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Making a Recycled Playground

TerraCycle has always been focused on giving back to the schools and organizations who participate in our recycling programs. One of the more innovative and touching ways that we’ve been able to do so, in partnership with our major brand partners, is by donating playgrounds made using recycled post-consumer waste to local schools. This type of brand activation shows what can be done when a little ingenuity and goodwill come together for a common cause. We have been able to take things like flip-flops, oral care waste, and juice pouches and put them into the plastic lumber parts that are used in playgrounds.

There are many moving pieces and a long lead time involved in developing each playground made using some of the waste TerraCycle has collected. Most recently, one of our long-standing Brigade partners came to us with a request to make a playground out of oral care waste, everything from toothpaste tubes to toothbrushes and floss containers. Now that another one of these playgrounds has been successfully completed and installed, we are prepared to give you an inside look into how this type of project works from start to finish.

  1. Material verification: Prior to TerraCycle ever making a playground available for sale to our brand partners, we qualify the vendor(s) and confirm that certain types of plastic can be used in their molds. Once we have verified this ever-important step and nailed down the costs for implementing our material, TerraCycle is able to make playgrounds and other large installations available for sale to our partners.

  2. Preparing the materials: Upon receiving a purchase order from one of our clients, TerraCycle will ship several thousand pounds of the applicable waste stream from our inventory to a partner facility where the material will be manually sorted. This step will remove any non-compliant items that schools and organizations may have mistakenly included in their collection efforts.

  3. Processing the materials: Next, the usable material will be sent down the road to a processing facility where it is shredded, washed, and dried. This step will remove any residual toothpaste, dirt, gunk, etc. from the material and ensure that the material is clean before it goes into a plastic mold. Most importantly, this step puts the post-consumer oral care waste in a uniform regrind state so that it can be effectively melted and be molded.

  4. Turning waste into lumber: Once TerraCycle reaches the point where we have a clean regrind, the material is shipped to a production facility where the plastic lumber is made for the playground manufacturer. The oral care regrind is then extruded into the plastic lumber components of the playground (i.e. flooring, support columns, railings). When these lumber components are complete, they are tested for strength and structural integrity and then shipped to the playground manufacturer. The lumber components are trimmed and finalized as needed to fit the rest of the playground elements, which are made using recycled milk jugs.

  5. Assembling the playground: The full playground is then packed and shipped to its destination, where a group of volunteers will install the unit with oversight from a manufacturer representative.

These types of projects require a lot of day-to-day project management. It’s not easy to make a playground using oral care waste or any other type of post-consumer waste, but the outcome is always worth the smiles that we see on installation day. After all, we’ve just created a fun new play center for children using material that would have ordinarily been sent to a landfill!