Pouch high to improve your recycling

When hundreds of people regularly mailed back crisp packets to Walkers, the Post Office – obliged to deliver them – complained to the company it was costing them too much to do so.

Walkers set up a partnership with TerraCycle and a way, once collected, to reuse the material.

TerraCycle was set up by a Princeton University student in 2001 and now works with many brands to recycle their packaging through a public network.

Depending on the product, there are hundreds if not thousands of drop off points for the public across the UK alone.

An absolute myriad of products that people put in their general waste can be collected, packaged up and sent off by registered collectors who receive money back for their charities or causes. Some items, like bread bags, can be taken, alternatively, to larger supermarket branches and plenty of the bottles can be put in most people’s recycling.

Brands such as Colgate, for example, take everything they make back, including the paper – recycled from your doorstep – but more importantly the paste tubes and plastic toothbrushes. (If you wish to avoid this waste altogether, you can use a bamboo toothbrush and powdered paste.)   

Fabreze’s aerosols, from the picture, seem to be another item that could be recycled on the doorstep, but recycling via TerraCycle encourages them to take responsibility for their waste within a circular economy and brings a kick-back for a charity.   

There is recycling of make-up and cleaning products and many other items, mostly done by brand, such as confectionery.

If you look at becoming a drop-off point, for many products the spots are full, which is great – 200,000 spots across the country for recycling crisp packets. But you’ll have to agree to meet certain numbers – based on weights – every few months to stay on the scheme, because this is how the companies involved can keep it cost effective. Weight can be a problem. It is easier to put together 5kg worth of bottles or cosmetic packets than crisps, for example.

And it isn’t always easy to cast things as generic. Pouches, for example, mentioned in a previous blogas something that 7% of councils recycle, although the BBC report from December 2018 didn’t say which ones.

It’s not as simple as every pouch fits all. There’s Lily’s Kitchen recycling, Kinder, some in confectionery, EllaCycle, Fairy, pet food and pouches contained within a couple of other, all separate, recycling programmes. They might not all be made of quite the same material, so it seems important to recycle them appropriately. But how do the councils that collect “pouches” distinguish, or do they only collect certain types of pouches? They seem to be made of consistent material.

Having to collect large quantities of each product to keep on the scheme is the problem, which means scale is the key. Would you think of collecting plastic toothbrushes? How often do you change yours? How many other people would need to change theirs as frequently for you to meet the needs of the scheme?

So, with many slots for items such as crisp packets already full, how can you help? You could set up collecting these – or other items – at schools, workplaces or charitable groups and, when you have enough, take them to the nearest collection point to benefit that charity. Tell everyone in your street or society to collect them, too, and bring them to you periodically. 

This is a great method for spreading the word and being an evangelist for recycling, for raising money for your cause via a kind of deposit return scheme and making a difference.

But it remains small scale in the grand scheme of things. How many people do you know who recycle any – let alone all – of these items that are not collected from your doorstep? It’s a great starting point and to get people interested. One woman in Tadworth works with many people who collect for her, promotes her schemes widely and gives talks to schools to encourage others. 

However, gradually we also need to encourage more councils to do what 7% of those councils do by going further, to collect, process and – crucially to make it worthwhile for them – profit from the collection of more and more items, so that the natural process of recycling each week is expanded. 

Maybe, under that heading of consistency the Government says it wants to achieve among recycling systems, they could all start with pouches. Meanwhile, we must continue to pick which TerraCycle scheme is best for us and find a local way to recycle it – and spread the word.