Terracycle: Greenwashers All the Way Down

When “eco-capitalists” get involved, the level of dishonesty inherent in capitalism goes up. Facts not mentioned in ordinary corporate operations turn into active, heavily researched tricks and deceptions.

Consider Terracycle, the scam being run by college drop-out Tom Szaky.

Terracyle claims to be an “upcycler,” purportedly taking used products and packages and making them into supposedly “green” new products.

Of course, though you’d never know it from the fawning coverage it receives in the capitalist press, the operation doesn’t withstand the slightest scrutiny, even from the outside.

Consider the product by which Terracycle got itself off the ground — garden fertilizer sold in re-used soda bottles. The obvious two questions about this stuff? First, what happens to the empty bottles after the fertilizer is gone? Second, given that Terracycle is a “partner” with both Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay/Pepsi, isn’t Terracycle actually yet another device for pre-empting bottle bills, to say nothing of its role in preventing people from questioning the explosion of plastic drink packaging in the first place?

Meanwhile, consider the degree of green-ness of this:

terrapackage

What is that? It’s a pair of supposedly portable speakers for computers and mp3 players.  When used, they look like this:

terracyclespeakers

Again, rather obvious questions arise:

First of all, precisely what does the product’s main eco-promise — “made with up to 80% recycled materials” — actually mean?  This piece of marketing double-talk combines both the “made with” and the “up to” escape clauses that are so familiar from mainstream corporate marketing efforts.  “Made with” is not the same as “made entirely from,” though it takes active thinking to catch the distinction.  Meanwhile, if you, dear reader, would be so kind as to post a reply to this very blog post, I will gladly send you up to a million dollars as a thank you gift.

Second, take another look at the packaging of these so-called speakers (which Terracycle telling markets not as electronics equipment but as toys for kids).  How “up to” green is this particular offering, if one counts the plastic box and cardboard casing in which it comes?  Why does Terracycle omit the packaging from its internet depictions of the product?

Finally, notice how Terracycle “upcycles” the junk food wrappers it solicits from it targeted victims.  Why does Terracycle use the wrappers as decorative coverings for its products, rather than pulverizing and blending them into their structures?  Doing the latter would certainly be greener, as it would require no primping and gluing of the wrappers.  Could the real reason, perchance, be that Terracycle’s corporate junk-food partners see the former move as a clever new way of deepening brand loyalty while also implying their products are green?

And notice, too, that Terracycle’s main targets are school children.  “Szaky says more than 60% of all American schools are collecting garbage with TerraCycle.”  Again, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the connection between that, the supposed “upcycling” of wrappers onto the faces of Terracycle products, Terracycle’s list of corporate partners, and its true purpose and business model.

The actual rank of environmental concern in that model can be judged by reading the Wikipedia entry on Mr. Szaky.  From that, does he sound to you like a worried ecologist or just another cash-seeking con man?

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luckychrmJohnny LoboMichael DawsonAlbe ZakesMartin Recent comment authors

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Dave
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Dave

Looking at those speakers makes me hungry for some M&Ms.

Michael Dawson
Guest

Yeah, and just wait til you hear the slammin’ jingles they crank out.

Martin
Guest
Martin

Oh, this idiot probably will be featured speaker at Bioneers 2015 with Amory Lovins and most likely a Ted Talk in his near future also – what a goober.
Have you seen that there are two mass-market “Branding” books out this month, reviewed by the Boston Globe, by Kent Greenfield and Martin Lindstrom, the latter a marketing dude? Looks like TCT has the finger on the pulse – sorry, after a quick look at the Lindstrom vita, I’m out.

Albe Zakes
Guest

Thanks for your comments and concerns about TerraCycle, we appreciate all feedback, positive or negative. We know we are not perfect, but your article is full of inaccuracies and opinions passed off as fact. If you are truly the consumer advocate you claim to be, I trust you will publish my clarifications. – Can’t pass outside scrutiny you claim? We have had independent audits done by a variety of non-profits, NGOs and government groups such as zerofootprint.ca, the EPA, the DEP and many other confirming the sustainability of our products and programs. Countless lifecycle analyses show our products having anywhere… Read more »

Martin
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Martin

What bilge from this corporate stooge. Where is the shame? To trumpet how much this corporation pays out in greenwashing guilt-avoiding donations, as if it exists purely to donate money and save the poor of Trenton, is offensive show-boating. The speakers look like crap, and the last thing we need is more corporate advertising polluting the visual environment. And leave the goddam curriculum to the teachers – get your ridiculous “non-brand” branding curriculum out of America’s public schools, now – the “positive” comments you get from the poor lowly teachers is because you are taking advantage of them and their… Read more »

Albe Zakes
Guest

Thanks, Michael, for your thoughtful response. I appreciate, respect and would defend your right to make these criticisms. I do wish you’d made an attempt to contact us or discuss these issues with us as we are very open about our business model and access to our team and facilities. None the less, you raise great points: – Though it was not this way a few years ago today 90% of the material TerraCycle processes goes into the utilitarian applications I mentioned in my previous comment (plastic lumber, railroad ties etc), so yes actually these companies are currently working with… Read more »

Albe Zakes
Guest

Thanks, Michael. I am honored and pleased to be your dissensual comrade and will be checking in our your site often.

Martin
Guest
Martin

Okay, fair enough rejoinder, not that I buy most of it, not the donating part, not the curriculum part, not the corporate profit system exemplified by Terracycle, but you seem like you have some decent intentions and are caught up in matters you really don’t understand – so good luck trying to work within the system.

Johnny Lobo
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Johnny Lobo

it also seems they have been writing their own wikipedia pages, which is in principle prohibited:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:TerraCycle

This promotion article

http://www.maala.org.il/warehouse/userUploadFiles/File/events/pdf/Tom%20Szaky%20Bio%202011%20Update.pdf

has in part te exact same words as

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Szaky

Johnny Lobo
Guest
Johnny Lobo

You might find this interesting (download it, terracycle might take it offline after they read this comment): http://www.maala.org.il/warehouse/userUploadFiles/File/events/pdf/TerraCycle%20-%20Brigades%209.1.pdf Check especially: slide 9 “Proprietary data on collection organizations” slide 26 and 44. It’s a presentation directed at companies interested in partnering with terracycle to collect their waste. It puts a strong focus on the marketing vallue of consumers no longer regarding their packaging as waste, thus consuming more (as a result of reduced guilt)… It is also mentioned that reused branded packaging equals milions of dollars worth in advertising space. Where as terracycle publicly states to be collecting waste because it… Read more »

luckychrm
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luckychrm

I’m considering signing up with Terracycle in our local community because we live in a remote rural area with less-than-progressive recycling options. Many recyclable things are going into the garbage (chip bags, dairy tubs, and the like) because there is no local way to recycle them.

If Terracycle is a problematic solution for our needs, who can recommend a better one?