Karen Neder wants your squeezed-out toothpaste tubes, your used-up glue sticks, and your old water filters. By pick-up, drive-by or drop off, she’ll take it all.
Neder, of Rock Island, has been collecting what most would consider to be garbage from the bathroom, office and kitchen, and turning it into cash to support Blessed Beginnings Preschool at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1330 13th St., Moline. Neder says that with help from the Trinity Lutheran congregation, the collection efforts have raised more than $800 for the preschool and diverted 1,000 pounds of potential waste from landfills since 2014 .
The magic in Neder’s alchemy is TerraCycle, a company that collects, reuses, upcycles and recycles hard-to-recycle waste. Founded in 2001, the company’s website says it operates in more than 20 countries to recycle billions of pieces of waste through various means. The collected waste is transformed into sustainable consumer products and used in a variety of industrial applications, and the company is able to donate millions of dollars to schools and charities in the process.
Neder spent a recent evening explaining the process to folks who gathered at Trinity Lutheran Church. While TerraCycle may have been a new concept to the group, Neder’s earth-conscious message often was like preaching to the choir — the group mostly was comprised of University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners.
Neder also presents to Rotary clubs, church congregations and other groups. She says the mission of TerraCycle is to “eliminate the idea of waste.” To do so, you “join a brigade,” such as the Tom’s of Maine or Colgate campaigns. Then, you collect and sort the items, download a shipping label, stick the items in a box with the label and take it to UPS. TerraCycle covers the shipping, and points are earned based on the weight of the box. The points may then be traded in for cash — in her case, to support the preschool.
The brigades are a great way to “recycle some things that you can’t put into your city bins,” she says. Some of the most successful brigades have been Tom’s of Maine oral care, Colgate oral care, Malt-o-Meal cereal bag, Garnier personal care and beauty, and a snack-bag brigade, Neder says.
According to TerraCycle, the Garnier brigade has recycled more than 9 million items nationally, raising $181,303.
Brigades and company sponsorships change overtime. Neder keeps up with those changes and spreads the word to those who collect the items.
She sent the Master Gardeners home with bag and a list of collection items such as mouthwash, deodorant and toothpaste containers, and caps, pens, mechanical pencils, highlighters, plastic cereal packaging and more stapled to the front.
If no such campaign exists for a particular item, Neder says there are Zero Waste Box programs for items such as alkaline batteries, automotive parts, athletic balls and even action figures. A big box can cost more than $200, but Neder says her household invests in a box for flexible packaging, such as cereal packaging and other similar bags. She does not receive cash when she sends in the Zero Waste Box, but it keeps that trash out of landfills, and a large box will last the family an entire year.
Neder says she has items at her home and the church that are ready for sorting and sending. She says the church provides her space in a Sunday school room to store items, and a group will get together to help sort.