control. The first problem is the economy (go figure). Demand for consumer products is down; retailers are focusing on price versus value. China (the manufacturer of the world's products) is not ordering recycled polymer. Indeed, a large number of factories in China are closing down due to lack of demand. On top of this, as recycling is a commodity industry, the price of plastic is directly related to the price of gas, and gas prices are low. If you make virgin plastic, your costs are directly dependent on energy costs. However, if you are a recycler, your costs are not in the making of the plastic, but in the collection and sorting of it--and these costs are not as dependent on energy costs. Therefore, recyclers are faced with a problem that may be beyond a solution: They are forced to collect and incur costs (due to their municipal collection contracts) on a material that is worth 50% of what it used to be months ago and they cannot sell it anyway since there is less demand. The result of all of this is predictable: recycling centers are closing at a record pace. My prediction is that if nothing changed in '09 the recycling industry could die! (Too bad you can't short recycling).

Recycling and Reuse: Are Financial Incentives Necessary?

Call me cynical (and you’d be right), but I think that humans as a species have a couple of basic tenancies. We want life to be better and want to do less to make it so. In other words, we want more comfort and convenience at less cost. That is why we live in a consumer based society with disposable products. We also focus almost entirely on short term gain vs. long term gain. There are obviously exceptions to these rules – like our friends the Mennonites – but in general I think this holds true.

Absolutely Greener, Relatively Speaking: A Closer Look at CSR Reporting

I was recently exchanging e-mails with a dear friend, Melissa, who works in the CSR , or corporate social responsibility, department of a major US corporation. We were talking about traditional national and global economic growth rates (which, of course, may not be achieved in times such as the current global slowdown) and how improved environmental standards could go beyond previous relative standards, but still result in cumulative negative impact. Melissa noted, “More companies are reporting defined sustainability goals and achievements--for example, reduced emissions, energy, water, landfill waste--to show that they're really greening up. The numbers that headline CSR report summaries and press releases tend to be framed in relative terms "standardized" per unit or pound produced rather than absolute totals. Because our economy is founded on growth, sustainability becomes a moving target. While relative or standardized numbers are an important tool in helping a company measure progress against itself, they don't necessarily indicate whether the company is moving towards ecological balance, and thus true sustainability.”

Are Trade Shows Worth the Waste? Maybe, if They Can Cut Down on It

Did you know the tradeshow industry is second only to the construction industry in the amount of waste it generates? Garbage from discarded packaging, samples, handouts and more piles up for days creating countless tons of unused of garbage! So, as someone deeply into reducing waste, I’ve been drawn away from participating. A few weekends ago, though, I actually had a great trade show experience, and my views have shifted. Over the years, I’ve done my share of trade shows, and I’ve never liked them. When I added up the time and energy, not to mention costs of the booth, travel, hotel and all of the freebies we’d end up giving away, it rarely seemed to make sense. Sure, consumer and trade shows are a great way to speak with thousands of potential customers directly, and it’s got to work (for more than the organizers) as companies keep returning to their annual shows (and it can’t just be for the parties). Having found other ways to more effectively reach TerraCycle’s customers and communicate our message, and given that traditionally trade shows have been an environmental disaster, I’ve mostly given up on the medium.

Biodegradable vs. Recyclable: Which is the Better Packaging Solution?

We all know that packaging waste is a major issue. But what is the most feasible solution? Today there are fundamentally three choices for consumer packaged goods companies: non-recyclable, recyclable and biodegradable (reusable packaging, a la glass milk jugs are a fourth option that is quickly disappearing.) This question is incredibly important as we as a society try to find a balance between consumerism, capitalism and environmentalism. Please read on and join the discussion. My hope is to get the great minds of TreeHugger engaged in this vital debate. Non-recyclable has very limited choices outside a landfill or incinerator. At TerraCycle we are pioneering upcycling solutions for non-recyclable waste streams through our free national collection programs, the Brigades. However, these programs (almost 12,000 collection sites strong) are merely a drop in the ocean when compared to the many billions of used packages discarded every year. Recycling works for many papers, plastics and metals. While an amazing solution - the only catch with recycling is that only the polymer of the waste stream is viewed as valuable (the shape is viewed as waste). In the end, with an investment of energy (less than what it takes to extract and make virgin materials) the valuable raw materials of the package can be rescued and reused.

Could Garbage Be America's #1 Resource?

Garbage is America's #1 export and possibly the biggest raw material source we have. But what is waste? And why do we make it? In nature, waste does not exist - if it did we would not be here today since the creation of a material that another life form cannot use is not sustainable and would lead to the destruction of our eco-system. One way to look at waste is that it is a commodity with negative value. That is, it's a commodity that we are willing to pay to get rid of. It is a liability that has to be transported quickly and efficiently to a landfill. Waste is also a new idea - probably no more than 100 years old. It is an idea that came about with the birth of complex polymers and consumerism (brought on by the fad for disposable products in the 1950s). If necessity breeds innovation, then we are long overdue to find innovative ways to solve the waste issue, which is exactly what TerraCycle (which I started) hopes to do.

Dancing with the Devil

Over the last few years I’ve heard a lot of talk in the environmental and social entrepreneurship communities about the importance of ‚Äòscalability’ in social ventures. Simply put, scalability is basically the ability for a system to expand. It’s one of the key indicators for grant or investor funding…but it often clashes with “green” values. For example, the last few years have seen the vast majority of typical “green” products offered primarily in niche markets – co-ops, natural food stores, smaller chains and, of course Whole Foods Market. Now most supermarkets have at least a small organic offering (an aisle, maybe two…and a small section in the produce department). But to effect real, fundamental change, don’t we have to be focusing on the mainstream? Isn’t it more effective to put those eco-friendly products in Target and The Home Depot and *gasp* Wal-Mart, where the vast majority of American Consumers actually shop?

Tom Szaky: Do Green Companies Need Green Employees?

One of the most challenging parts of building a lean and mean green company is finding the right balance of experience and passion. Especially in a young upstart company – like TerraCycle – where the status quo is often thrown out the window in favor of shaking up the typical “business as usual” model. But is it better (or even appropriate) to hire people who are committed to being green outside of work as well? Many people may think that personal devotion to a company’s ideal – or green ideals in general – would make a better employee for a green business, and should weigh heavily on whether someone can work in a “green” company. But when push comes to shove, isn’t it more important to have people who know how to accomplish something – even if they don’t recycle at home, or bike to work, or buy offsets for their air-travel-related carbon emissions?

Is Carbon the Only Thing That Matters?

Our entire "green" economic transition is based on carbon credits and global warming. Unfortunately that is ALL people seem to care about. While global warming is a crisis and is extremely important, it is only one aspect of the environmental dilemma that we find ourselves in. The challenge with basing everything off of any single individual matrix is that it cannot fully capture many important factors that contribute to the overall environmental crisis. For example, how does the carbon matrix deal with the pollution caused by toxic chemicals? The carbon footprint of dumping chemicals in a river may in fact be less than if you trucked them to a location where they could be safely disposed. Or how does carbon deal with garbage? Taking garbage to a landfill (as long as it doesn't result in methane production) may be the best thing to do from a carbon offset perspective. The examples could go on. How does carbon measure the loss of endangered species? the destruction of eco-systems through raw material harvesting? My fear is that if we educate everyone that a good environment = low carbon emissions and that everything else is secondary, we may solve the immediate global warming crisis -- but we will not address the macro issue of having a truly green economy. The reason that it is important to deal with this NOW is that this is the first time in our history that people are thinking about the environment seriously as a mainstream topic. The limelight will not last long. Our responsibility is to ensure that we take as much advantage of it as possible while it is shining strong. The solutions needs to be easy to understand and easy to administer. How do we change from the current ultimate solution being "no carbon footprint" to "no environmental footprint?"