From Trash to Treasure: Our Recycling Partnership with TerraCycle

The US is the world’s largest producer of waste, generating almost 600 billion pounds per year — that’s almost 5 pounds of waste per person per day. Yeah, you read that right — per day! The good news is that about half of that waste is recycled, composted, upcycled, or combusted for energy use. The bad news, though, is that the other half ends up in landfills, which produce their own global warming emissions as their contents decompose.

It’s pretty impossible to not produce waste. We all eat and have leftover food scraps, buy items that come in plastic packaging, and throw things away that break or become unusable. But this also means that we all have the power to change the way we consume and dispose of things.

88 Acres’ Trash is TerraCycle’s Treasure

Since day one, 88 Acres has been a zero-food waste Bakery, first by upcycling the edge pieces of our bars into our original Seed’nola recipe. Today, we also compost all the food in our Bakery that we can’t use, whether it’s a batch of bars that were over-baked or don’t taste quite right, or a super tote of brown rice syrup that broke and spilled all over the floor (that’s a story for another time). But that’s just food waste, and as a food company, 88 Acres definitely produces its fair share of plastic waste.

88 Acres Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Seed Bar wrappers

Most of our trash is food packaging we can’t use, raw ingredient packaging, and all the PPE (personal protective equipment) our Bakery team wears while making our snacks. This includes masks, gloves, hairnets, earplugs, and plastic aprons. Until now, all of these items were thrown away and sent to landfills or burned for energy. But as of November 2020, we are thrilled to finally be partnering with TerraCycle to recycle all of this former trash.

TerraCycle works in 21 countries to reduce and reuse waste of all kinds by creating products with items that are difficult to recycle, like our metallized seed bar wrappers or our Bakery team’s gloves. We decided to partner with TerraCycle because of their expertise and leadership in the recycling world and because we both share a commitment to sustainability, innovation, and transparency.

The Tricks of the Trade

It might sound simple for us to start recycling items we used to just throw away, but this effort required a lot of operational changes and added costs to our production team. While it’s not nearly as easy as recycling at home, we felt it was a necessary step toward reducing our environmental impact. To find out what it actually takes to implement a recycling program at our Bakery, we asked our Director of Operations, Agathe, who says “It was a lot trickier than people might think.”

The first challenge was to find locations for the new recycling bins. “The production line moves really fast, wrapping 150 bars per minute, so the team does not have time to separate their gloves from other trash if their glove gets a hole while wrapping bars. We don’t want to slow down the team because we have worked really hard to make the team as fast and efficient as possible,” Agathe says.

88 Acres Cinnamon & Oats Seed Bar Thin wrappers

Another component that Agathe and the team didn’t anticipate was increased sanitation measures. “We had to figure out where to place the new recycling bins so they were close to the production lines but not so close that they could contaminate our carefully produced food. Finding the proper location for the bins was critical to making sure we had high compliance to the program but zero chance of contaminating the food.”

88 Acres recycling bins

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the team education component. To implement a new way to dispose of trash means asking people to change their behavior, and behavior change can be really hard. “We took a lot of time training the entire team to make sure everyone was fully on board with what we wanted to achieve through our TerraCycle partnership. It was essential for us to get the team’s buy-in and input regarding ways to make the recycling program successful right out of the gate,” Agathe says.

88 Acres Cinnamon & Oats Seed Bar Thin wrappers

“There are also different languages spoken at the Bakery, so there need to be directions in English and Creole on each trash can about what goes in each bin. We also have signs for visitors and other businesses in our building to explain which bins to use for what type of trash,” she says. To make the different bins stand out even more, they painted them a different color for trash, packaging, and PPE.

PPE recycling bin

“It’s just not like doing it at home. The volume involved, the number of people, the environment, the regulations. It’s not that simple,” she says. But being a small and nimble team means we’re able to adapt and find solutions to problems quickly and efficiently. Implementing the recycling program now, while the team is still relatively small, will make it easier to implement as we grow.

Where it all Goes

Once our team collects enough trash, they load it all onto a pallet and ship it to TerraCycle’s facility in New Jersey where it is manually sorted into more specific types of packaging and PPE, to then be turned into upcycled products. All of our recycled packaging is processed into pellets or a type of dust, which is used to make decking and shipping pallets. The same thing happens to our hairnets. Our gloves are mostly ground or shredded into a powder to be used to make flooring.

After collecting and separating our waste for several weeks, our team estimates that we produce 30 pounds of PPE waste per week and 75 pounds of packaging waste per week, but there is a lot of variability from one week to the next and we will also inevitably produce more waste as we continue to grow. While partnering with TerraCycle to recycle that waste costs more money than sending it to a landfill, we have so far been able to reduce our trash waste to nearly zero and intend to cancel our dumpster contract in the first half of 2021 if we are able to maintain that progress as we grow.

A Huge Thanks to Our Customers

As we continue to grow and recycle even more materials with TerraCycle, we are also working to reduce our total waste by finding reusable PPE and becoming even more efficient with our packaging. The bottom line is that we would not have been able to implement this recycling program without the support of our customers. The added cost alone wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago, but as we’ve grown to meet the demand for people who want delicious, healthy, allergy-friendly snacks, we’ve also become more efficient and have cut our costs in other areas of production. It is because of our customers that this program is possible!

To learn more about recycling our packaging in your own home, visit our FAQ page and check online for your city’s rules on recycling.