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Upcycle It! Turning Trash into Cash

Sustainable Westford’s Upcycle It! program is taking trash to new heights and Westford schools are cashing in.

Upcycle It! collects non-recyclables such as chip bags, granola bar wrappers, cookie wrappers and more to keep them out of the waste stream. These items are sent to a company called TerraCycle. These items are then upcycled into new products.

TerraCycle collects 36 different ‘brigade’ items (types of waste) including chip bags, energy bar wrappers, candy wrappers, coffee bags, dried out pens and yogurt containers and upcycles them into eco-friendly products. The awesome thing is that all of the items are non-recyclable or hard to recycle. Now you are thinking, “Wow, that’s cool. But how do they get this stuff. Are they going through landfills?” Lucky for them, no. Any group or individual can sign up to collect and send items to TerraCycle. The shipping is free and 2 cents per item is donated to the school or charity of your choice. TerraCycle then takes the trash and makes backpacks, tote bags, and flower pots just to name a few of their 243 products. Sustainable Westford donates this money back to the Westford Public Schools.

I had wanted to start a TerraCycle program for a few years. Finally last winter, I signed up, joined a few brigades and started asking friends and others in town to collect these items with me. In April, I approached Gloria Gilbert, Westford Farmers Market founder, with the idea of putting a collection bucket at the market to make it more convenient. Little did I know, the group had recently expanded their mission to bring more “green” programs to the community, calling themselves Sustainable Westford. That conversation was the beginning of Upcycle It! Through the spring and summer, Upcycle It! spread through the town. Each week at the Farmers Market the Upcycle It! tent collected bags and bags of items. This past fall, collections began at most of the Westford schools – the 60+ buckets decorated by Westford Farmers Market volunteers are shown above. Students save items in the cafeterias and classrooms, and many others drop off items at the library, Roudenbush and Starbucks.

Since the program began in May, $1010.42 has been raised, over 50,000 pieces of trash totalling almost 590 lbs have been saved from the waste stream.

What to Collect

To participate, you simply need to save the items we collect and drop them off at one of the many convenient locations throughout Westford. Although TerraCycle collects 36 items, Upcycle It! only accepts the following:

  1. Drink Pouches: ANY brand of drink pouch (no juice boxes) and its straw (no juice) – place in separate bag
  2. Elmer’s Glue: Glue bottle, glue stick or glue pen
  3. Energy Bars Wrappers: ANY brand of energy, granola, cereal or protein bar wrappers
  4. Chip Bags: ANY chip/snack bag (any size)
  5. Cookie Wrappers: ANY brand of cookie wrappers (no plastic trays)
  6. Candy Wrappers: ANY brand of candy wrappers or bag (any size)
  7. Colgate Oral Care: ANY brand toothbrush, plastic toothpaste tubes, and packaging (no cardboard)
  8. Coffee Bags: ANY brand of coffee bag As of July 2011, coffee bags are no longer accepted
  9. Writing Instruments: ANY kind of pen, mechanical pencil or marker (no wooden pencils)

We can only accept wrappers and packaging that once held one of these items. So it matters more what was in the bag or wrapper than the type of material it is made out of. Think this way – if you can buy it in the “Chip” aisle of the grocery store, it’s considered a chip bag. So popcorn, pretzels, tortilla chips, etc… are all chips. Same logic can be applied to Candy, Cookies, and Energy Bars. The other brigades are little more self explanatory.

Quiz for you: Using the information above, would a ramen noodle package or a package that contained croutons be accepted?

Answer – No. Neither of these items are considered a chip, candy, cookie, or any of the brigade categories. Other common misconceptions are Crystal Light packages, frozen food bags and nuts. TerraCycle has corporate sponsors who pay 2 cents per item and for shipping. So, for example, Mars sponsors the Candy Wrappers. Mars is willing to pay for ANY brand of candy wrapper since that is their industry, but they won’t pay for a frozen food bag or cheese wrapper.

We appreciate your support in making this program so strong. Our volunteers must sort through all of the items by hand separating them into the categories we collect. Familiarizing yourself with the do’s and don’t really helps. And yes, that’s me in the picture sorting in my garage!

Drop Off Locations
Sustainable Westford has drop off locations at the following:

Westford Farmers Market
Westford Starbucks
J.V. Fletcher Library
Roudenbush Community Center – Main St.
Nabnasset, Abbot, and Miller Elementary – for parents only

If you are participating in Upcycle It! currently, THANK YOU! It is so satifying seeing something so near to my heart succeed. The overwhelming support from Westford residents, students, parents, Girl Scout troops, teachers, and businesses has been amazing. Let’s keep it going!

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Pieces of Trash Saved: 5832, Dollars Raised: $116.64, Life Lesson Made Easy: Priceless

We’ve all heard the phrase “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”, right? Well, how about “Upcycle”? A company in Trenton, NJ called Terracycle is taking trash to new heights – upcycling!

Terracycle collects 27 different ‘brigade’ items including chip bags, energy bar wrappers, candy wrappers, coffee bags, dried out pens, and yogurt containers and upcycles them into eco-friendly products. The awesome thing is that all of the items they collect are non-recyclable – there are no curbside recycling programs for them – or hard to recycle – only certain municipalities provide the capability to recycle things like yogurt containers which are typically made from #5 plastic. Now you are thinking, “Wow, that’s cool. But how do they get the stuff. Are they going through landfills?” Luckily for them, no. Any group or individual can sign up to collect and send items to TerraCycle. The shipping is free and 2 cents per item is donated to the school or charity of your choice. Terracycle then takes the ‘trash’ and makes backpacks, tote bags, and flower pots just to name a few of their 166 products.

Schools and non-profits across the US, Canada and the UK are signed up. As of this writing, Terracycle has over 10 million people collecting trash and has given over $1 million to their non-profits.
And the numbers keep growing. Since I joined TerraCycle in March of this year, I have seen their facebook fan page grow from a little over 2000 fans in March to close to 9000. The numbers increase daily! They have opened 2 new brigades in that timeframe as well – Starbucks Coffee Bag and the Home Storage Brigade (in conjunction with Ziploc).

I started my collection brigade on March 20, 2010. I started just as one person. I sent out an email to friends and family asking if they wanted to help me. I started getting such positive feedback so I kept going. I spoke to my daughters’ girl scout troops. The girls loved the idea and soon, several were sending bags of trash into school for my children to bring home to me. Moms would hand me bags before our meetings. I wanted to expand my collections and make it easier for people to get the items to me, rather than tracking me down around town. We are fortunate to have a farmers market during the summer and fall. I emailed the founder asking if I could have a collection bin there. Well, she loved the idea! Turns out that this group had recently expanded their mission calling themselves Sustainable Westford. Their mission is to bring “green” programs to the community. Now, I am running our Upcycle It! program through them and have gotten so much support and press. People are talking about it all over town. It’s so exciting!

If your school or charity is looking for a fundraising idea or you just want to do more green, join Terracycle. It’s easy. I love the feeling I get out of NOT putting so many things into the trash. I also love that my children are learning these lessons young. They don’t see trash anymore. Separating where things go when we are done with them is just part of what they do. They don’t think about it. That’s where the real benefit is!

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