TerraCycle is different from your local curbside recycler. We develop recycling solutions for waste streams that are not typically curbside recyclable.
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 costs are higher, then it likely won’t be.
The good news is that most trash is technically recyclable.
TerraCycle can recycle the hard-to-recycle because we work with brands, retailers, and other stakeholders who fund the recycling process. Learn more about how TerraCycle is working to eliminate the idea of waste.
Our process starts with our R&D team—in-house scientists and material application specialists who work across our various offices and collaborate with leading universities. The R&D team analyzes the materials to determine the right way to process them into something new. This includes how to break down the waste, separate it into its building blocks, and then recycle those materials for new applications.
Shipments of waste are sent to one of our local TerraCycle Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), which are located in the same country in which the waste originates. TerraCycle currently operates in 21 countries and has more than 35 MRFs worldwide.
When a shipment from a collector arrives at one of our MRFs, we scan it to record the shipment information, date, weight, and what material it contained.
We sort materials based on material characteristics and composition, using a wide variety of sorting technologies, including manual sortation, size separation, sink/float, optical, air density, gravity, magnetic, and more, in order to route material downstream for proper processing and handling.
Incineration (or any other form of converting waste to energy) is avoided. We never use incineration as an end-of-life solution for anything that we guarantee to be recycled (all accepted waste streams are listed on our program pages). We only use waste-to-energy for the small percentage of material that we receive that is non-compliant (i.e., materials that the program is not intended to collect) or materials legally required to be processed in this manner (i.e., medical waste), and we make every effort to recycle non-compliant materials that could be accepted in other programs.
Once sorted by category, the different material types are cleaned and then sent to third-party partners to process the materials into usable forms.
For example, metals and aluminum are shredded and smelted into metal sheeting, ingots, or bar stock. Glass is crushed and melted to be used in new glass bottles (if clear), or brick, cement, or concrete applications (if colored). Rubber is generally cryo-milled into a powdered state for flooring applications. Organics are composted or used in industrial and commercial fertilizers.
Plastics are the largest category of material we collect through our programs. These materials are size-reduced (made smaller by being shredded or ground), then melted and reformatted into pellets, flakes, or a powder format.
Watch this video to see our recycling process in action.