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Taco Bell and TerraCycle Make Recycling Saucier

Their expanded recycling program for single-serving condiments targets rigid packs as well as flexible packaging.

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1, Freelance Writer

April 30, 2024

3 Min Read
Taco Bell expands recycling program with TerraCycle
Taco Bell

At a Glance

  • Free program now accepts sauce cups, souffle cups/lids, and creamer pods, in addition to hot-sauce packets.
  • Participants collect packaging waste and ship it to TerraCycle for recycling.
  • Recycled waste is made into plastic pellets for molding into new products.

Hard-to-recycle foodservice packaging is getting a boost from Taco Bell, which has expanded its mail-in recycling program for sauce packets. The newly renamed Taco Bell Sauce Container US Recycling Program is a joint project of TerraCycle and the quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain.

On Earth Day 2024 — April 22 — Taco Bell announced that its TerraCycle program will now take not only sauce packets but also sauce dipping cups, souffle cups and lids, and coffee creamer pods. The items can be any brand, and participation is free.

The Taco Bell/TerraCycle program launched in 2021 and became brand-agnostic the following year. At the time of launch, Taco Bell estimated that 8.2 billion used hot-sauce packets from its restaurants were ending up in landfills each year.

Within the US alone, the company currently operates more than 7,000 restaurants and serves more than 42 million customers every week.

Alternative for unrecyclable packaging.

Sauce packets are typically made from multilayer films that may contain an aluminum or metallized layer. Rigid sauce cups and creamer pods are made from various plastics, including polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and multilayer structures.

The small size of the pouches, cups, and pods and the use of multilayer materials make the items impossible to recycle in conventional streams, including residential curbside recycling.

Related:Recycling Taco Bell’s Hot Sauce Packets: 7 Takeaways

Taco Bell’s program offers a recycling work-around, enabling participants to ship their collected packets and other items to TerraCycle. Here’s how it works:

  • Any individual, office, school, or community group can sign up online at the Taco Bell Sauce Container US Recycling Program page on TerraCycle’s website.

  • Participants collect empty sauce packets, souffle cups and lids, sauce dipping cups, and coffee creamer pods in any self-provided, recyclable paperboard box.

  • When the box is full, they login to their TerraCycle account to download and print a free UPS shipping label and then ship the labeled package to TerraCycle for recycling.


After receiving the shipment, TerraCycle separates the waste by material type and cleans it. The materials are then melted into hard plastic pellets that can be remolded into new products, such as picnic tables.

Both Taco Bell and TerraCycle offer incentives for participating in the recycling program. Consumers can earn TerraCycle Recycling Rewards points by collecting the sauce packets and other waste items and sending them to TerraCycle. The points can then be converted to cash and donated to nonprofits, schools, and charities like the Taco Bell Foundation, which focuses on education.

In addition, Taco Bell Rewards members who send in their empty sauce packaging can earn 80 bonus reward points (one time only) throughout May 2024. Rewards in this program include free food and exclusive offers, such as early access to new food.

PP and paper packaging is in, PFAS and BPA is out.

The TerraCycle program is just one of Taco Bell’s sustainable-packaging efforts. The chain has also switched from polystyrene foam to PP for side-dish containers, and it uses paper bags made from 100% recyclable, sustainably sourced materials.

Looking toward 2025, Taco Bell intends to make all its consumer packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable and to eliminate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), phthalates, and bisphenol-A (BPA) from packaging materials. It also intends to add recycling and/or compositing bins at all restaurants, infrastructure permitting.

About the Author(s)

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1

Freelance Writer

Kate Bertrand Connolly has been covering innovations, trends, and technologies in packaging, branding, and business since 1981.

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