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Upcycling is the process of turning waste products into new products of equal or better quality. For example, wooden shipping pallets are sometimes upcycled into furniture. There are countless guides for upcycling projects online, but there are also companies that have established programs for upcycling products that would otherwise be trash. Read on to learn more about potential upcycling opportunities at your school. Find ideas for upcycling projects on the Recycling Resources page.


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TerraCycle is a company that works to eliminate the idea of waste through upcycling. They do this by creating national recycling systems for previously non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle waste. Anyone can sign up for these programs, called Brigades, and start sending waste. TerraCycle converts (i.e., upcycles) the collected waste into a wide variety of useful products and materials, such as backpacks and pencil cases. With more than 20 million people collecting waste in over 20 countries, TerraCycle has diverted billions of units of waste and used them to create over 1,500 different products available at major retailers ranging from Wal-Mart to Whole Foods Market. The company’s goal is to eliminate the idea of waste by creating collection and solution systems for anything that currently is considered trash.
Please note that some TerraCycle Brigades require a fee for participation while others are free of charge.


Step 1: Sign up for an account

To sign up for an account go to the TerraCycle website:

    • Click the green “Sign up” button on the upper right-hand corner of the webpage. 

    • Enter your personal information on the resulting webpage and click the “Submit” button. 

    • Once your account is created you must complete your user profile. 

      Click the link within the red box labeled “Step 1: Personal Information” to do this.

    • To sign in with an existing account, go to the TerraCycle website:

      Click the “Sign in” link in the upper right-hand corner, enter your Username and Password, and click Submit.

Step 2: Join a Brigade

Once your user profile is complete you can enroll in what are called Brigades.  Each Brigade offers collection of previously non-recyclable or hard to recycle waste.  Some Brigades have a cost, but most offer free shipping as well as a donation for each box of waste you collect.  You can also use the Terracycle Collections Cheat Sheet to see at-a-glance information on the shipment requirements, TerraCycle point donation rates, and accepted waste for each Brigade.

For information on specific Brigades and to sign up, click the “Send Your Waste” tab near the top of the My Account Page that appears upon signing in.  From the drop-down menu select “Collection Programs” and you will be taken to a catalogue of all the different Brigades.  Click the links to learn more about each.

If you are ready to sign up for a Brigade, click the black “Join Now” button in the upper right-hand corner of the Brigade-specific information page.

Some of the more popular Brigades fill their spots.  You may have to wait for additional spots to open.  Some Brigades also have drop-off locations where you can drop off that kind of item.

Step 3: Collect and Ship Waste for your Terracycle Brigade

Once you are enrolled in a Brigade, you can use a container to collect the waste for your Brigade.  Follow the guidelines on your Brigade’s informational page for any specific collection requirements.  You can ship these items to TerraCycle and earn points based on the quantities you send.
Some Brigades have minimum shipping requirements to be eligible for earning points.  For example, Drink Pouch Brigade shipments must contain at least 1,001 pouches (or roughly 13 pounds) to be eligible for points credited to your account.  This information can be found on the Brigade-specific information page.
Be sure to also look at the Brigade-specific information page for a list of acceptable waste.  For example, accepted waste for the Drink Pouch Brigade is all aluminum and plastic drink pouches. 




    • Read the Brigade-specific information page carefully to ensure you follow all packaging requirements for shipping your waste.  For example, for drink pouches you must seal them in trash bags or some other type of waterproof liner to ensure there is no leakage, as UPS will not accept dripping packages.

    • Once your waste is properly packaged, download and print the pre-paid UPS label from the TerraCycle website and affix it to the package using packaging tape.

    • There are also links to Frequently Asked Questions on the Brigade-specific information pages.  As an example, the FAQs for the Drink Pouch Brigade can be viewed here.


A table on the My Account Page shows the number of items collected, total points earned, and their equivalent cash value for each Brigade in which you’re enrolled.  It also shows your total points earned across all Brigades, total points redeemed up to present, and your current points balance. 


    • This table is located in the left-hand column directly beneath the black “Redeem” button. 


Step 4: Redeem Your Terracycle Points

To redeem Terracycle points, log in to the TerraCycle website using the instructions above. 

    • Click the black “Redeem” button in the left-hand column, directly beneath the table labeled “Current Points Balance.” 

    • From the resulting page you can select to redeem points in two ways. 

      • One way goes toward charitable gifts provided by TerraCycle’s charity partners.  For example, by redeeming just six points you can provide one week’s supply of clean drinking water to someone in need.

      • The other way goes toward a cash donation to a charity of your choice.  You can designate your school as a charity of choice, if desired.

        • To manage your charities, from the My Account Page click the green “Profile” tab (the last one on the right of the row of tabs).

        • Click the green “Manage Charities” link (under the “Edit your profile” link).

        • From the resulting page you can add or remove a charity. 

    • There is a minimum of 1,000 points or $10 needed for a cash donation.  Cash donations are mailed directly to the charity, twice a year in June and December.  All cash donations requested between May 1st and October 31st will be disbursed in December.  All cash donations requested between November 1st and April 30th will be disbursed in June.


Collecting Terracycle Waste in Your School

The most high-volume collection area for TerraCycle waste is your cafeteria.  There are a number of systems you can put in place to make it as easy as possible for students to sort their waste so it ends up going to the right place.  Pictured below is an example of such a system at Centreville ES.  Pictured on the left is the recycling/upcycling tub carried around by students to their fellow classmates at the end of their lunch period when they are instructed to start cleaning up.  These student collectors either volunteer or are assigned by their teacher.  Sorting is made easy by gluing an example of the type of waste to be placed in each of the black buckets (made from old planting pots).  All other recyclables go into the plastic-lined main area of the tub.  This plastic lining helps keep the tub relatively clean between regular cleanings every Friday.  Pictured on the right are the large labeled recycling/upcycling bins into which the student volunteers empty the waste once they are done collecting from their classmates.  The black upcycling containers are detachable from the tubs (utilizing clips) for ease of dumping into their respective containers.


Black Cylinder and Green Rectangular Upcycling Containers with plastic bags

This is just one example, and such systems can be tailored to the specific needs of your cafeteria.

Many teachers also choose to establish TerraCycle collection systems in their classrooms.  These can be adapted from the example above on a smaller scale and are a great way to continue upcycling efforts during the rest of the school day.