Taco Bell usually puts its efforts into coming up with unique menu items, but the fast-food chain announced a different kind of unique plan on Thursday. The company is starting a nationwide plan with recycling company TerraCycle to give "new life" to used sauce packets. Taco Bell tried out the program earlier this year and plans to launch it across the country.
The TerraCycle partnership is a response to the fast-food industry's packaging waste problem. The sauce packs are made with flexible film materials but are only used once. Over 8.2 billion used packets go to landfills each year, the company noted. "As simple as it sounds, it's important to remember to first reduce our consumption habits, then reuse products wherever possible, and then recycle," Missy Schaaphok, Taco Bell's Director of Global Nutrition and Sustainability, said in a statement. "We're excited that TerraCycle has provided a way for us to extend the life cycle of our iconic sauce packets as we reevaluate the rest of our packaging suite."
TerraCycle takes non-recyclable items and cleans them before melding and remolding them into hard plastic that can then be used for recycled products. This could mean Taco Bell sauce packets could find a second use. However, most Taco Bell customers are not eating their meals inside restaurants today due to the pandemic, so they would need to mail their packets to TerraCycle so they can be recycled. Customers will have to sign up for a TerraCycle account, then mail in a box of used sauce packets. TerraCycle provides a free shipping label once customers start an account. QR codes with a link to TerraCycle instructions will be posted at drive-thrus, near condiment stations, and trash bins at restaurants.
Taco Bell is not the first fast-food brand to address the packaging waste problem. In October 2020, Burger King announced plans to work with TerraCycle and use its circular packaging service Loop to test a "closed-loop system with zero-waste packaging that can be safely cleaned and refilled to be reused, again and again." The first markets where Burger King planned to test the program were New York, Portland, and Tokyo, Food & Wine reported at the time.
In May, Burger King announced that 51 of its company-owned restaurants in Miami would start testing a "green packaging pilot program focused on finding scalable solutions for eight of our most-used, guest-facing items including forks, spoons, knives, straws, drink lids, Frypods, Whopper wrappers, and napkins." The company also plans to use different alternatives to plastic straws, as well as two different types of Whopper wrapping. One wrapping has a 13% reduction in paper use, while the other offers a 34% reduction. "This could translate to an additional 500 to 1,500 metric tons of paper waste eliminated annually across the U.S.," Burger King claimed.