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Environmental Benefit

The benefits of Eliminating the Idea of Waste® are priceless.

A philosophy of waste

“Garbage” does not exist in nature. In a natural system, any waste generated by one organism becomes a useful input to another. For example, a fox’s droppings may fertilize a nearby berry bush whose fruit may then become food for a bird. The bird might then become a meal for the fox, continuing the cycle. Any outputs generated in the system are utilized, and nothing is left to waste.

With the creation of synthetic materials, humans have broken this natural, cyclical harmony. While plastics and other man-made materials have allowed us greater and more cost-effective innovative freedom, when they reach the end of their life they become useless garbage that has no place in nature’s healthy cycle of input and output.

We see fish with bellies full of plastic and birds making nests from cigarette butts, and the problem is only exacerbated with our tendency to over-consume. Easy and cheap access to so many goods and products, coupled with a dramatic increase in global population and a throwaway consumer culture have resulted in a global garbage crisis.


The impact of waste

Over the past 100 years, the amount of waste that humanity produces has increased by almost 10,000 percent. Of that staggering volume, it is estimated that 25 percent ends up in our oceans, forming five gigantic gyres of garbage.  Since only a small percentage gets recycled the majority is effectively mummified in landfills, leaching out methane and other toxic outputs over time. If it is not buried, it is typically burned in incinerators. While a very small percentage of incinerators do produce some energy as an output, in the process they also destroy all possible value except the caloric (or energy) value inherent in the materials.

Recyclable vs. non-recyclable

The main reason most of our waste is sent to landfills and incinerators, and why few of our outputs are recycled (like they technically can be), is tied to the economics of waste. It is simply more expensive to collect and recycle most things than the results are worth, and it’s cheap—because we allow it to be cheap—to send waste to a landfill or an incinerator.

TerraCycle's role in recycling the non-recyclable

TerraCycle is working towards Eliminating the Idea of Waste® by making the non-recyclable, recyclable. We do this by offering a range of free programs that are funded by conscientious consumer brands and manufacturers, as well as purchasable programs that are funded by eco-conscious consumers to bring circular repurposing solutions to almost all forms of waste.


Environmental benefit of TerraCycle

By sending waste to TerraCycle you will avoid it ending up as litter, in a landfill or incineration facility. Instead, new materials and products will be made with your collected waste, reducing the need to extract new materials from the planet.  This avoided impact is not small; for an average product over 90% of the environmental impact comes from extracting and refining the raw materials from which it is made.

What TerraCycle does not do: linear solutions

Incineration of waste materials converts the waste into ash, gas, and heat (which is sometimes converted into electricity). While incineration does not completely replace landfilling, it significantly reduces the necessary volume to be landfilled and is considered a more optimal solution. Incineration is not a circular solution as the waste material is destroyed in the incineration process. TerraCycle will not incinerate any waste that it collects.

A landfill is a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial and is the oldest form of waste treatment. Historically, landfills have been the most common methods of organized waste disposal and remain so in many places around the world. TerraCycle will not landfill any waste that it collects.

Hierarchy of waste infographic

How to avoid waste in the first place

There are ways to better realign ourselves with natural processes. Buying consciously, buying durable, buying used, or simply not buying at all is a straightforward way that our individual consumption can have a smaller impact on nature.

When looking at the root cause of garbage, we as consumers bear a large part of the responsibility. Garbage is predicated on our individual consumption. If we don’t buy something, it can never become garbage.

When we buy something, we are actively voting for more of that particular product to be made. On the other hand, when we don’t buy something, we are voting for less of that good to be produced, and the vote we cast is exceptionally powerful.

If we all changed our daily vote (our daily purchases), within a very short time we could solve the global garbage crisis, along with many other environmental problems. Let’s start buying stuff that results in useful outputs rather than useless ones, let’s buy durable and used objects, and before buying anything at all, perhaps the first question is, “do I even need this?”