A community benefits in more ways than one by recycling typically refused items.

First it was certain food packages. Then, it was toothbrushes. When 43-year-old Liz Pinfield-Wells discovered that she couldn’t even recycle the plastic baby food pouches she was going through with her third child, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

She and her family had always tried to do their part with the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. In their English town of Dawley (Shropshire), the municipal recycling program was a first step. But Liz was increasingly frustrated by all the items that they could not put into the bins.

Plastic bread wrappers, water filters, toothpaste tubes, chip bags, pens, rubber gloves, printer ink, and used postage stamps are just some of the items refused by her town’s recycling program. Any items that have both metal and plastic also can’t be recycled. 

Recycling What Others Throw Away

So Liz did some research, and she found a company that would take all those things and more. The company is called TerraCycle, and their slogan of “Eliminating the Idea of Waste” is catching on the world over. TerraCycle addresses an issue that most municipal recycling programs tiptoe around: Lots of things are technically recyclable—but very few things are profitable to recycle. So who will go to the effort to recycle them?

“I definitely think it has helped to raise awareness to my children about the need to recycle more,” Liz says of her project. TerraCycle turns one community’s trash into another community’s treasure. It collects hard-to-recycle items and turns them into plastic pellets. Those pellets can then be molded into new items, such as watering cans and even benches. 

“That gives the material longer life and helps to keep the items out of landfill,” Liz says.

A Community Effort

The gray shed that sits in her backyard no longer contains her garden tools.  Instead, it’s become a drop-off point for hard-to-recycle items, accessible to everyone in her neighborhood. Inside, neighbors find various boxes and bins to sort 30 categories of items that their municipal recycling program won’t take.

“When I’ve collected enough waste to meet the minimum targets,” explains Liz, “I send it off to TerraCycle.” She vacuum seals the trash about once a month.

And TerraCycle rewards efforts like Liz’s: each pound of trash earns her points. The points can then be converted into cash donations to charities and sports organizations. Liz and her community have been able to donate to their community garden and the local gymnastics team that Liz’s daughter Zoe is on. All in all, Liz has recycled more than 2,000 pounds of trash and earned well over $1,000 for her efforts over the past four years. And the program is still going strong.

“It can sometimes seem a little daunting knowing where to start with recycling, but with every small step, it gets that little bit easier,” says Liz. But between keeping more items out of the landfill, giving hard-to-recycle items new life, and donating financially to the community, Dawley residents find that it’s a win-win-win.

This is the kind of creativity that can save the world.