by Susan Lambe

Where it began.

Terracycle East Belfast.  Where to start?  How about at the beginning.  My neighbour Danielle approached me in early 2019 with an intriguing chat about recycling empty crisp packets. What magic is this I thought to myself? Turns out it’s Terracycle magic.  Somehow it all made sense, and I was hooked.

Danielle (left) and me.

Our very first shipment of recycled items.

Back in May 2019, Danielle sent off our very first shipment of crisp packets. 2.1kg in total, that’s about 840 crisp packets.  Every single crisp packet counts, and every single multipack outer counts.  That’s waste diverted from landfill, processed by TerraCycle and turned into something new.  Even better, it generates fundraising.  What’s not to like?

A local Terracycler dropping off crisp packets and them all packed-up ready to be shipped to TerraCycle.

Launching our Facebook Group.

Fast forward a couple of months, and we launched our Facebook group, Terracycle East Belfast.  It’s the focal point of what we do.  It contains lots of information on what we take and how to drop it off to us.  Check us out if you, your friends or your family are in this area.  There’s hardly a day that goes by without a “What about this?” question, and I love that we get to spread the Terracycle word. 

Armed with our new Facebook group, throughout the summer of 2019 we started to collect confectionery wrappers too (chocolate bars, sweets, that kind of thing).  Before long, we expanded to accept other Terracycle items, which we divert to other collectors right here in Northern Ireland.  Pringles tubes, toothpaste tubes, biscuit wrappers, felt-tips, contact lenses, and lots more besides.  We all collaborate – there is more than enough to go around.  New collectors often tell us “I didn’t even know this existed”.  I’m delighted it’s not just us that gets excited about crisp packets!!

Some of the recyclable items we collect.

Steadily growing.

From that first 2.1kg box of crisp packets in May 2019, over the next 12 months we sent off 109kg of crisp packets and 16kg of confectionery.  And then, Covid.  Ahhhhh!  That stopped us in our tracks. 

But necessity is the mother of invention.  And we re-invented ourselves, re-invented how we accept Terracycling, and would you believe it, we’ve grown!  Our Facebook group now has over 700 members, and in the past 12 months we’ve sent off 80.3kg crisp packets, 35.8kg confectionery, and 7.3kg LOL Surprise. 

And that’s not all, not by a long shot.  If you include what we’ve diverted to other collectors (we’re not as good at counting that stuff) and you add it all up, since we started we’ve diverted over 400kg of waste from landfill and raised almost £500 for local schools and charities. Whatever way you look at it, over 400kg is almost half a tonne, which is pretty amazing!

Adapting to Covid.

Pre-Covid, we had a public access drop-off point on the Castlereagh Road.  We’ve had to change that and it’s now done at pre-arranged drop-offs – all the info is on our Facebook group and it’s really popular.  We ask everyone to drop off to us all nice & neat & tidy – and you do! Having the items pre-sorted into individual bags saves us so much time! 

Community support.

We’re all volunteers, and we are blown away by the interest and support from our group members and the local community.

Connswater Community Greenway have been brilliant at sharing what we’re up to – and we’ve talked and talked and talked about Terracycle at several markets in CS Lewis Square.  I really didn’t think we’d have so much interest in crisp packets, but happily I was wrong.  I didn’t even get away for my hot chocolate!! 

Councillor Peter McReynolds, at that time Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, recognised our voluntary work in a reception at City Hall back in December 2019.  In addition to feeding us (and allowing us to try on marvellous flowing robes like excitable schoolchildren), Belfast City Council have supplied us with sturdy plastic boxes.  Perhaps a small thing – but to us it’s everything.  It allows us to keep on collecting, whatever the NI weather throws at us.

Attending the reception at City Hall in 2019 (along with Clare Rice – Far left – who runs Alternative Recycling (inc Terracycle) & Charity Fundraising) & sturdy plastic boxes supplied by Belfast City Council.

Partnering with local businesses.

We are delighted to partner with Local Box NI.  These wonderful folk ask their customers to enjoy their crisps, and then return the empty packet, and then they send them to us – almost 600 and counting. 

We also engage with Check Out My Buns, a local gluten-free bakery, and recycle the mind-bendingly giant catering-size bags of chocolate drops (these smell a-maze-ing by the way).

Every week we hear a story of someone who collects from their workplace.  Someone whose sister drops over her Pringles tubes every month or whose children now bring their Kitkat wrapper home from school every day.

How to start Terracycling.

It can be daunting getting started – but we started small, with just crisp packets.  That’s something I really recommend.  Start with one thing – one easy scheme.  Crisps and confectionery are by far our most popular.  Once you get the hang of that, maybe look at what else there is.  Maybe your empty toothpaste tube every few weeks.  Maybe gathering up highlighters from the office.  Maybe your friend would save up their daily disposable contact lenses for you? 

Recycling by itself may not be the answer – it is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle after all – but it is part of the solution, and we are delighted to be involved.

Getting involved with Terracycle East Belfast and other local groups.

You can find us on Facebook, why not join our group and the other voluntary Terracycling groups in Northern Ireland, we’d love to have you involved!

Useful links

TerraCycling – learn about the programmes that TerraCycle operates and how to become involved.

Recycling – MyNI – all you need to know about recycling in Northern Ireland.