Terracycle upcycles waste and recycles corporate branding

Terracycle Caprisun Lunchbox

Terracycle upcycles consumer waste into new salable goods. They primarily harvest their raw material from schoolchildren as part of charity drives, though they are now placing recycling stations at certain Walmart stores. At the Walmart centers they pay 3 cents per piece, but only for a narrow range of product packaging; the website supports a wider range of recyclables.

The spirit of the project is wonderful, but the problem is that it creates zombie advertising and branding for these undead consumer objects. Which is actually not all that surprising, as the Walmart program is sponsored by the very brands whose packaging are featured in the upcycled goods.

Terracycle is sponsored by big box retailers

Now you can send your children to school with Capri Sun drinks, Lunchables, and Oreos in their Capri Sun lunchbox, and feel really good about returning the packages to Walmart, where you can buy more of the same processed food to send your child to school with. Capri Sun, Lunchables, Oreos, et al certainly feel really good about the branding opportunity, as do the big box retailers who are are partnered in the program as well.

Despite my cynicism about sponsorship and branding, the program is pretty incredible in the interpersonal organization that it has created, and the logistical barriers that it has overcome. The mechanism that it has put in place can hopefully be used to produce tools or goods whose central purpose is not advertising and branding. It seems that some of the products they are making either come from unbranded raw materials like film strips and bike chains, or they are using the plain inside surface of the packaging. These are more like Freitag bags. Not only are this last group of upcycled goods unbranded, they are actually much nicer looking and much more likely to be actually used.

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