Monday, July 14, 2014


I want you all to take a close look at this. This is a bag of trash that I received in the Garden House the other day when I was sorting TerraCycle. Now, I want you all to know that I am typically not very squeamish about touching garbage. I will sort trash until the cows come home with my bare hands. But this, this bag begged for gloves. So gloves I donned.

While I tremendously appreciate people donating items for TerraCycle, this bag was not fully appreciated. I had to pick through used tissues, candy wrappers (a brigade we are not on), and so many other pieces of ACTUAL trash that I can't even remember what they were specifically.

The reason I am sharing this with you is that I want you to avoid this headache. I have brainstormed ways to encourage people to donate only items for the brigades that we are on, and the only thing I have come up with thus far is somehow having donation bins outside of your collection site that are designated by brigade so the donators themselves have to separate out their trash before turning it in to you.

Another idea that Dr. Garner had was that we have a sign-in sheet for people who drop off when we are not there, so that we can at least tell who is bringing which bags, and can address any issues with the individual person as needed.

Any other thoughts on this?

Snack Bags

Alright, so today I want to tell you all about the frustration that comes in the form of packaging the Snack Bag brigade up for TerraCycle, so that you can all avoid the horror and instead focus your energy on being as sustainable as possible!

Okay, so I have mentioned before that many brigades have weight limits for the shipment you send in, and we found out the hard way that if your shipments do not meet this designated weight requirement, you do not get points for your order. For most of the brigades, this is a manageable weight limit. For example, 10 pounds of personal care products or 35 pounds of shoes are not that difficult to package. Snack bags, however, need to weigh 14 pounds in order for you to get points for that shipment. Let me tell you approximately how many snack bags that is. Wait for it. It's like 2500 snack bags. I'm not even kidding you. Imagine 2500 bags of chips. That's intense.

Moving right along, there are two reasons why this is a difficult brigade to package. For one, I have yet to find a box that comfortably fits 14 pounds of snack bags. You will need huge boxes for this. I'm not talking copier paper box size, or even a box that you could fit your whole body in. I'm talking, you could take your best friend into this box for a picnic-size. Like a refrigerator box. If you find some of these boxes, hold onto them, and don't package any brigades into them except snack bags. I have literally had to tape a box shut and un-tape it for just a minute while I stand in it to smush the snack bags down and shove a few more in. This is absurd. I will try to take a picture of it for you.

The other reason this is tricky is because if you can't find a gigantic box to shove thousands of snack bags into, you must take all of the snack bags that are donated to your site, find something heavy enough to press them with, and several hours when they are flat enough, tuck them neatly into a box. This is time-consuming and tedious. My predecessor in this project chose this route, and I would often visit her in the Garden House and find her throwing snack bags in the air yelling "This is what my life is right now!!" It's just not a pleasant experience, and I want you all to be saved from this hair-pulling experience. I love TerraCycle, and I want this process to be smooth for all of us, which means sharing these gritty experiences with you all.

Check back soon for my next trashy post!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Receiving and Shipping TerraCycle

So today I want to talk about receiving and shipping TerraCycle items. The first day I came to the Garden House, there were three rained-on, dirty grocery bags sitting outside on the front step. We keep the Garden House locked, but during the school year we have a student worker who goes around campus with her green TerraCycle wagon to pick up items from the dorms. This service is not available in the summer, hence the trash-and-drop surprise I found. This trash was good trash, trash that could be sent to TerraCycle for points, however it was not something I wanted to touch, let alone bring into the Garden House. Which brings me to my first point: Have an unlocked drop-off area for students to bring their trash.

 Luckily, we have a shed right next to the Garden House that can house these items, we just needed to make specific signs directing students to this location. When you introduce TerraCycle to your campus, make sure you acknowledge appropriate and inappropriate places to drop off items. This will save you a lot of hassle and a big mess for when students want to TerraCycle in inclement weather. Here is a picture of it!

Now that you have the items safely inside and can refer to yesterday’s post on sorting, you are ready to send your items to TerraCycle! The first thing that is important to note is that SOME BRIGADES HAVE WEIGHT MINIMUMS. I’m sorry, that had to be in capital letters. Too many times have we sent boxes to TerraCycle that did not weigh enough for their brigade requirements, and unfortunately we did not receive a single point for that box. Make sure you have boxes of all sizes because the snack bag brigade, for instance, needs to weigh at least 14 pounds per shipment. That may not seem like an incredible amount, but you would be shocked at how many snack bags that is as well as how big of a box you will need to fit them all. I was practically laying my body on the box to be able to seal it shut today, and it was a huge box. Lots of snack bags. Okay, let’s move on.

You may need to set up some sort of shipping/transportation system. What I mean by this is that we have a location on campus that will ship our TerraCycle boxes. However, it is about a half mile from the Garden House, which is certainly not walking distance if you are trying to carry the amount of heavy boxes that we accumulate to ship. Luckily, we had a faculty volunteer, Dr. Baker, who was willing to let us use his truck space to drive the boxes to our shipping building. This will be important for you to procure before you begin packing your boxes up. It makes the room much more cluttered to have giant boxes sitting around that could be well on their way to the post office, if only you had a way to transport them.

Well, those have been my main challenges so far that I do not want you to struggle with! I will keep you updated as my sorting days carry on here.

Starting TerraCycle

If you are interested in starting the TerraCycle program at your school, it is a worthwhile and meaningful yet intense process. It seems simple: collect trash, ship trash, receive money. Essentially that is the gist of the project, but my experience working through the process has shown that challenges can pop up along the way. The point of this blog is to address these issues as they arise, to make the TerraCycle program a seamless process for you!

I walked into our Garden House last week to piles upon piles of trash. Well, to me it was gold, because I knew it was all eventually going toward providing a surgery through SmileTrain. But needless to say, it was trash that needed organizing. Luckily my Type A personality, which has a tendency to make my head spin with the need for perfection, kicked in in the best sort of way and I got to the task. Today I’m going to talk to you about setting up your TerraCycle location to be the most effective.

First things first, the Garden House is basically an apartment that sits behind Millersville’s Civic and Community Engagement and Research Project (or CCERP) building. When Dr. Garner and I found it, it was an empty ranch-style shack that had been nicknamed “the Chicken Coop.” No one was using it, and we saw the potential for a usable building to house the Center for Sustainability. If you are choosing to implement the TerraCycle program, it is essential that you have a building set aside for it. There are four rooms in the Garden House, and we use every single one of them for TerraCycle items (honestly, we could probable fill a warehouse). There is simply no way, if done properly, that TerraCycle can be done entirely in a single room.

The way I found our Garden House was as follows: two rooms for the bags and boxes of items that people drop off, one room for sorting, and one for miscellaneous items. The two “storage” rooms had very little rhyme or reason to them, and this is something I recommend you set up a system for before you begin accepting materials. Most of our TerraCycle items are sent in by different dorms, so when we count and sort the items, we keep a record of the number of items by dorm. The way our house is set up is not entirely conducive to separating each dorm’s items, so it would definitely be helpful to make distinctly designated areas where each dorm’s (or however you choose to organize it) items can go.

The third room, the sorting room, is where I spend most of my time. In this room, there is a box for each brigade that we are signed up for. These boxes stay in this room. When they get full, I dump them into a shippable box (one that is the right size and will stayed taped shut) and eventually seal it and mail it. I will get into the mailing process tomorrow. Anyway, for me, it made the most sense to take one bag or box from the storage rooms into the sorting room so that I could count each item, make sure it goes into the right brigade box, and then slowly chip away at the mountain of trash. This has worked extremely well for me.

The miscellaneous room is where we keep items that cannot be sent to TerraCycle but may still have somewhere sustainable to go (i.e. aerosol cans cannot be sent to TC, but we have a place that recycles them). We also keep items like our gloves (some of the trash isn’t worth touching with bare hands) and extra boxes.

Read tomorrow’s blog post for information on receiving and shipping items!