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Sanjida O'Connell

Dr Sanjida O'Connell is a writer and a TV presenter. Sanjida writes about science and green issues. Her latest novel, The Naked Name of Love, was published by John Murray in March. Her latest TV series was on BBC 2: Nature's Top 40, and was a guide to our top British wildlife spectacles. Find more details about Sanjida's work at her website, sanjida.co.uk

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Eco Chic: Turning trash into treasure

Posted by Sanjida O'Connell
  • Monday, 19 October 2009 at 08:53 am

In September the largest haul of Anglo-Saxon gold ever discovered in this country was dug up in Staffordshire. I suspect that future generations will not unearth anything quite so exciting; rather they will be deciphering our lifestyle from the motley collection of yoghurt pots and plastic packaging we routinely send to moulder in landfill.


Last month TerraCyle stepped in to try and alleviate some of this mess. The US company turns hard to recycle waste into stylish goods: in the UK they’ve just launched a new collection of totes, shoppers and planters made out of Kenco and Tassimo coffee packaging.  The idea is that we will collect and send in the packaging and be paid a handsome 2p per packet; Kraft, the company behind Kenco, will donate 2p to a UK charity and TerraCycle will transmogrify them into something useful.


In the states the company has collected 200 million pieces of packaging over the past three years and donated $250,000 to schools and other non-profit organisations. They don’t just stick to coffee but collect non-recyclable food wrappers, from crisp bags to cookie covers, which end up as rather cool backpacks, pencil cases and homework folders. Over a third of all US schools are involved in collecting this waste; TerraCycle pays all shipping costs and the packaging is converted in “environmentally responsible facilities” in Mexico and El Salvador. It doesn’t make sense for our waste to be shipped over there but the company is still looking for a factory in mainland Europe.


It’s a genius idea, a fantastic way for schools to generate income (though I’m not suggesting kids collect coffee packaging) and the CEO, college drop-out Tom Szaky, who is only 27, has just been named number one American CEO under the age of thirty by Inc. magazine. Somehow, in between all the charitable donations, the company has wracked up sales of $8 million last year. I’d describe TerraCycle’s products as geek chic – I’d like to see every school kid using them; I can imagine myself popping down to my local organic supermarket, ratcheting up street cred with my new coffee shopper - but I can’t quite see myself drinking cocktails in a bar sporting one on my arm. Still, VP Albe Zakes tells me they’ve been featured in Vogue and Glamour so perhaps I’m just not hip enough.