Recycling Innovation with TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky
For Circularity Week 2020, we sat down with environmentalists and industry game changers united under a common goal: bringing awareness and education towards a circular economy. See our conversation with Tom Szaky, Founder and CEO of Terracycle, on recycling and waste innovation below.
Tom Szaky is a true recycling and waste innovation legend. He is the Founder and CEO of Terracycle, a social enterprise offering a range of national, easy-to-use recycling platforms. Terracycle has helped over 202 million people in 21 countries to collect and recycle enough waste to raise over 44 million dollars for charities around the world.
"The root cause of waste? Using something once," Szaky says. If we want to a circular economy, we have to involve all aspects of the supply chain in a conversation about recycling - especially end of life solutions for used products. Szaky gives both businesses and consumers advice on how to waste less and impact change.
Problems of the Waste Management Industry
Waste management is different from one side of a state to another - which is what makes regulating recycling in particular so difficult. For example, what can be recycled in one facility can't be recycled in another, and as a consumer, you don't necessarily know where your recycling is going once you put it out for collection.
While something can be recycled, if not separated accordingly into its recyclable parts (such as a textile that is a blend of both polymers and natural textiles), there's a lot of effort involved on the recycling management system to separate things into their parts - and so often, these things are what crowd landfills.
I'm a consumer. What can I do?
No Packaging = Best Packaging
As consumers, we need solutions to eliminate as much packaging as possible. Items such as soap bars and produce contain little to no packaging. If packaging cannot be avoided, aim to buy packaging that can be repurposed or reused - or easily
Vote With Your Wallet
The most powerful actor, the one who thinks they have the least power, is the consumer. By buying products that Consumers are voting for the future they want by what they buy - so let's buy things we want to see more of.
Do Your Research
Taking the extra step to learn about how waste is managed in your neighborhood or community is an easy step towards being a conscious consumer. Consider looking into compost drop-off programs, recycling guidelines in your area, and for more grey areas - Szaky's Terracycle is a great place for information and education. We've compiled great recycling resources at the end of this article!
I'm a producer / brand. What can I do?
Opt for Natural Textiles
Szaky identifies three textile categories: natural, pure polymers, and hybrids. From an end of life POV, Szaky recommends using pure natural textiles (wools, cottons, silks) that can be broken down and reused. Pure Polymers, created with plastic, can be recycled as well once broken down. The problem is when using hybrid textiles, that is - a mixture of pure polymers and natural textiles - breaking down the item becomes more difficult.
Create Excitement around Recycling
"The biggest thing we're missing is excitement or apathy - we have to make people care. The same way that the plastic straw movement is connected to sea turtles" says Szaky. When people engage, and react towards recycling, that's when we can pivot to better education surrounding recycling.
Do Your Research, too!
At Thousand Fell, we have a community of brands and industry shakers that are committed to creating a circular economy. For Circularity Week 2020, we got to chat with many founders about the steps they're taking to create change - from small, medium, and large business alike. As a starting point, we talk to Maggie Marilyn of Maggie Marilyn, Gonzalo Pertile of Madewell, and Natasha Frank of EON, on what they're doing to shift their businesses towards sustainable practices.
The challenge in recycling education is that it is fragmented. What can be recycled in one country is different from what can be recycled in another. Even from one side of a state to another, recycling is determined by the waste management system. A safe rule of thumb is that if you can't avoid packaging, buy easily recyclable types 1 and 2 plastic, clear glass, uncoated paper, and aluminum. Almost all recyclers will recycle these materials. Staying within this purchasing pattern simplifies and feeds the waste management system what it wants.
At Thousand Fell, we're consumers as much as we are producers. What is Thousand Fell doing to create a circular economy? Our shoes are made with end of life in mind. Once you've worn them out, return them to us and we'll break them down For more on our commitment to recycling and how we're building, visit our education page here. We're curious to see what you're doing to immerse yourself into conscious consumerism. Got any tips? Let us know in the comments!
Recycle Right by Waste Management : On how to organize your recycling, how to get started recycling, and what is and isn't recyclable.
The EPA's Guide to Composting At Home : Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. This guide is perfect for those looking to get into composting.
Grow NYC: What's in Your Waste?: Interested in what really collects in trash bags on the sidewalks of NYC? This helpful guide walks you through what's being thrown out.