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:


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


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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