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The global company promotes a circular economy and makes it easier to do the right thing for hard-to-recycle materials.

Suzanne Deffree

May 25, 2021

4 Min Read
TerraCycle logo
Image: TerraCycle

Suzanne Deffree

The manufacturing process produces $8 trillion of waste annually, resulting in millions of tons of undesirable materials littering once pristine beaches and resting in landfills. The leading contributors to this exorbitant amount of physical waste include excess processing and inventory, overproduction, and defects that produce unwanted material that is typically expensive and time-consuming to recycle.

Recognizing the current production rate of un-recyclables is unsustainable, especially in an industrial setting where waste can be harsh and even hazardous, TerraCycle, an environmental company, is fueling the circular economy movement on a global scale. TerraCycle collects waste that is difficult to recycle and remodels the material for an assortment of products — it has helped manufacturers across the world shift their mindset from viewing waste as disposable to proactively identifying new ways to repurpose the material for productive use.

To draw attention to the manufacturing industry’s need to adopt sustainable recycling practices, Informa Markets – Engineering, the organizer of Plastec, Automation Technology Expo (ATX), Design & Manufacturing (D&M), Pack, and Cannabis Packaging Summit, and publisher of PlasticsToday, will present Virtual Engineering Days, a three-day digital conference and exhibition bringing best-in-class education and supplier sourcing directly to the design, engineering, and manufacturing communities.

Taking place June 15 through 17, the virtual event will provide a unique meeting opportunity for the global advanced manufacturing community and features a digital expo floor showcasing many industry-leading companies driving the future of sustainable manufacturing. The conference will have more than 30 sessions across three days that dive into key issues and trends affecting today’s engineers, including sustainable manufacturing practices, 3D printing, smart manufacturing, packaging, plastics and materials, and career development.


Dr. Ernel "Ernie" Simpson

Dr. Ernel "Ernie" Simpson, TerraCycle’s lead scientist, will take the stage at the three-day online event as a keynote speaker addressing the integration of design and manufacturing for a sustainable future. With Virtual Engineering Days quickly approaching, I spoke with Dr. Simpson, who shared a sneak preview of his keynote.

TerraCycle is an industry leader in providing sustainable solutions and zero waste consulting for manufacturing facilities to help drive sustainable action at the facility level. Could you walk us through how TerraCycle is eliminating the idea of waste, to quote your company’s slogan? 

Simpson: TerraCycle does not accept the idea of waste. All materials are considered waste and can be separated and characterized. After characterization, we develop the necessary processing methods to convert each item into usable feedstock. Other industries then use the feedstocks to create new items. The entire process drives the circular economy, and none of the materials will go to landfills or waste-to-energy conversion. If we exhaust all our processing capabilities and do not get to an ‘elegant solution,’ we may do waste to energy, but rarely.

What are the primary challenges manufacturers face concerning recycling, and what opportunities exist to improve sustainable measures?

Simpson: The primary challenge manufacturers face is the ability to generate recycled materials that are comparable to virgin materials. This would require the recycled materials to be available at a cost/performance point that would be positive and drive the circular economy.

What sustainable trends are at the forefront, and how is TerraCycle helping set these standards?  

Simpson: Because the thermo-mechanical processes have some shortcomings in producing the clean separation of multi-layer constructed materials, the industry moves to chemical recycling to get better separation and cleaner materials. We at TerraCycle are looking at a solvent-based recycling process that would separate and clean complex laminates. We are trying to do this process at a cost that will not be prohibitive.

You are a keynote speaker at the upcoming Virtual Engineering Days addressing, “Designing for Sustainable Manufacturing.” What do you hope attendees take away from your keynote address? 

Simpson: I think there should be total communication between designers, material specialists, and manufacturers. Design should be functional, and always mindful of the limits on materials. We know that aesthetics are important for designs, but we should forever strive to reduce the number of different materials used for manufacturing. Fewer materials will ensure a higher probability of being recycled.

What excites you most about connecting with your community at the upcoming virtual event? 

Simpson: The chance to see and hear from the community about the new approaches being done or being considered. 

Register here and access Simpson’s keynote address, exhibitor profiles, exclusive networking opportunities, and technical sessions that matter to you.

To schedule a meeting with TerraCycle at Virtual Engineering Days, please register for the online event and reach out to Dr. Simpson at [email protected].


About the author

Suzanne Deffree is Group Event Director, Virtual Engineering Days.

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