Several tons of ear plugs, beard nets, hair nets, gloves, safety glasses and other typically “unrecyclable” safety and protective gear have found a useful afterlife in TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box program.
Northstar Recycling was one of the first companies to start offering this Safety Equipment and Protective Gear Zero Waste Box to its North American customers when the solution was rolled out two years ago. It was a way to both further its mission as a Zero Landfill company and provide a sustainable disposal option for customers motivated by corporate social responsibility and high-diversion goals, says Seth Goodman, CEO of Northstar, a fifth-generation, family-run company based in Massachusetts.
“We help companies find the easiest, most cost effective way to divert materials out of the landfill stream and into a recycling stream. With the ultimate goal of helping them achieve their environmental goals—either zero waste landfill status or something close to that,” says Goodman, adding that most of Northstar’s clients are in the manufacturing space and were troubled by the amount of personal protective equipment they were throwing away.
“This program seemed to be exactly what our clients were looking for in order to increase their diversion rate—even by a small amount—and send more materials into a recycling stream,” says Goodman noting that these materials account for less than 2 percent of the waste stream—by volume and by weight—for most participating companies.
Since it began offering the solution for the predominantly single-use items, Goodman says his clients have implemented the Zero Waste Box at as many as 90 different manufacturing locations throughout the country.
“These are traditionally items that have no recyclable value whatsoever,” he says. “The fact that TerraCycle is able to reuse these or make them into different products is really exciting for a lot of companies.”
TerraCycle has built its brand on “recycling the un-recyclable,” says Lauren Taylor, director of U.S. public relations for the Trenton, New Jersey-based company. This Zero Waste box is one of 100 specialized collection containers marketed by TerraCycle.
“This is a great option for companies looking to take the next step and find another way to recycle yet another item,” Taylor says.
Businesses can purchase the Safety Equipment Zero Waste Boxes through Northstar’s recycling services. Once a box is received and filled with appropriate waste, it is shipped back to TerraCycle for processing, using the pre-affixed shipping label. The shipping and processing fees are included in the $1,379.00 cost of the box.
All waste collected is repurposed. Metals are smelted for recycling and plastics are molded into new plastic products, such as park benches and recycling bins.
“The drawback to the program is that it's expensive,” Goodman says. “It's a lot cheaper for a company to throw these items into the landfill. They have to be really environmentally motivated to participate in the program. Not every company is.”