BUSINESS | COMPANIES

Beauty in Basura: Waste not, want not

Ausseela Thanaphongsakorn

TerraCycle is a social business that is good for the planet - and there is a strong Filipino connection.

My first memory of making something new from waste was with my Tita Liezle who had a quirky collection of chocolate wrappers. She had good taste - it was mainly Hershey's or ChocNut and of course, cellophane from eating polvoron. I was nine years old at the time and thought this was the most fun activity.

She weaved each wrapper, creating a bright tessellation of foil and we made covers for my diaries. I did this every year till I outgrew it, but this idea of creating something new from something discarded called "upcycling" has stayed with me and proven a valuable mindset in my job at a recycling and upcycling company called TerraCycle.

We often don't think twice about what we throw and where it all goes but it does end up somewhere, whether it is our beautiful oceans or buried deep in the ground where things like plastics do not disintegrate for thousands of years. In fact, Australia has one of the highest rates of waste generation per capita in the world. As Pope John Paul II said: “We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.”

TerraCycle is a social business that's good for the planet, having diverted 2.6 billion pieces of waste from landfill. It was founded in 2001 by Tom Szaky with the belief that anything can and should be recycled. Even "difficult to recycle" waste like toothbrushes, nappies, chewing gum and cigarettes are no obstacle.

Tom Szaky is one of the world's foremost leaders of eco-capitalism and recycling - but it's also been a bumpy ride in the recycling waste business. After reading Tom's book, "Revolution in a bottle",  I learnt that eliminating the idea of waste is by thinking of new things to do with waste - to reuse, repurpose or upcycle it into sustainable items.

In the early days of his business, Tom was inspired by a Filipino group he met at a conference. The People’s Recovery, Empowerment, Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation, a charitable organization that was founded in the Philippines in 1974. They began producing, selling, and shipping items made from upcycled juice pouches. Zesto for example is a popular juice drink to quench thirst on a typically hot day in Phillipines but through upcycling it can be turned into new products.

After juice pouches are collected by various community groups and schools, they are cleaned and PREDA makes them available to women who produce handcrafted upcycled items such as bags and wallets which they sell worldwide. A wonderful business meets community initiative.

Similarly, TerraCycle programs are also community driven which is at the heart of TerraCycle recycling brigades. For every piece of waste collected in most programs $0.02 cents is donated to the collector’s charity of choice, which is a great recycling and fundraising opportunity for community groups and schools.

In Australia, TerraCycle is tackling other difficult to recycle waste streams like oral care waste, cigarettes, Nespresso coffee capsules, cleaning and beauty packaging.

It sometimes takes small acts to make big changes. Making recycling a part of home is now easy. Sending waste through the mail is free and convenient for everyone to take part in.

The other day I covered an old notebook in confectionery wrappers for old time's sake, perhaps not as neat as my Tita Liezle's handiwork, but on the upside at least I have a shiny new book.

TerraCycle’s brigade programs are now open to all Australian residents with the Cigarette Waste Brigade launching nationally on Clean Up Australia Day. TerraCycle CEO, Eco Innovator Tom Szaky will be speaking at community lectures in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland (3-6 March)  about eliminating the idea of waste. To sign up to a brigade or for more information visit www.terracycle.com.au. For upcycling and DIY projects click here.

Ausseela is the Communications Manager for TerraCycle Australia. She was a Global Filipino Youth Awardee and former youth columnist for the Philippine Community Herald. She loves the outdoors, paddle-boarding, photography, travel and making covers for her books.

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