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New recycling trend: door-to-door pic-up service for special waste

Photo Credits: TerraCycle

In both Europe and the USA, door-to-door recycling is going smoothly. However, many types of waste are still generated in households that cannot be assigned to the usual recycling categories such as glass, paper, packaging or organic waste. To address this problem, new collection services are increasingly being launched, particularly in the USA, to collect hazardous waste from private households.

This includes plastic film, clamshells, polystyrene, batteries, light bulbs and textiles. The individual collection services take these collected to special companies that reuse or recycle the materials. Individual households pay a fee for the collection service, which usually takes place once or twice a month.

While drop-off or send-in programmes already exist for many of these items, the home collection concept focuses on consumer convenience.

“The idea was if we could make it easy for people by identifying ways to reuse and recycle things and then make it easy for people to bring those things to the organisations, more people would choose to do that,” said Caleb Weaver, vice president of public affairs at Seattle-based specialty recycling service Ridwell. “And of course, now that idea has grown.

CEO Ryan Metzger started Ridwell four years ago as a project with his young son to collect his and his neighbours’ discarded but still valuable items and take them to recyclers. Ridwell now works for six major cities, although the items accepted vary slightly depending on the recycling partners in each region. Generally, the items accepted fall into one of four main categories: Plastic film, textiles, batteries and light bulbs.

A similar company emerged on the East Coast when Rabbit Recycling launched in Philadelphia about two years ago. Co-founder Bryan Siegfried was looking for a practical solution for his community to recycle items they normally couldn’t, and to rethink the traditional recycling system. Rabbit accepts a variety of items, including snack wrappers, foam and rubber bands.

“Our business model is convenient and transparent, making it easy for people to move towards reducing waste,” says Zoe Fuhrman, project manager at Rabbit Recycling. Finding places to recycle items that are not normally accepted at the kerbside is too much for a single person to do unless they have a lot of time, and most people don’t.”

This home pick-up idea is not just for start-ups. For more than 15 years, TerraCycle has organised collection programmes for hard-to-recycle items like coffee capsules, cosmetics packaging and cigarette butts – most of them via drop-off or mail-in systems. In September, the company launched its first residential collection service, TerraCycle Home, in New Jersey and part of Pennsylvania.

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