People have been recycling things like plastic, glass, aluminum, and cardboard for decades now. But did you know that you can also recycle things like bottle caps, foil snack wrappers, markers, ink cartridges, coffee bags, crayons, razors, baby gear, and board games?

SHIPPED OUT: North Tahoe High School student Ashley Phillips prepares a shipping box of snack wrappers to be sent to TerraCycle. Courtesy photo

TerraCycle is a company that partners with corporations to facilitate the recycling of non-traditional items from dozens of popular brands like Bic pens, Arm & Hammer, OxiClean, Dunkin’ Donuts, Carter’s, Dial, Bimbo Bakeries, and Hasbro Toys, just to name a few. The company is on a mission to “eliminate the idea of waste,” and its website streamlines the options available for individuals to take advantage of these free recycling programs.

A handful of the programs have locations at which specific items can be dropped off in person. Bausch + Lomb, for example, collects daily use contact lens packaging — and even the lenses themselves — through its ONE by ONE recycling program, for which Truckee Family Eyecare is a drop-off point. (All brands of soft contact lenses are accepted, not just Bausch + Lomb.) Most of the other programs, however, are run through the mail. All the programs are free, and you can sign up for as many as you’d like. (Do note that some programs have limited participation numbers but many of those offer a waitlist.) All it takes to participate is to sign up at terracycle.com, collect items, print a free shipping label, and send them off on their way.

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If TerraCycle sounds familiar, perhaps you have a student in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. TTUSD has partnered with Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships in working with TerraCycle. SWEP’s Missy Mohler was inspired to partner with the local schools 13 years ago when her own daughter began asking her to buy Capri Sun juice pouches.

“How much cost is there to the environment for the convenience?” she wondered, soon realizing that when it came to trash, there was a notion among younger generations that “poof; it disappears.” There was no understanding of what happens to waste once it gets tossed in the garbage can. So, she set out to change that.

“Recycling is very confusing,” Mohler explained. “It’s ever-changing.”

She eventually connected with TerraCycle. Through grants obtained by SWEP, schools were outfitted with smart sorting bins, each of which contains four separate depositories for various items.

“Our goal is to recycle what can be recycled,” Mohler said, noting that the bins are customized to each school’s grade level.

Some schools may collect batteries and ink cartridges, while others may have drops for glue sticks and foil snack wrappers. TerraCycle often changes the items it’s collecting through this program, so the list of permissible items can vary from time to time.

SMART SORTING BINS, such as this one at Alder Creek Middle School, can be found throughout TTUSD. Photo by Juliana Demarest/Moonshine Ink

Recycling through TTUSD’s TerraCycle partnership is good for more than just the environment. Clients of Tahoe Ability Program and Elevation Tahoe, nonprofits offering programs and services for developmentally disabled adults, work with SWEP to collect all of the items accumulated in the schools’ bins. SWEP covers the cost of fuel for volunteers who travel from school to school emptying the receptacles, sorting all the items, and finally shipping them off to TerraCycle.

In a time when climate change looms like a “dark, ominous cloud,” says Mohler, the joint endeavor between SWEP, TTUSD, and TerraCycle gives district students a hands-on way to make a difference in the environment.

“Action fosters hope, and right now, we need hope,” Mohler said.

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