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Taco Bell is working with upcycler TerraCycle to collect and recycle 8-million-plus hot sauce packets in the US starting with a pilot this year.

Rick Lingle, Senior Technical Editor

April 22, 2021

4 Min Read
Nationwide condiment packaging recycling program launching this year with TerraCycle is an industry first.Taco Bell

Taco Bell’s US customers who enjoy the chain’s Mexican-style products use a lot of hot sauce packets.

That’s a LOT, as in 8.2 billion yearly, which for decades have been discarded as waste after use. That’s going to change through a collaboration the quick-serve restaurant (QSR) chain has with TerraCycle, the company that makes the unrecyclable recyclable.

It’s the first QSR brand to partner with the upcycler to tackle recycling flexible film packets.

"In the food industry today, there is no widely available solution for recycling the flexible film packets that are so commonly used for condiments," says Liz Matthews, Taco Bell's global chief food innovation officer. "We're thrilled to leverage the expertise of TerraCycle to recycle our iconic sauce packet packaging in a way that's as bold and innovative as our menu."

Adds Tom Szaky TerraCycle CEO and Founder, “now more than ever, consumers don't want to sacrifice the planet no matter how delicious the meal. Together, Taco Bell and TerraCycle will push the quick service industry by finally finding a way to recycle this type of product. This effort takes us one step closer to keeping packets out of landfills and our mission of 'Eliminating the Idea of Waste.'"

Taco Bell TerraCycle Packet Recycling

Taco Bell is the first quick-serve restaurant (QSR) brand to partner with TerraCycle to tackle recycling of condiment flexible film packets.

Two managers with knowledge of the project who requested anonymity as “a Taco Bell spokesperson and a TerraCycle spokesperson” answered our questions that are presented as seven takeaways.

1. Packaging: Taco Bell’s hot sauce packets are made from a polyethylene (PE) and metallized aluminum structure. The hot sauce packets have a netweight of ~ 6 grams/0.2 ounce; Breakfast Salsa packets that will also be recycled are ~ 14 grams/0.5 ounce.

2. Scope and timing: Restaurant participation will be nationwide via a pilot program later this year.

Ed Note: There are a total of 7,275 Taco Bell US locations as of April 06, 2021.

3. Customer involvement: For the customer, participation will be easy and incorporate free shipping; details on collection methods will be outlined once the program launches.

4. What TerraCycle will do in two steps:

  • Once received, we will clean, melt, and remold the packaging so that can be used to make new recycled products. TerraCycle approaches each waste stream individually and customizes our process based on the packaging’s composition and the best way to deconstruct it for recycling. Building off our experience with flexible film, we have developed a recycling process for the packets that come to TerraCycle to ensure that they are sustainably processed and never see the landfill.

  • Some of the items that have been made using the recycled materials from TerraCycle include everything from picnic tables to athletic ground cover. Once collection starts, more details will be shared on what exactly those new products will be.

5. Measurement of success: For this pilot program launching later this year, Taco Bell will just be recycling hot sauce and breakfast salsa packets. The results will determine the most viable solutions moving forward, including potential program expansion or making it permanent if received positively by both customers and employees so that all customers can continue to participate.  If it is received positively by both customers and employees, then Taco Bell will determine whether to further expand the test. The chain's partnership with TerraCycle is an important step, but not the final step, in identifying viable solutions quickly and efficiently.

6. It fits Taco Bell’s sustainable efforts. The ability to recycle sauce packets is very important in achieving Taco Bell's goal of making all consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025 in restaurants across the globe. 

7. But for now…customers who may already be eager to recycle their sauce packets, there are steps they currently can take to leave a lighter footprint. Be sure to check the specific recycling and composting guidelines of your local municipality when disposing packaging, and if you don't use each packet from your Taco Bell order, save it for later to add some kick to other meals.

Ed Note: Saving unused packets may prove a wise investment because they were listing online for ridiculously high amounts recently.

About the Author(s)

Rick Lingle

Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday

Rick Lingle is Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday. He’s been a packaging media journalist since 1985 specializing in food, beverage and plastic markets. He has a chemistry degree from Clarke College and has worked in food industry R&D for Standard Brands/Nabisco and the R.T. French Co. Reach him at [email protected] or 630-481-1426.

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