Waste Not, Want Not

More from Vanessa Ratjen and her Awesome-istic interviews. Today, we bring you Anna M, a woman who refuses to take waste for an answer.

Anna M
By Vanessa Ratjen 

Anna says she’s received more than half a million cigarette butts in the mail this year. Gross? Maybe a little. But that’s a couple hundred kilos diverted from landfills, and it’s part of Anna’s job: collecting “unrecyclables” and finding new uses for them.

Anna (& co.) recently launched the Australian chapter of TerraCycle, an upcycling and recycling company working to reduce linear waste streams (ie. Buy it-use it-trash it models). While most municipalities have recycling programs for hard plastics, paper and glass—things we commonly view as “recyclable”—lots of the rubbish we toss in the bin could be repurposed too, there’s just a lack of infrastructure for it. TerraCycle is filling that gap. annam-terracycle-awesomeistic

Working with brands like Colgate, Mondelēz (formerly Kraft) and Walmart, TerraCycle creates alternative solutions for post-consumer products.  Whether repurposing the object as is (upcycling) or processing it and reusing the raw material (recycling), at TerraCycle everything has a value. For example, those cigarette butts are being made into shipping pallets and ashtrays. This has two benefits: not only are the butts avoiding the landfill but recycling them stops the extraction of more virgin materials that would otherwise be used.

Good initiative + great idea = less negative impact.

It just takes a little creativity and public participation. TerraCycle makes it easy, they’ll take care of all the details if you join the campaign. All you need do is:

  1.  sign up online (this could be as a single household, as a community group, a school, or a business) and
  2. start collecting (look up what’s available as different countries are able to collect different products). Once you’ve filled a box,
  3. print off a shipping label from the TerraCycle site and
  4. take it to the post office, they’ll whisk it away for you.

As an added incentive, TerraCycle will give you money back on the amount of waste you collect (an awesome fundraising project for schools!).

Good initiative + great idea = Cha-ching!

anna2

Anna is talking numbers and I’m embarrassed. I just found out that ten per cent of Canadians use a TerraCycle program and I didn’t know about it until I’d left the country. At the same time, I’m stoked: 60 million people in 24 countries have signed up to a program, Anna tells me, and that’s a number with clout. It’s encouraging news as it costs a company money to join up with TerraCycle and they’re more likely to do so if they see the public demand. I’ve whinged many a time about companies not taking responsibility for their products post consumption, but I know they’re as likely to come digging through my trash as I am going to drop it off on the headquarters’ doorstep. However, with numbers adding up, we’re gaining momentum. One butt at a time.

———

On the big picture:

What we hope to do is have people see waste differently, to see it as something with value as opposed to something you throw on the ground or put in a hole and bury.

On changing the lens:

Technically everything is recyclable, but what we [traditionally] consider “recyclable” is paper, glass, aluminum, and hard plastics; not because there’s something special about the material composition of those objects, but purely because there’s a market for those waste streams. Whether something’s recyclable or not has not much to do with the material composition of that item but of the economics surrounding it. TerraCycle is purpose-driven to create markets for waste that don’t currently exist. With our collection models we basically have an army of people out in the community separating waste and sending it to us so we can build up large volumes of these waste streams. Then we can recycle it and attach a value to that waste that wasn’t there before. So, rather then looking at your toothbrush as waste that you just need to throw in the rubbish, look it as something with a material value.

Getting on track:

I’ve always fancied myself an advocate and always wanted to be an advocate. I’m a lawyer by trade, that’s my background. I was a criminal lawyer for a while and I also work in the industrial movement, but I think no one needs more advocacy than the environment, because it doesn’t have a voice.

I started a website called the Daily Lime that was a tip everyday on how to live a greener lifestyle. I wanted to target the “light green,” I didn’t want to preach to the converted. I wanted to show people how easy it was to live more sustainably, everyday, so it was a short 250-word tip that had to be positive and doable and easy.

Which led to Terracycle:

I was living in the US and I was reading an article about TerraCycle one day and it mentioned that they were based in Trenton, NJ. We were living in Princeton and I thought, “That’s just around the corner, I should get in touch with them!” And I did. And I worked out of their headquarters for six months while I was living there and got the ball rolling, and then came back (to Australia) in June last year and took it from there.

On answers:

We don’t see ourselves as the solution to waste; the solution to waste is always to buy less. And then after you’ve bought less, buy used, buy durable.

Then when you’re looking at the hierarchy of waste, the best option is always re-use solutions first, then upcycling, that’s another better solution, and then finally recycling. They’re all cyclical solutions. We will never consider linear solutions—which is landfilling, incineration or even burning for energy—because they don’t value the extraction of the raw material which is the way that most of the environmental footprint is made in any packaging or product.

The goal:

We want to appeal to the broader demographic. We want to be a mainstream organization that is used by the bulk of people, because that’s how you’ll really create change.

TerraCycle Australia currently accepts post-consumer products from Nespresso, Colgate, Natures Organics and tobacco waste. Check here for more as they grow: http://www.terracycle.com.au/en-AU/brigades.html

Links:

TerraCycle: http://www.terracycle.com.au/en-AU/

The Daily Lime: http://www.dailylime.info/

*Photos courtesy TerraCycle

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