BERLIN – The balance between keeping food affordable and keeping landfills from overflowing is one of the key problems to be overcome in the coming years. Terracycle, a company that recycles previously unrecyclable plastics has made a difference, not to mention a fortune, over the last seven or so years converting trash into treasure, as it were.
The way Terracycle works is the company collects, for example, Capri Sun packages and binds them together with other recycled products to make soft insulated lunch coolers. Terracycle pay a fee to the collectors and pays the shipping costs. In return the collecting entities separate the various trash products into different “brigades” and mail them back to the company. Terracycle sends the collectors — often schools but other groups as well — a check for this contribution twice annually.
The downside is that it takes a significant amount of cooperation and volunteer man hours to make the project worth undertaking. The upside is that for a little bit of effort a group of people can not only make a little bit of money but also make a real and significant impact on the tonnage of non-biodegradables that is kept from the landfills.
Grow Berlin Green (GBG), the non-profit coordinating entity for many of the other eco-centric concerns including the Assateague Coastal Trust, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the Lower Shore Land Trust, recently signed on to the project. They established a collection point at Burbage Park, near the other recycling containers, and have already begun spreading the word.
Joining Terracycle was the brainchild of Kathy Winte, who wasn’t a GBG operative or even really very involved with any of its partners.
“I just heard about it and thought it was a good idea,” she said.
She approached GBG and, with the help of project manager Debbi Dean-Colley, was able to get a few of the local PTAs involved. After finding some success at the schools Dean-Colley and Winte set about trying to establish a center in Berlin.
“Mike Gibbons was really helpful in getting this done,” Dean-Colley said.
The problem with recycling plastics is separating what can be recycled from what can’t. Dean-Colley, who lives in town, said she sometimes will put something out if she’s not sure. If the recycling collectors leave it in her bin, she knows it’s not something the town is able to recycle.
Terracycle has provided a better way to tell by providing an extensive if not exhaustive list of the items they will pay GBG to collect. The challenge now, Winte said, is to get people to know and understand what product the town will be paid for recycling. Dean-Colley added that GBG doesn’t expect to make a significant amount of money from the project. In fact their primary concern is to continue to spread the program among the schools that don’t participate and get more residents involved.
Meanwhile Terracycle has pushed the program as having branded waste, getting the companies — Doritos, Capri Sun, Oreos, etc. — to chip in to pay. The companies benefit by having their brands promoted on school lunch boxes as well as contributing to the reduction of waste inherent in their products’ production and distribution. To date Terracycle has sent out more than $1.6 million in checks to schools and non-profits.
For more information about Terracycle and to see the list of products recycled or to purchase products they’ve been recycled into visit www.terracycle.net.