Where Does Your Recycling Go?

Learn how TerraCycle® uses circular methods 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. Where most of the products and packaging collected through our recycling programs are typically headed for landfills, thanks to our collectors, we are able to capture, sort, and process them into a format used to make new items!

Typically, most products and packaging collected through our recycling programs are headed in one direction—to landfills or littered in the environment—and thanks to collectors like you, TerraCycle® has proven it is possible to recycle, upcycle, or reuse nearly everything on Earth.

Through circular methods, TerraCycle captures, sorts, and processes the world’s most commonly discarded items into a material format used to make new items! Here’s how:

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

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

When we receive a new type of item, 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

Our Research & Development team in the science lab

These sorted materials in their new, deconstructed formats, such as recycled plastic pellets, fibers, and metal alloys, can then be used instead of new, “virgin” material in manufacturing. If you are an organization 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, like #1 and #2 plastic, are accepted in most curbside or municipal recycling programs. Other types are more difficult to find a standard, local solution for, and for a number of reasons, which may include their complexity, size, high collection costs, or lack of value in the 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 trash, collect them for recycling through one of our many National Recycling Programs or a Zero Waste Box™.

2. Sorting

Once your collections make it to TerraCycle, we sort your items by resin code or material type—such as #1 (PET), #2 (HDPE), #5 (PP) and more— so they can be sent to be further processed using their resin-specific technology and process flows.

3. Processing

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

4. Recycling

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

Benches, playgrounds, and garden beds made from recycled materials

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 resin code or material type, cleaned, melted down, and turned into pellets, flakes, and other usable formats that can be molded into new products and packaging.
  • METALS: Metals are separated by type and smelted into ingots for reuse.
  • GLASS: Glass is cleaned and sorted by color 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.
  • FIBERS AND FABRICS: Fibers will be hydropulped to separate out wax or plastic coatings. Single-material textiles are recycled through either fiber conversion (if natural fibers) or extrusion/pelletization (if synthetic fibers), 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 vapor and the solids are melted and formed into pellets. The pellets can be used as a base for colorants or as additives to other recycled polymers.