Archive for the ‘Recycling’ Category

by Megan Yarnall

Social media is popular for various reasons including the fact that it’s easy to reach people and that it’s free. Media such as advertising and marketing often is not free, so for many companies it is hard, if not impossible, to find room in the budget. For companies who don’t mind taking a leap of faith, there’s another option, one that TerraCycle relies heavily upon: owned media.

I say “leap of faith” because sometimes you have to shell out some cash to create the owned media, and then be patient and wait for the fruit of your efforts to materialize. Here at TerraCycle, we just started a bi-weekly podcast that documents eco-tips, eco-news, and features interviews with key players from our partners such as Elmer’s, Dropps, and Garnier  as well as leading voices from the sustainable industry.

Of course there was some limited start-up capital required to outfit one of our tiny meeting rooms: making the space soundproof, purchasing a podcast mic and sound equipment, and making sure our social media manager had the most appropriate sound editing programs on his computer. So, how do we justify spending the money on something that won’t bring us outright income?

Well, the podcast is an affordable investment. The start up cost wouldn’t have paid for a few days of Google Ads and this piece of owned media (the podcast itself) becomes a multi-use platform. When people hear the podcast, they learn about the company, its mission, and then (hopefully) are encouraged to sign up for the TerraCycle Brigade program and help us collect and recycle waste! Moreover, we can offer interviews to our valued partners and create or solidify relationships with industry leaders.

Other pieces of owned media include books, TV shows, company magazines, and blogs. Some of these require a larger output of money, but in return the outcome can be greater. The product can end up paying for itself. Additionally, with things like magazines, you can partner with advertisers to help foot some of the costs involved.

Some pieces of owned media will be more of a challenge than others. You can always write your own blog, you can’t just sign up to have a TV show. As with all things, it’s easier to start small, at TerraCycle we began blogging for smaller sites years ago, today we write for the New York Times, Treehugger and other major news sites. TerraCycle was in the media long before the founder and CEO, Tom Szaky, wrote his book and appeared on the National Geographic Channel with TerraCycle’s show “Garbage Moguls.” But any company can find a unique engaging angle worth pitching for a show or a book; just turn on your TV to find a 100 examples of small business turned reality TV hit show.

Additionally, you have to remind yourself that owned media is an investment. There’s cost involved, and while it may pay for itself in the long run, you’ll have to be patient. For the less patient, or for those who can’t (or don’t want to!) put up the cash, blogs are a great option. Social media partnerships allow for collaborating with like-minded businesses and charities and you can support each other’s causes with guest posts and mentions.

The vital element is this: you must remember what you can offer to other people, not always what they can do for you, and you should keep in mind popular media and how people are consuming content these days.

For TerraCycle’s podcast, visit iTunes and search “Talking Trash with TerraCycle” or visit www.terracycle.podbean.com.

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by Megan Yarnall

TerraCycle is a national and international company that stays local. Sound like a paradox? It doesn’t have to be one.

Since there’s usually a big push around “buying local” at the holidays, when everyone is doing more shopping than usual and trying to get the best prices, I started wondering how staying local fits into the plans for a national and/or international company, and how those companies can help encourage consumers to stay local. I’m not talking companies like retail stores, but instead companies like TerraCycle or even those that aren’t often consumer-facing (think, a national film company or a social services company).

The temptation to go to the large, national retail stores that are offering substantial holiday discounts and incentives is hard to resist, understandably. So what will help consumers veer toward local stores regardless? And why should a company not personally involved with, say, shoes, when people are looking for shoes, be concerned?

My answer here is community and personality. Even for a national company, engaging consumers at every level – including local – is key. Not only that, but by showing that your company cares about local causes in the areas it has offices, or the area it serves individually, you show part of your company’s personality, and that your company has depth. When you care about what your community cares about, they will care about you as well. Participate in a walkathon or help coordinate a gift drive. TerraCycle does this in August with its Graffiti Jam, works with local community improvement non-profits such as Isles, and enables its Brigades to donate to local charities in their respective towns.

One factor that can also help consumers buy local is knowledge. Consumers need to know why buying local is beneficial and why not all of the focus should be on cheaper prices at large stores. In order to engage people in your community, team up with a local shop to offer a “Buy Local Challenge” like the one run by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission.  Help them discover how to find discounts at local stores and local coupons (maybe suggest looking on community boards or in community handouts).

TerraCycle, a socially responsible company at our core, found a way to grow to 16 countries and still maintain our focus on being a local business. In each new market we expand, we find a local office, local shippers, local processing partners and hire citizens of that country to run our operations. The waste collected in a country stay in that country or region (in Argentina and Brazil for example uses the same facilities as needed) and nevers comes back to the US. So why we are turning into a global company each of our markets are kept very locally focused.

While national and international companies are concerned with more than local activities, it’s important to remember local connections and community so

companies can remember who they’re serving and can express their company’s personality and drives. What better time to do this than the holidays? So give your employees an extra day off if they volunteer at a local soup kitchen or food bank, donate to local charities on their behalf or find other ways to spread the holiday cheer to your workers and your community.

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by Sass Brown

Maria Teresa Leal, known as Tete to her friends, is a force to be reckoned with.  The founder, driving force, and visionary behind COOPA-ROCA, the Rocinha Seamstress and Craftwork Cooperative in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she has powered this group of artisans from home sewers and craft workers to creative partners with some of the foremost fashion, interior and installation artists around the world.  An arts educator by training, mentored by the famous educator and theorist, Paulo Freire, she founded COOPA-ROCA in the early 1980’s.

Visiting the family housekeeper in the favela (read urban slum) on the weekend, Tete was encouraged by the residents, to establish free Saturday craft classes for the children of the favela.  Bored with teaching art to the children of Rio’s elite, she was excited and enthused by the eagerness of the children of Rocinha.  Intercepted by the mothers of the children one day, as she was delivering a bag of textile scraps to her class, she was persuaded that they could put better use to the scraps of fabric than their children. Tete watched as the women fashioned all manner of home wares from these unwanted scraps of fabric, working with techniques like patchwork and fuxico, a type of patchwork that is made from circles of fabric gathered into a centre and attached to each other, and so the sparks of what would become COOPA-ROCA were ignited.

The craftwork produced by the artisans became the idea behind organizing the women into a cooperative. Focusing initially on organizing and evaluating the women’s skill set, a small production force was developed to produce decorative craftwork by reviving traditional Brazilian craft techniques.  Impressed by the range of skills and techniques the women knew, Tete began prompting the women into improving their techniques and standardizing their workmanship.  At first selling the simple hand crafted home wares at local markets, over the years Tete has built the cooperative into an internationally recognized creative powerhouse.  Partnering with designers such as Osklen, Lenny, Cacharel, Paul Smith, Agent Provocateur, Lacoste and C&A.  COOPA-ROCA have also worked withinstallation artists Ernesto Neto and Tord Boontje, and decorated lounges at the Salon di Mobili Milan, Rio and Sao Paulo fashion weeks, and the New York Craft Fair.

The mission of the cooperative is to provide work to the female residents of Rocinha, arguably the largest favela in South America, with somewhere around 180,000 residents, allowing them to work from home, and contribute to the family income without neglecting their domestic duties, hence improving their quality of life.  The cooperative has approximately 150 members along with some important partners in the fashion and interior design, and installation art markets.  Partnerships have been developed through commitment and dedication to networking, along with Tete’s ongoing determination to promote the work done by the cooperative of artisans.  A fierce advocate for COOPA-ROCA, she does not allow anyone to take advantage of the artisans.

There are no reliable figures on the exact number of inhabitants in Rocinha, due to the fact that the favela’s are not a product of urban planning, but an outgrowth of a burgeoning population of residents migrating from the drought ridden North East of the country, otherwise known as Nordineastas.  Much as the usual global pattern of urban poverty, many of the residents of urban ghetto’s migrate from rural areas, in the hope of finding more and better opportunities to provide for their families in the city, when the reality is sadly often the reverse.  Subject to prejudice and racism, the often under-educated residents, also become the under or unemployed, creating the raw material for the rampant drug trafficking gangs in the area.  Denied opportunities for lawful and legal employment, most people will do what they must to support their families, leaving many few choices.

The favela itself is a cubist jungle of cinderblock apartments, one teetering on top another, often several stories high, rising up the hill situated between two of the richest areas of Rio, Gavea and Leblon, home to Rio’s elite gated communities and private schools. Disparities between rich and poor in Brazil are stark, with public health and education incomparable between neighbors.  Rocinha ranks as the 6th worst municipality in Rio.  There is not one single local hospital or doctor for that matter within the confines of the favela.  The residents have an average of 4.1 years of formal education, with less than 1% of the adult population earning a degree above high school diploma level.  Although most houses have basic sanitation, plumbing and electricity, the streets are narrow without gutters, turning them into rivers during the rainy season, with make shift electrical wires criss crossing the narrow streets.

Tete, an Ashoka and Lead International fellow, has been involved with programs related to UNDP, NGO’s, local and federal government organizations, been awarded a grant by the Rockefeller Foundation, and a Claudia Award Finalist, amongst many other accolades.

The development of ‘special’ projects has strengthened the cooperatives network as well as served to promote the sustainability of the cooperative in the long term.  Projects have included the design and production of a limited CD box set for Brazils Culture minister, Gilberto Gill, covered in patchwork, a special presentation at Selfridges department store in London in celebration of the year of Brazil, which included a magnificent fuxico shirt for Paul Smith, a fashion show in Paris in collaboration with Cacharel, with the cooperative reworking and reinterpreting the collection, and various installation pieces for artists, Ernesto Neto, and Tord Boontje, which includes a wonderful hand crocheted light fixture knows as the Come Rain, Come Shine Chandelier.

Unemployment and under employment is the bane of existence for migrants who have settled in the favelas. Tetê realizes that, despite good intentions, small enterprise programs generally fail because they do not consistently produce high quality goods, they don’t understand and develop markets, they fail to make best use of their workers’ skills, and they fail to see themselves as viable, competitive manufacturers competing in a global economy. Tetê’s pioneering work with the artisans of Rocinha has revealed two realities about business and poverty, one, that workshops owned by poor women can compete in the world of high fashion; and two, that making quality goods is an effective means for poor women to compete in global markets, as well as act as a means to earn a descent living. Rather than organize poor women to produce poor goods, Tetê has raised both the standard of the product and the living standard of those producing the good. This philosophy guides the cooperative, defining a standard of best practices in community development and fair labor standards.

There have been many challenges in the development of the co-operative, however COOPA-ROCA continues to expand their commercial partnerships while increasing the scale of production and the number of its members. COOPA-ROCA are now moving onto a new stage in their development, and are in the process of developing the COOPA-ROCA brand by producing a small collection of mixed fashion, accessories and interior items for sale through their own e-commerce site.



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by Megan Yarnall

Traditionally the main focus of education is younger generations, something for kids, something for those who are not already “old and wise.” In the green world, though, that notion must be turned upside down. Thanks to great strides in environmental science, recycling, and packaging science, the way we care for our environment and the eco-choices we make as consumers are constantly changing and therefore the need for education and ‘re-education’ remains constant regardless of age.

The seemingly inherent challenge is that educating all ages should require different tactics for the various target groups. Children comprehend and interpret information differently than adults and will be concerned with, engaged and inspired by a different set of topics and approaches: rather than the carbon output of a car that a child cannot drive, the child will be concerned about his or her toys, homework, or a pet.

Though the tactics for reaching the audiences often needs to be different, it’s still most effective and efficient – you reach the mostpeople – when you combine audiences and catch everyone at once. The hard part, of course, is finding this middle ground.  What will inspire and impact children and adults alike, without confusing one group or boring the other.

At TerraCycle, we’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is to put green lessons where they’re least expected. For us, this means retailers and playgrounds. By placing bins in stores like Old Navy and by partnering with stores such as Target and Walmart, which cater to both adults and children, we can catch the attention of both groups. Many people don’t expect to see backpacks made from Capri Sun drink pouches on the shelves – drink pouches belong in the food section!  These items often get an equal gasp from parents and children alike, albeit for likely differing reasons.

We recently donated recycled playgrounds to four schools across the country that were made out of used flip-flops collected at Old Navy stores during the “Flip-Flop Replay” last spring. Kids play on the playground, and parents take their children to the playground, making the playground a common point of interest between the two groups.  Thus both groups have their environmental understanding expanded, albeit in different ways.

Furthermore, these points (Target, Old Navy, playgrounds) are community spots. Anyone can frequent them and anyone can be involved, and when one person sees another participate, the pressure is on. In this case, “peer pressure” can be helpful in encouraging everyone to participate.

By reaching across all ages and consumers big and small, adults and kids can learn at the same time, and learn together, which makes the lessons stronger for each generation. While sometimes they will still need individual lessons, putting green lessons in unexpected places that cater to both groups is an effective method of teaching them at the same time and encouraging community involvement in green efforts and projects! Plus this method can be more fiscally sustainable. A key challenge for educators, NGOs and for-profits alike.

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by Megan Yarnall

Going green, or being green, has often been associated with expensive organic or eco-friendly products, lifestyle and habit changes, and limited luxury. But going green at home and in the workplace doesn’t have to break the bank.

Many tips that families use to stay green around the house and save money – such as turning off the lights when a room is empty – can be applied to the office as well.  This can lead to happier employees, reduced costs and of course a smaller carbon footprint.

Example of how we re-use objects in our office every day

First, a few things that can be done every day, with contribution from everyone in the office:

Tip #1 Limited printing. Most things don’t really need to be printed out in hard copy. And if they do need to be printed, you can re-use paper and print double-sided. When you’re done with it, stick in the recycling bin.

How we do this? Just the way it sounds! We print double-sided, or reuse paper when we can. We also only print when we need to, and do most things by email. Afterwards, we’re TerraCycle. So you better believe we recycle.

Example of how we re-use objects in our office every day

Tip #2 Turn electronics off. If a room is empty, turn the lights off. If a bathroom is empty, turn the lights off. If a computer is not being used, especially overnight or over the weekend, turn it off.

How we do this? Just the way it sounds! We turn our computers off at night, and turn the lights off when we don’t need them.  Power strips at each desk make it really easy to make sure monitors etc are not “leeching” overnight.

Tip #3 Reusable flatware. Most offices have small kitchens. Install an energy efficient dishwasher, and provide reusable flatware for employees. This will cut down on paper plates and plastic silverware being thrown away constantly.

How we do it? Here at TerraCycle, we also have an employee lunch program, in which lunch is served every day. This cuts down on takeout trash.

Tip #4 Mugs and reusable cups for guests. As opposed to offering a guest a bottle of water, offer a glass of water. Instead of offering coffee in a Styrofoam cup, have a clean mug handy.

How we do it? When we have someone in for an interview, or a business meeting, we use real glasses when we offer them water. The water comes from our cooler, which is hooked up to the city water, not shipped in.

Tip #5 Limit travel. Instead of traveling to a meeting, employ an application like Skype or GoToMeeting. Share screens, talk face-to-face, include as many people as you need – and don’t spend as much or leave so much of a carbon footprint.

How we do it? TerraCycle has offices in 15 different countries, with which there are meetings and calls a few times a week – via Skype.

Tip #6 Create a ride board to encourage employees to carpool, and help facilitate it to make it easy for them. Display who is coming and going, and locations and times.

How we do it? Some TerraCycle employees take the train down from New York, rather than driving separately, and when they arrive in the morning, one person picks all of them up. This cuts down on people driving from a far, and on people being picked up separately or taking separate cabs to the office.

Tip #7Make things from waste. Instead of buying new pen holders, make them out of recycled bottles or old mugs. Don’t buy new

Example of how we re-use objects in our office every day

furniture; buy used.

How we do it? TerraCycle’s office is made from waste from floor to ceiling – literally. The carpet is made of remnants, the desk are old doors and the walls are bottle, vinyl record etc.

There are other lengthier, more expensive projects (that will pay off in the long run!) that offices can investigate and institute in order to go green. While some of the upfront costs may be pricey, the money saved on energy bills in the end can make the investments just that – investments, rather than just costs.

Installing solar panels on the rooftop cuts down on electricity bills (eventually, you may have none!) as well as offering a source of clean energy for your office.

A green roof – which is essentially a yard and/or garden on top of your roof – helps insulate the building during the winter and keep temperatures down in the summer as it shields the building from the sun. (It also gives employees a neat place to take a break and eat lunch during the beautiful days!)

Many truly green moves that are more costly will pay off in the end anyway, but if you’re not ready to invest quite yet, the smaller green moves can make a difference in the meantime!

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by Megan Yarnall

I recently read an article that claimed our steps to going green, as a country and as a world, have not been as scalable as we imagine. A consumer can’t see the carbon footprint they leave, and this makes it challenging for them to realize how much of a difference they are actually making in cutting back and cleaning our atmosphere.

Since the affects of a consumer’s efforts are essentially invisible, it is a challenge to both engage consumers and keep them in engaged in the green movement to be more. People are less likely to be adamant for a cause, or willing to make as big a sacrifice for that they can’t see, touch, and feel the effects of directly. Tangibility makes a difference.

It follows logically that to engage consumers, the green movement needs make both the threats and rewards more tangible. Many companies, including TerraCycle partners Capri Sun, Bear Naked, and Clif Bar, rely on consumers to make environmentally friendly choices after they use a product. Instead of simply encouraging consumers to recycle – throw the packaging in a bin and then forget about it forever – they’ve started encouraging upcycling, with which consumers can see their reuse and recycling efforts firsthand.                  

When consumers can see exactly what’s been made with their recycled trash – whether it is a new glass bottle, napkins, a park bench, or a backpack – they become more attached to the issue since it directly relates to them and they can see the effects and results of their efforts. Companies can raise interest by using what is tangible, whereas it’s more difficult to raise awareness and inspire action when results are abstract or unseen. Like the old adage says, “out of sight, out of mind.” This couldn’t be more true, especially when it comes to consumers.

Greenhouse gasses, our destruction of the ozone layer or the disappearing honeybee are examples of environmental issues that for the most part are invisible to the average person. While TerraCycle and other upcycling companies can show consumers what they, the consumer, have brought to fruition, this is a greater obstacle for companies that work on greening the air, the ocean, reducing carbon impact or lessening the addiction to fossil fuels.

In order to make these efforts more impactful, enabling them to reach more consumers and inspire more commitment, outreach needs to start by making these challenges more tangible.  How can we start making problems such as fossil fuel reliance and global warming more real and more visible for the masses?

When TerraCycle started, it made the idea of “organic” more tangible by showing something that was common to everyone: worms anddirt. Grocery store products marked “organic” are more abstract because there still is little education around what organic actually means and no official rating system (save maybe for OMRI and USDA) for labeling products as organic. People still don’t have a good idea of where these items are coming from, or how they’ve been grown, processed or treated. A consumer could gain a greater understanding of “organic” by seeing TerraCycle’s worm poop fertilizer, and their understanding could go from there, moving to the grocery store “organic” label, and further down the line.

Following the same thread, any movement that concerns the health of the planet should start at just that point: the Earth. The Earth is a tangible object that every human can see, feel, and touch. By focusing on a cloud of smoke from a tractor trailer’s exhaust pipe, instead of on invisible gasses in the atmosphere, the environmental effects are brought into the average person’s visibility, making it easier to engage that person. It’s often not that consumers won’t care – they just need to be given a visible reason.

The main focus of the environmental movement is right here at our fingertips, and no socially responsible company should overlook that invaluable tool. In looking to engage consumers and followers in “going green,” visibility and tangibility are the tricks, and it’s easiest to start at the most obvious spot: the Earth itself.  The SPCA, the Red Cross and Feed the Children have used this concept very effectively for years. We all know the heart wrenching commercials featuring abandoned pets or impoverished children or ruined neighborhoods and we all how quickly it inspires us to donate or get involved. The green movement needs to take a similar approach, think locally in regards to the Earth, and not allow consumers to not “See or Hear” the evil our planet faces.

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by Megan Yarnall

Most municipalities don’t collect all kinds of plastics. Most people don’t take the effort to sort trash or clean out bottles before tossing them to the curb. Compostable packaging is “too noisy” or “doesn’t feel right”. Most single-use packaging is non-recyclable. Products lose shelf-life and consumer safety by switching to a different type of packaging.

Brands face numerous challenges in strengthening the eco-friendly features of their products especially the packaging, and consumers often have no options for recycling or reusing the product or its packaging. Research to create eco-friendly packaging, implementation of more responsible packaging, and the packaging itself is often more expensive than the alternative.  This cost drives up the price and drives away customers regardless of the social or environmental benefits. For brands that want to stay competitive while also becoming more responsible, these problems must be solved.

The question arises – what can a brand do that has a relatively minimal cost, but is still eco-friendly and easy for consumers? The answer – a habit that is gaining increasing attention – is upcycling.

Upcycling refers to reusing a product in as close to its original form as possible when it would otherwise be sent to the landfill. Upcycling can be used to give a new, longer lifecycle to a material that can’t be recycled, thus the name “Up” – “Cycling”. Since upcycling can often be done by consumers in their own homes, it’s an economic option for brands, if they design their product or packaging with eye towards reuse or upcycling. Water bottles or soda bottles can be made into pencil holders or vases, yogurt containers can be fashioned into flower pots, coffee cans can hold everything from spare change to cooking grease.

Even common food and beverage packaging such as Capri Sun juice pouches, Bear Naked granola bags, and even Mars candy wrappers can all be made into bags, pencil cases, or even hair barrettes. A consumer need only visit http://familycrafts.about.com or www.craftzine.com/ to see a plethora of options. When this can’t be done by the consumers themselves, this packaging can be sent to recycling and upcycling companies such as TerraCycle, Inc.

But corporate commitment is not enough! If a company does decide to go the upcycling route, be it through a partnership with TerraCycle or through a thoughtful redesign of their packaging, the onus for responsible action still lands firmly in the lap of the consumer. Only the consumer can choose what happens with the product once it’s on the shelf. Here is where my opinion differs from many in the “green” space. I feel that consumers voting with their dollars, with their purchasing behaviors, with their choices in brand loyalty is the single most impactful and important ingredient to spawn change in our consumer goods addicted economy.

Companies will only continue down the long and windy road of sustainability if their consumers encourage them and encouragement at the corporate level tends to come in only one color. So then our society is faced with two challenges: will corporations be willing to take the jump, and will consumers be willing to support them, by ignoring that noisy chip bag and actually recycling or upcycling that new type of packaging? Without effort and support from both sides, neither will succeed and we will all lose.

So, how can a brand do this? Incentivize, educate and inspire. Take the TerraCycle example, when brands partner with TerraCycle to run free collection programs for their waste, they not only pay for shipping to make the program free and easy but they also contribute two cents for every item returned to a charity or your choice. Look at Recyclebank, who provides coupons and discounts for more recycling. These companies, and those with whom they partner, are successful because they incentivize the action.

Brands also need to let consumers know what options they have. As I mentioned before, the responsibility of recycling lands largely on the consumer, but since brands only leave the consumer few options for packaging – that which the brand or local waste management companies offer – it should be expected of the brand to help the consumer understand their options.. That is where the education piece comes in to play. By educating consumers, companies can help them to make the responsible choice; by then offering that responsible option they can increase brand loyalty while also becoming more eco-friendly. Not only that, but upcycling and consumer education are financially friendly for both the brand and the consumer.

It’s a win-win: eco-friendly, inexpensive, and beneficial for all.

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