By ANNA MINNS
Waste isn’t always the sexiest topic.
When I tell people about the green business that I run and what we do, for some it’s a topic they would prefer to avoid thinking about. Once something is placed in the rubbish – it’s out of sight out of mind. But our waste ends up somewhere, whether it is at the local tip or in our oceans.
My journey to working with waste started two years ago when I was living in New Jersey. I had read about the innovative, exciting recycling company, TerraCycle, and discovered their head office was a mere 20 minutes from where I was based. I contacted them and started working there with a view to start their operations in Australia.
My workplace was their global HQ in Trenton, New Jersey, one of the United States’ “most dangerous cities”. The TerraCycle office is an old warehouse that embodies the very idea of waste. The walls, inside and out, are painted with beautiful graffiti art, my desk was an old door propped up by a fire hydrant and a wine barrel. The graphics team sat across from my desk and old vinyl records divided our workspaces, and behind me was the CEO’s office that was constructed from used soft drink bottles.
It was a fun and lively place to work, with lunchtime yoga, watching different DIY projects and teams in action, and it was often abuzz with film crews. And at the age of 34, I was one of the oldest people in the office!
What we do at TerraCycle is divert “unrecyclable” or “difficult-to-recycled” waste from landfill and reuse, upcycle or recycle it! People sign-up to our programs and instead of throwing out their used products and packaging, they send them to us (for free) through the mail to recycle them. Everyday things like like chip bags, toothbrushes, pens, coffee capsules and even cigarette butts. At the moment we throw all of these things into a big pile and bury them (if they’re not littered), and Australia has one of the highest rates of waste generation per capita in the world. Not very sexy!
We have come up with ways to recycle some of the most challenging waste streams that others deem worthless or unsavoury, including chewing gum, nappies and cigarettes, and turn them into new sustainable products.
Cigarettes are a great example of a waste stream we are working to solve. Even though cigarette butts are small, they are the most littered item in the world. According to the Clean Up Australia Day Rubbish report they are the second most littered item in Australia.
Imagine butt free beaches, parks and streets. It’s not impossible. In fact, the City of Vancouver in Canada aim to have zero cigarette waste under a pilot program with TerraCycle that involves placing cigarette recycling receptacles throughout the city.