Eliminating the Idea of Waste: Interview with Stephen Clarke (TerraCycle)

TerraCycle, a US-based recycling company on a mission to “eliminate the idea of waste”, has been so successful in recycling hard-to-recycle waste that it has grown into the global leader in the field. Today, it operates in over 20 countries, offering several innovative recycling programs to 80+ million people. We had a chance to talk to Stephen Clarke, Head of Communications – TerraCycle Europe.

(Recorded on April 1, 2019)

Photo by TerraCycle

Could you explain in a nutshell what your company does and how you help people adopt an eco-friendlier lifestyle?

Founded in 2001, TerraCycle is the world’s leader in the collection and reuse of non-recyclable post-consumer waste.

TerraCycle works with well over one hundred major brands in twenty-one countries across the globe to collect used packaging and products that would otherwise be destined for landfills. It repurposes that waste into new eco-friendly materials and products that are available online and through major retailers.

The waste is collected through TerraCycle’s National recycling programmes, which are free fundraisers that pay schools, charities and non-profits for every piece of waste they collect and return.

TerraCycle launched in the UK in September 2009 (its first market in Europe) and today operates in 12 European markets (UK, ROI, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden and Denmark). 

In the UK, it currently runs collection programmes for cracker biscuit and cake wrappers, crisp, nuts, pretzels and popcorn packets, baby food pouches, Pringles cans, writing instruments, air and home care waste, toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, Aqua Optima water filters, pet food packaging, contact lenses, personal care and beauty products / packaging, Tassimo & L’OR coffee pod / TDISC waste and cigarette waste. 

Photo by TerraCycle

To date in the UK, TerraCycle’s programmes have diverted over 57 million items of packaging waste from landfill (around the weight of a jumbo jet) while earning over £744,000 for schools, charities and non-profit organisations. 

Which of your products or services are especially appreciated by customers and communities?

In the UK (as in most of our 12 European markets), we have a network of public access public drop off locations on most of the free recycling programmes we offer. 

To give you a few examples:

We have a number of fairly new programmes for FMCG products such as crisp packets (sponsored by Walkers), biscuit, cracker and cake wrappers (sponsored by McVitie’s), the nuts, popcorn, crisps and pretzels recycling programme (sponsored by KP Snacks), the Pet Food Packaging programme (sponsored by Whiskas & James Wellbeloved) and the Colgate Oral Care Recycling Programme.

Some of the recycling programmes are targeted at / more popular with specific types of groups / locations – for example the BIC Writing Instrument Recycling Programme is mainly participated on by schools who act as BIC Community Champions so local communities can all drop their used writing instruments off to them. 

Lots of parents of young children and nurseries and playgroups act as the drop offs for the EllaCycle programme for baby food pouches.  The Acuvue sponsored Contact Lens Recycle Scheme has 650 Boots Optician stores and lots of independent opticians acting as public drop offs.

What’s the first, most actionable advice you’d give to our users to help them advance in their journey towards zero-waste?

Make sure you know the types of waste that your council can and can’t recycle.  Putting the wrong materials into your home recycling box / bin causes contamination and can mean that some of the correct waste will ultimately end up in landfill.  A quick call to your council or Google search will tell you all you need to know.

Then, for a growing list of items that you can’t recycle with your council there are now free recycling programmes with TerraCycle – everything from coffee pods, to contact lenses to crisp packets and even cigarette waste. 

So check out www.terracycle.co.uk to find your nearest public drop off location, if there isn’t one close to you then consider setting up your own one or on some of the programmes you can sign up as a private collector.


And what’s the second advice? 🙂

Stay away from anything designed for a single-use – instead purchase higher quality, more durable items that will last many years: rechargeable batteries, woven tote bags or bags for life instead of plastic grocery bags, metal cutlery and ceramic dishware, refillable water bottles – wherever you can make the switch, go durable.

Keep an eye out for excessive product packaging as well, and choose products from brands that limit their use of packaging as much as possible. It’s not uncommon to see products in as many as two, three, even four layers of packaging where only one (or none!) would have sufficed.

For instance, instead of shrink-wrapped produce and pre-packaged supermarket convenience foods, go local and buy loose produce from a nearby farmer’s market. Better yet, buy your basic cooking staples in bulk and make more home-cooked meals.


Photo by nrd on Unsplash

Read more:Learning how to start a zero-waste lifestyle now could save the future“.

Could you explain to our users how they could start to “upcycle” their waste, even in countries with less developed up/recycling facilities than in the US?

Complacency abounds in our consumption-driven society. Why fix or reuse something you own when it can be endlessly replaced at little cost? Learn to fix what you own and fight that urge to toss broken products into the trash.

If you need to replace something altogether, go the reuse route by buying second hand: Craigslist, charity shops, The Freecycle Network, Etsy and word-of-mouth are all great ways to get your hands on lightly used products at little or no cost.

(Interview conducted by Matteo Vegetti)

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One comment on “Eliminating the Idea of Waste: Interview with Stephen Clarke (TerraCycle)”

  1. Terracycle have got it right(almost) .Our food packaging solution (yet to hit the markets) is designed to be re-used and fit in to a deposit return scheme.We will,some day,rid the world of plastics(perhaps) but it isn’t plastic that causes the pollution it’s human beings and a throwaway society.I like the Terracycle idea of collection for recycle which benefits schools and charities and ti is such an application we will encourage when our solution comes to market.Until we find an alternative plastics can contribute to food shelf life and save waste as it can equally be used in products that save fuel by being light in weight and requiring less eergy bur.We have a long way to go but please do not condemn a material which is very helpful in many applications to us humans!

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