How TerraCycle is Eliminating the Idea of Waste®

At TerraCycle, we’re on a mission to eliminate the idea of waste. Together with the businesses, communities, and individuals we’ve partnered with for the past 20 years across 20 countries, we’re on a journey to move the world from a linear economy to a circular one

What exactly do we do? We create first-of-their-kind solutions in recycling, recycled content, and reuse:

  • Recycling: Our first recommendation is always that manufacturers design their products or packages to be locally recyclable. If that is not possible, we partner with brands to create free recycling programs, scaling each program to whatever level the sponsor is interested in. Alternatively, stakeholders may purchase the recycling solution for any given waste stream by reviewing our available paid recycling solutions.
  • Recycled content: Another step in the journey towards a circular economy is to work with manufacturers to help them make their products or packages from waste. This generates demand for recycled content, which, along with recycling, creates a recycling-based circular economy.
  • Reuse: We also help companies “tighten the circle” by moving from recycling to reuse. Through Loop, we have developed a global reuse platform that allows brands to easily develop reusable packaging and for retailers to make those products easily available to consumers.

We’re focused on continued innovation as we work to fulfill our mission of Eliminating the Idea of Waste®.  

The business of recycling

TerraCycle isn’t your typical recycler. We develop ways to collect and recycle trash that is not generally accepted by traditional municipal recycling services, including cigarette butts, toys, mascara wands, and much more.

What makes something municipally recyclable depends on whether your local recycling company can make a profit recycling it. If the cost of collecting and processing the waste is lower than the value of the resulting raw material, it will likely be locally recyclable. If the cost is higher, then it likely won’t be. The good news is that most trash can be technically recycled—practical recyclability all comes down to the underlying business model.

TerraCycle can recycle the hard-to-recycle because we work with brands, retailers, and other stakeholders who fund the recycling process. Our free recycling programs are sponsored by concerned stakeholders so you can recycle for free. It’s a way for them to take voluntary responsibility over this important externality. We hope to see similar responsibility taken when it comes to other environmental externalities, like deforestation, climate change, biological diversity etc.

In addition to our free recycling programs, we also offer paid recycling solutions, which consumers can purchase to #RecycleEverything. The cost of these solutions includes the collection box, transportation to you—and then back to our recycling facilities—plus the actual cost of sorting, cleaning, and recycling the contents minus the value of the recycled material.

We are always innovating to develop new ways to make recycling hard-to-recycle trash more economical, more convenient, and as a result, more accessible for everyone. To bring solutions to the most challenging waste environments in the world, we also recently launched The TerraCycle Foundation, which in its first year pulled nearly one million pounds of waste out of the rivers and canals in Thailand.

Developing and launching a recycling solution

Each waste stream requires a unique approach to recycling. This is our process for developing a recycling solution:

  • First, our in-house research & development team determines the composition of a waste stream and what technical solutions we would deploy to sort it, clean it, and turn it into recycled raw materials.
  • Next, our operational engineers design a process flow, mapping out the right equipment and techniques to deploy to create a practical process. 
  • Once we’ve defined a process, our local operations team leverages our network of partners to find third-party facilities with the capabilities and equipment to bring our solutions to life. Watch this video to see our recycling process in action.
  • After it’s recycled, the new material is sold to manufacturing companies who produce the end products to complete the recycling journey. 

Learn more about our recycling process.

Auditing and verification

TerraCycle’s mission is Eliminating the Idea of Waste® and we guarantee we recycle all the accepted waste sent to us.

We strictly control the movement of materials through each part of the recycling process so we can track and confirm where materials were sent and for what purpose. Bureau Veritas—a world leader in testing, inspection, and certification services— annually audits our collection and recycling supply chains, as do many of our partners.  

TerraCycle has designed and implemented an advanced tracking system with a customized version of Evreka ( in the US and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and in our European markets. Evreka provides comprehensive solutions designed specifically for the waste management industry, providing us with the ability to centralize and scale the tracking of all waste through each step of our global supply chain, from receipt, through multiple stages of sortation and processing.

Recycling is a step in the right direction

While recycling is an imperfect solution, it is a major improvement over disposing of our waste in landfills or through incineration. Recycling's main benefit is that it reduces the need to extract new virgin materials from the planet (for an average product, over 90 percent of the negative environmental impact comes from extracting and refining the raw materials from which it is made).

This is why a recent, third-party-verified, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) showed that all TerraCycle recycling models have lower environmental impacts when compared to traditional solutions (like landfilling and incineration) across eight major impact categories, including global warming. This translates to TerraCycle outperforming traditional disposal models by an average of 45 percent. Review a summary of the LCA here.

But we must not stop at recycling. We must challenge ourselves to make products from recycled content and then to completely redesign our products to be reusable. That way, the materials we spend considerable resources extracting from the world are honored and don’t go to waste.  As reuse scales, the need for TerraCycle recycling programs will diminish, a transition we not only applaud, but are greatly investing our resources to achieve.

Many stakeholders need to work together to find meaningful and practical solutions to the waste crisis. TerraCycle sits on the Corporate Advisory Council of the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI); participates in and chairs committees on the circular economy for the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation; and supports local, national, and global organizations on topics like developing extended producer responsibility. We are members of the US, UK, Canadian, and ANZ Plastics Pacts, an advisory Board Member for Sustainability in Packaging and the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network, and much more.

Call to action 

We’re committed to Eliminating the Idea of Waste, and we need your help.

We must ask our lawmakers to pass laws that promote circular business models and make disposable consumption more costly. We must ask brands and retailers to produce and amplify products that allow us to vote on a better future with what we buy and what we don’t buy. Most importantly, we must all work together to buy less and reuse what we already have - and only then, to recycle.