Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Will Consumers Pay to Recycle Their Waste?

Consumers are steadily becoming more conscious of environmental issues, and more eager to reduce waste at home and work — but are these enough to translate into action? Moreover, will consumers pay to live up to ‘green’ standards and aspirations in their lives? The success my company, TerraCycle, is seeing with our Zero Waste Box platform seems to indicate that many are willing.

Due to the economics of garbage, recycling traditionally difficult-to-recycle waste streams has always been a challenge for us. Overcoming those economic roadblocks was not easy, but we found a way through our ‘sponsored waste’ recycling programs. Consumer product companies such as Procter & Gamble and Colgate, and major brands such as Tom’s of Maine sponsor our recycling programs, allowing us to offer them to consumers, school groups, offices, and community organizations for free. People join a program; collect waste at home, at work or in their communities; print out a free shipping label and send the waste to TerraCycle for recycling.

Our free recycling programs for difficult-to-recycle waste have been very successful, but our ability to recycle more waste streams with this model is limited to what our corporate partners are willing to sponsor. For this reason, we began developing a new, premium recycling option called the Zero Waste Box, recently listed on Staples.com. You buy a box, fill it with the appropriate waste, and ship the box back to us when it’s full. Each box’s purchase price includes the costs of shipping, and all come with a prepaid shipping label.

Paying for a box allows us to collect waste for recycling without corporate or municipal sponsorship. While we were confident in this new waste solution, we were not sure how a paid recycling option (let alone one for materials people have perceived as “garbage” for years) would fare once it hit the market. Thankfully, the platform’s present success speaks for itself.

In 2014 we partnered with Staples Canada to list Zero Waste Boxes on Staples.ca, giving Canadians full access to a wide range of recycling options to supplement their curbside collection programs. Not only was our launch on Staples.ca successful — Staples Canada and the Zero Waste Box were awarded a 2015 Top Product of the Year Award by Environmental Leader. Seeing the success of our launch with Staples Canada, we were confident that similar success would be found here in the United States. Thankfully, Staples US agreed to expand our partnership, and has recently listed TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes on the Staples.com website.

Despite being a premium recycling solution, consumers have shown a lot of excitement about the Zero Waste Box platform. Environmentally conscious consumers can use them in conjunction with their own zero-waste strategies or curbside recycling options, while businesses and offices are able to meet internal waste reduction goals in a simple and straightforward way. This can be especially valuable for companies seeking new ways to engage with their employees, especially considering the current workforce increasingly gravitates toward environmentally and socially conscious organizations.

Many of the businesses utilizing this platform find that Zero Waste Boxes also give their organization a marketing edge in an increasingly “green” corporate environment. They’re able to tell employees and consumers that they recycle waste streams never before recycled in a municipal capacity: coffee capsules, candy and snack wrappers, disposable plastic dishware, writing instruments, shipping peanuts and bubble wrap, among many others. As consumers and employees demand greater environmental accountability in the corporate world, moving an office environment or business toward zero waste can have incredible value.

To go back to the question at hand — Will consumers pay to recycle their waste? — the answer seems to be yes. A premium waste solution helps us as recyclers overcome the economics of waste, allows us to continue recycling new waste streams typically destined for linear disposal, and gives consumers and businesses some peace of mind about the waste generated at home or in the office. We think this is a good sign for the future of premium recycling and waste-reduction opportunities - and now through our partnership with Staples US, we hope American consumers and businesses will agree.

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