What Happens to the Waste?

Learn how TerraCycle® uses a circular approach to process what you collect.

Through years of research and a bit of creativity, TerraCycle® has proven nearly everything on Earth can be effectively recycled.

Without our free recycling programmes, the products and packaging would ultimately end up in landfill or as litter in the environment. Thanks to collectors like you, we are able to collect, sort and recycle the products and packaging into materials which can be used to create new products! Together we’ve proven it is possible to recycle, upcycle, or reuse nearly everything.

Here’s how:

First, TerraCycle® sorts and processes the items our collectors send in for recycling.

When we receive a new type of typically hard-to-recycle waste, our Research & Development team uses scientific tests to learn how it can be broken down and best reintegrated into the manufacturing supply chain.

Our Research & Development team in the science lab

These sorted materials in their new, deconstructed formats, such as recycled plastic pellets, fibres, and metal alloys, can then be used instead of new, ‘virgin’ material in manufacturing. If you are an organisation interested in finding a closed-loop solution, click here.

CASE STUDY: What happens to recycled plastic?

Plastic is all around us. Some types of plastic are accepted in kerbside collections offered by local councils. However, other types are more difficult to find a standard, local solution for and this is due to a number of reasons, including complexity, size, high collection costs, or lack of value in the council recycling system.

At TerraCycle®, we view all material as recyclable and collect virtually every kind of plastic.

Here’s how:

1. Collection

Recycling starts with you. Instead of throwing your plastics in the bin, collect them for recycling through one of our many free recycling programmes or a Zero Waste Box™.

2. Sorting

Once your parcels of waste are sent to TerraCycle®, we sort your items by material type - such as #1 (PET), #2 (HDPE), #5 (PP) - so that the appropriate technology and processes are used to recycle the material.

3. Processing

The sorted plastics are processed to transform them for sale to manufacturers. This is where your collected waste gets shredded, melted down, perhaps combined with other additives, and turned into a usable raw material format like pellets or powder.

4. Recycling

These converted plastics are then melted, moulded, and extruded or injected into the manufacturing supply chain to become new, durable products made from items we use every day!

Benches, playgrounds, and garden beds made from recycled materials

Recycle Everything

Plastic is only the beginning! Here are some of the many ways we process different materials:

  • PLASTICS: Plastics are separated by material type, cleaned, melted down, and turned into pellets, flakes, and other usable formats that can be moulded into new products and packaging.
  • METALS: Metals are separated by type and smelted into blocks for reuse.
  • GLASS: Glass is cleaned and sorted by colour for processing. It is then crushed and melted to be used in new glass products, concrete aggregate, ground cover, or other items.
  • ORGANICS: Organics are composted or used in industrial and commercial fertilizers. To learn more about the composting process, click here.
  • FIBRES AND FABRICS: Fibres will be hydro-pulped to separate out wax or plastic coatings. Single-material textiles are recycled through either fibre conversion (if natural fibres) or extrusion/pelletization (if synthetic fibres), and mixed textiles are processed through waste-to-energy conversion, where the energy is recovered for the processing facility and local power grid.
  • ELECTRONICS: Electronics collected for recycling, also known as e-waste, are mechanically and manually separated into metals and plastics. Salvageable materials are refurbished and reused. All data is wiped, but we advise restoring your device to factory settings before sending it in.
  • CIGARETTES: Cigarettes are shredded and separated into cellulose acetate plastics and papers and organics (tobacco and ash), which are respectively recycled and composted.
  • LATEX PAINTS: Latex paint is separated into water and solids, which are then run through an extruder. The water is stripped from the materials as water vapour and the solids are melted and formed into pellets. The pellets can be used as a base for colourants or as additives to other recycled polymers.