TerraCycle Fairfield: Seven Bathtubs’ Worth of Plastic—and Counting!

In 2022, students at Fairfield High School began three new collection programs for recyclables.

Over the past four years, I have worked with Stuart Valentine and Sue Delost on TerraCycle Fairfield to reduce and recycle all possible waste in Fairfield, Iowa. We are always interested in areas where people are applying concepts in sustainability effectively. About a year ago, we heard about an organization in Fairfield that is a prime example of such concepts in action—Golden Magnolia Sanctuary.

Initially, I had learned that their Stone Soup Kitchen provides “pay-what-you-may” meals for the community using donated produce from local farms. On top of this, the restaurant composts food waste and a majority of the staff are volunteers. I volunteered for food prep last September, and I was amazed to see community members supporting each other while managing their environmental impact. Prior to this, I had never eaten a locally sourced meal that was both served by community volunteers and prepared, in part, by myself (I would highly recommend the experience).

Since then, Golden Magnolia has become one of 14 local partners of the TerraCycle Fairfield initiative. Thanks to these partners, and many of you readers, we have recycled around 2,400 pounds of beauty, health, and hygiene products, as well as snack bags. From toothbrushes and razors to shampoo bottles and lipstick tubes, we have now diverted 50,000 items from landfills across only four categories. To put it into perspective, this is roughly 40 cubic feet of material, enough to fill 7 bathtubs with solid plastic!

While this is a huge accomplishment, and we are incredibly thankful to all our loyal recyclers, we are still only collecting a fraction of our potential. In fact, according to a Sierra Club waste audit last year, TerraCycle is Fairfield’s most underutilized recycling program, contributing to 0.012 percent of total waste diversion. Unfortunately, the report also found that Fairfield’s recycling rate is nearly half the U.S. average at 18 percent.

So what can we do? While there are many factors that contribute to our recycling rate, each one of us has the power to make a big difference.

What Can I Do?

Recently, I found myself forgetting to order coffee “for here” when dining in a cafe. Typically, I would receive a disposable cup by default, which I knew would inevitably end up sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years. But surely I wasn’t alone; many people like me would also forget, despite their best intentions. After several failed attempts and some frustration, I eventually built the habit of remembering to ask for restaurant china—a small change that would eventually create a large impact over my lifetime. But how could we make it easier for others to do the same? After thinking on this, the TerraCycle Fairfield team began distributing signage to local restaurants to invite this behavior in a friendly way.

It goes without saying that sometimes we don’t act in accordance with our values. Whether we aspire to reduce pollution, protect our natural ecosystems, or curb the effects of climate change, there are daily challenges that can prevent us from making the positive change that we want. Sometimes we don’t realize the impact our decisions can make; other times we simply forget the alternate options we have available. Even some eco-conscious individuals I’ve spoken with haven’t used many of TerraCycle programs for one reason or another. But the problem here isn’t a lack of caring people. Instead, like remembering to order coffees “for here,” it has to do with how we form and stick to good habits.

TerraCycling 101

Knowing which programs are available to you in advance will make it easier for you to create new recycling habits. If you want to join in Fairfield’s effort to reduce waste in landfills, save the list below. It includes every waste stream that TerraCycle Fairfield collects, as well as the public drop-off locations where you can bring your items. You might find it helpful to put this list up at home for easy reference.

Once you know what you want to collect and recycle, it helps to make a plan. You could set up a bin in your home labeled “TerraCycle” or keep a designated bag under the kitchen sink. However you collect, a visible and reliable place for these items will help you build the habit of recycling them regularly. When they’re ready to recycle, you can take them to a drop-off location on your next visit. It could be before grocery shopping at Everybody’s Whole Foods or during a visit to the Fairfield Public Library.

However you do it, together we can make a meaningful change, one toothbrush at a time. For more information, email TerraCycleTown@gmail.com or make a donation at SustainableLivingCoalition.org/contribute.