Organisations That Are Turning Waste into Social Capital


One man's trash is another's treasure.

bean seedling growing in a paper cup decorated by a child

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and it only takes a perspective switch to uncover just how true this adage can be. We all know what the recycling bin is for, but there are plenty of other bits ‘n’ bobs that end up in landfill. When you’re sorting your plastic and glass from paper and you come across an unfaithful highlighter, for example, what do you do next? This exact question is what these raring recyclers contemplated. Imagining a zero waste world, a recycling and up-cycling duo are breathing new life into old rubbish in the name of a better tomorrow.

Proving that you can work in developed and developing countries, and with a for-profit and not-for-profit business model, TerraCycle and Plastics for Change together tackle the global waste management system.

TerraCycle: Recycle Everything

With the tagline of ‘finding innovative uses for materials others deem garbage’, TerraCycle is a waste management company, founded by Hungarian born entrepreneur, Tom Szaky, in 2001. With services now available in more than 20 countries, TerraCycle boasts a crowd of 60 million engaged recyclers worldwide.

With a view to ‘eliminate the idea of waste’, TerraCycle offers tailored services for individual households, businesses and local councils and municipalities. Able to collect ‘almost any form of waste’, from coffee capsules to dodgy biros, TerraCycle will collect your waste, sorted or unsorted, and transform it in to new products for re-sale; from unique gifts, such as recycled jewellery and bags to larger commercial products such as park benches and office supplies. TerraCycle’s three recycling platforms include:

Rewards for your waste is a free recycling program funded by sponsors where you can earn points that are redeemable for charity gifts by participating in one of the sponsored recycling promotionsZero Waste Boxes, which are offered in multiple sizes and in three sorting varieties; category separation, room separation and no separation and each box is valued differently dependent on the amount of sorting that will take place at the collection facility as well as large-scale recycling, which is suitable stream for businesses and other large-scale waste removal, working through a combination of the Zero Waste Boxes facility.

Ensuring that recycling is widespread and well taught, TerraCycle have also developed a range of educational resources and communications materials for passionate TerraCycle-ers to use in spreading the word. And for a behind-the-scenes look, Human Resources, is TerraCycle’s own comedy-filled TV Show, now in its third season.


Plastic for Change: Reducing Pollution, Creating Livelihoods

Plastics for Change is a social enterprise ‘dedicated to reducing plastic pollution and creating dignified livelihoods for the urban poor in developing countries’.

“By 2025, there is expected be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish in our oceans”, quotes PFC. Seeking to address the 3 billion people without access to formal waste management globally, this entrepreneurial organisation has ‘adopted strategies from fair trade agriculture and applied them to the informal recycling economy in developing countries’.

PFC have rolled-out a mobile platform allowing urban waste pickers access to fair market prices for the plastic they collect. Additionally, PFC provides the means for intermediaries to implement responsible supply chains, by sourcing the recycled ‘ethical’ plastic, for corporations to produce a range of new products.

The organisations three pillar approach aims to address three core issues; climate change (by offering companies an alternate source, demand for ‘virgin plastic’, new plastics from oil, will decrease, ensuring that we keep carbon in the ground), livelihood creation (with ‘1% of the urban population in developing countries relying on recycling as their primary household income’, PFC provides a platform for waste-pickers to access fair market prices; rewarding the socially and environmentally responsible behaviour from the buyers with a higher commission) and reduction of plastic pollution (with over 8 million tonnes of plastics currently floating around our oceans, we are the last generation with the ability and opportunity to determine the fate of our marine ecosystems by addressing the root cause of our plastics leakage; poor recycling infrastructure).

It’s several steps in the right direction.



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