The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 21, 2008

Terracycle & Clif Bar: Shades of Green

Michael called me at work tonight to say he’d just heard that Clif Bar has a new program to take back its plastic energy bar wrappers and “upcycle” them in a partnership with Terracycle, the good folks who got sued by Scotts Miracle Grow for selling worm poop compost in recycled soda bottles and claiming it was better. (I’m sure it is better. Sue me.) In a joint effort, which I would have known about last week if monitor problems hadn’t kept me from reading all my email, Terracycle will send free prepaid energy bar wrapper collection envelopes to anyone who signs up for the Wrapper Brigade Program and will then manufacture them into “unique accessories and other upcycled products.” And Clif Bar will donate .02 per wrapper to the charity of your choice.

Sounds good right? Well, it didn’t sound good to me. In fact, I got all huffy about it. “Oh great!” I ranted. “Like anyone needs a tote bag made out of Clif Bar wrappers. This is just a way to allow companies to keep creating disposable plastic wrappers from virgin plastic and let consumers feel morally superior for keeping them out of the landfill a little longer. They’re still made out of petroleum. They’re still made from nurdles, the plastic pellets that are polluting our oceans, harming wildlife, and concentrating toxins in the food chain. This isn’t ‘upcycling.’ It’s the same old ‘downcycling’ we’re always bemoaning because the loop never gets closed when you’re talking about plastic!”

And then Michael said, “But what about people like me who aren’t ready to give up Clif Bars? Isn’t this better than throwing the wrappers away?” And I thought, the man has a point.

I get so worked up about finding the absolute best solution to problems that I forget there are also good solutions that aren’t necessarily the best but might head us in the right direction. Various shades of green. Terracycle is definitely doing a service by keeping plastic bottles, juice boxes, yogurt containers, and now wrappers here at home where we can take some responsibility for our own waste instead of shipping it to Asia. And yet even Clif Bar admits that the Wrapper Brigade is not the best solution. In their e-mail newsletter, they write:

We’re not psyched about the fact that our wrappers end up in the garbage. We’ve been working hard to come up with a more sustainable solution; since we haven’t found the answer just yet, we’ve partnered with TerraCycle to launch the Energy Bar Wrapper Brigade. Get this: TerraCycle will convert all of the energy bar wrappers they receive into handy accessories and will donate two cents for every wrapper to the charity of your choice. Sign up for free and become a shepherd for the program.

So what do we do? Nothing, if we’re trying to live plastic-free. I’ve switched from energy bars to granola and other cereal that I buy from bulk bins and store in my own containers, leaving no packaging waste behind. But if we’re not quite there yet, we can at least divert a little waste from some landfills by using this program. And let others know about it too.

I’m hoping that Clif Bar means what it says about coming up with a more sustainable solution. I’m glad they speak that language. It’s my hope that companies are moving towards waste reduction as preferable to recycling. In the mean time, we have what we have. What do you think?

(BTW, I know I said I’d post a recipe today. But Beth Terry is nothing if not opinionated, and when the opportunity and mood strikes, she’ll usually go with some kind of rant and save the nice stuff for another day.)

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11 years ago

terracycle just launched a multistream brigade for individuals, accepts batches of 200 items from any brigade. you have to get on a waitlist, but it is ideal relative to trying to find a nearby participating school

as i think further on terracycle, it is a good thing for someone who is conscious of its downsides. i can name, remember most of the plastic wrapping items that i send to terracycle, and i already am finding myself avoiding some of those products.

11 years ago

@amy…if you are out there, here are some ways to work with terracycle. i ran into a somewhat similar problem, but in my case, terracycle refuses to provide names of participating schools (out of privacy??). so a creative way to find drop off locations is to google terracycle elementary school and the name of your state.

also, periodically terracycle has contests and announces top collector winners and their locations. if you google for terracycle and beat the heat or terracycle and top collectors, you will find links to result pages.

also, off the top of my head, i know of these schools:
whitney elementary, indiana
garrison elementary, dover, nh
a group around westford, ma

but anyways, i should start to come up with ways to cut out my need for terracycle. but i want to finish reducing any trash first, followed by recycled plastics.

11 years ago

I tried to recycle at terracycle, but they only take so many people & I have been the wait list for cliff bars with no response. I wish there were other alternatives.

Azura Skye
13 years ago

I am trying to not buy Nakd bars, they are made here in Wales, UK and are raw and tasty and now they have new bars out with no oats, so they are totally raw and hopefully tasty.
I'm trying to imagine what kind of wrapper they could use.
Paper and foil?
Just paper?
There's something really appealing to me about buying a bar wrapped in paper and string. Hmm, I can probably make these raw bars myself and sell them in paper.
Watch this space ; )

14 years ago

I found this post because I had been wondering whether Clif wrappers are any more environmentally friendly than other types. The only reason I thought they might be is because they have a kind of matte look and feel to them and thought they might be made from some other product. I’ve noticed that Kettle brand chips also have the same style of matte plastic.

Is it just a style, or could this be a conscious effort to falsely appear more eco-friendly? Both brands appeal to an upscale informed consumer type, and it would make sense. Or maybe it’s just me.

14 years ago

I just learned to make yogurt at home from my next door neighbor :) Who knew it was this easy? I am one of the worst cooks. My husband cooks for the family, so I am not exaggerating. If I can do it, anyone can. She gave me a starter, kinda like when you make sourdough you need a starter. No more yogurt containers for us. Woohoo!

14 years ago

I’ve come up with a solution that’s a little better: using thick recycled paper to wrap snack foods in (like granola bars). I don’t understand all these plastic foil wrappers on EVERYTHING. Sure it might keep the food fresh a little longer but people eat their food as soon as they get it unless they’re preparing for the apocalypse. The paper wrapping could then be recycled instead of having to make kitschy bags that people will only use for maybe a month and throw in the back of the closet. With recycled paper, it’s a closed loop, sort of. Even virgin paper would be fine because it’s easier to plant a tree than to clean up all the toxic stuff that makes plastic.

Another thing is that if they want food to reach further places and still taste good, why not set up smaller food factories in several places instead of giant mega corps in one place? And stop importing foods from foreign countries! We have enough food here and foreign foods are just an expensive luxury that are not worth the pollution of shipping.

This is my first comment here so I’m a little nervous, heh.

14 years ago

Stonyfield has a similar deal going on with Recycline. Cool products.

I think it is a step in the right direction. The more plastic that is reused, the less being made ….. in the very long run. It all comes down to enough people saying- I’m going to buy the recycled product over the virgin product. If companies like Recycline and Tetracycle can prove to the big guys that there is money to be made with the used stuff, the greed will motivate a change.

That being said, it really sucks that there isn’t more being done to encourage the recycling of plastic in terms of policy. NYC only recycles #1&2 bottles. You have to take it upon yourself to seek out #5 indie collection centers or mail the stuff in. Let’s face it,for most of us, if it it isn’t convenient- it’s not going to happen.

PS- I think what you are doing is really interesting. Def. got me rethinking a few things.

Crunchy Chicken
14 years ago

Luna Bar wrapper taken out of garbage after reading post. Luna Bar wrapper put back in garbage after reading comments.

Oh well. Maybe we should all send our wrappers to Beth so she can collect them and send them to Clif on our behalf.

Ooops. Did I just get you into trouble? I can make you a banner :)

14 years ago

Hi Beth-

I had the same initial reaction as you. Why do we keep putting a band-aid onto our problem instead of addressing the root cause??? Plus the thing that really annoys me is that people aren’t getting the full picture. Sorry, but this sounds like ‘greenwashing’ to me… Luckily, I never buy energy bars or other granola type bars. I try to stick to as much unprocessed food as possible…

14 years ago

I think–although the limitations are clear–the big step forward here is that a North American company is thinking ahead about taking responsibility for their own waste. Europe requires this by law, but there are few companies here who are going even this far. Let’s encourage the rest!


Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
14 years ago

> I’m hoping that Clif Bar means what
> it says about coming up with a more
> sustainable solution.

Short of stopping manufacturing food “products”, I can’t really see what they can do that would be truly sustainable…

14 years ago

Terracycle takes wide mouth yogurt cups which includes brown cow, dannon, and stonyfield to make plant pots out of them as a similar fundraiser to cliff bars. We are doing this fundraiser at our schools. Same 2 cents deal. Most states do not take number 5 plastic so I am glad to ship them off to terracycle.

Stonyfield also takes yogurt cups back too like Brown cow.

Beth, I hear you about the plastic but I am glad someone is taking the yogurt cups and the wrappers. Anna

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Hi CT. I don’t know anything about the unlabeled white plastic. I would call the contact solution company and ask them. Does the take-out container have a manufacturer’s name imprinted?

And pfeng — that’s too bad. Michael just told me that too. His law firm wanted to participate. Maybe the limit is temporary until they get the program fully up and running.

14 years ago

You guys are upset…how about me, Clif Bar uses my name without permission!!! First I asked them for a penny from every bar they sell. No go. Now I am down to demanding .000000000001 cent on every bar and they STILL won’t go for it. But I’ll get them…I’m recommending SuzyQ’s instead of Clif Bars to everyone I know. I love that dark chocolate with the fluffy white goo inside. I predict SuzyQ’s will be the last product to get rid of trans-fats. By the way, is Marshmallow Fluff still sold?

14 years ago

NOOOOOO!!! I can’t get them to send bags to a residential address? WHAT THE HELL? And it’s limited to 500 participants?!?

Now I’m just pissed. What’s the point of making a recycling program if individuals can’t participate? I guess they want to deal in volume, and the few bars I eat a day of their product isn’t enough?

14 years ago

YES!!! Both Luna bars AND Nature’s Valley — I can feel better about both my own and my children’s addictions. Woohoo!

I’m not perfect about avoiding plastic yet, but this will help.

Brown Cow does a similar thing letting people ship yogurt containers back to them for recycling (since most municipalities won’t accept them), and I’ve loved them ever since.

14 years ago

Going to the grocery has become such a frustration.

Food is either crazy expensive, packaged in a way that makes me feel guilty even thinking about purchasing it or shipped half way around the globe.

I have taken the ‘giving up’ strategy.

But I’m quickly approaching the point where I have very little left that I can, in good conscience, purchase or consume.

I hope this will get easier as the weather warms and the farmers markets open.

And basically I’m getting a little hungry here…

14 years ago

Overall, this has to be a good thing, though I’m happy to have weaned my husband off Odwalla Bars.

And now for an unrelated question: I’m starting to encounter new plastic without a recycling symbol or number. I first saw it on a takeout container (white, heavy plastic), and got upset but decided that perhaps the restaurant was importing the containers or something screwy. Then, last week, I bought two-pack of contact solution. I opened the cardboard when I got home and discovered that the bottles, again white plastic, were missing the symbol and number. Do you know anything about this? I thought new plastic had to be labeled, even if it wasn’t likely to be recycled. I hate the idea that I’m buying plastic (which I am trying hard to reduce) that is totally unrecyclable.

just ducky
14 years ago

I totally hear what you are saying about not being totally satisfied with the Clif bar wrapper “solution”…and the bottom line is–you are right. But…(don’t you just love when there’s a ‘but’)…I understand both sides of the dilemma…my family falls into Michael’s way of thinking right now…there are things that we aren’t willing to give up yet. Even though I’d love to have the discipline to be able to (Damn my lack of self-control!)…I’m just not “there” yet. So, in the end I guess I’m glad that they are putting these new measures in place. We have to do something better than just tossing things into the landfill…or China…this is one baby step better than that…