Tried It Tuesday - Upcycle (and Earn Money!)

Do you see this?
Take a closer look.
Want to know how I earned it?

I made it out of this.
{TerraCycle} paid me for it and turned it into this.
I'm sure that you're wondering about the details. Two years ago, I read in the local paper that my neighbor (unbeknownst to me) was collecting trash from her son's school and getting paid for it. I looked into it, and the process looked easy enough.

  1. Sign up the group that will be collecting, ie. my school.
  2. Choose which waste streams we want to collect. We started out doing everything that didn't have a waiting list, like energy bar wrappers, lunchables, and glue sticks. Currently, we upcycle chip bags, energy bar wrappers, candy wrappers, and writing instruments.
  3. Collect the waste streams that you have chosen, sorting them into separate boxes/containers. In other words, put all of the chip bags into a box, all of the candy wrappers into another box, etc.
  4. When the box is full (and has met the weight limit in some cases), print off a pre-paid UPS label and leave in the school office for the next time your school gets a UPS delivery. Or drop it off at any UPS station.
  5. Your account gets credited $.02 per unit, and sometimes more if they're having a promotion.
  6. Twice a year, you can designate a non-profit organization (like, my school) to receive a check. Or, if you're in this for the greater good, you can use your credit to buy a goat for some impoverished family in Africa or something like that. They have lots of choices of how you can help internationally on their website. But since I am greedy and do most of the work, I want my school to get it. In the 3ish years that I've done this, I've earned the school almost $2,400.
The Pros
  1. Get free money.
  2. Help the environment.
The Cons
  1. It can take up a LOT of room.
  2. It can be time-consuming.
  3. You can get some weird things in the trash, especially when kids bring in trash from home. I've had bags come in that have contained an expired epi pen, six $100 dollar bills in an old envelope (amazingly I DID track down the owner), jewelry, light bulbs, expired medication, and random nastiness.
  1. Start small by collecting only one or two things.
  2. If you decide to have kids collect at home, send a VERY SPECIFIC note home detailing what you do and do not collect.
  3. Designate an area in your room or school to keep the containers until they are full enough to send in.
  4. Train students to help sort. This would be a great after-school club activity. I find that I do 80% of the sorting myself because some students can't tell the difference between a chip bag and a candy wrapper.
Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.


  1. Wow! Thank you for sharing. :)

  2. What a neat idea! I think I will try this for my service project next year with my class. Thank you so much!

    Hunter's Tales from Teaching

  3. That's AWESOME! What a fabulous project and way to teach the students to be responsible for their share of the environment... Especially in my rural area! Such a great idea, thanks for sharing. I'm off to check it out!

  4. Wow! That's a big check. Thanks for sharing.

    room 4 imagination

  5. $$$Nice!$$$ What a great idea for our PTA to take on-thanks for sharing!
    Head Over Heels For Teaching

  6. Wow, this is so interesting. Thank you for sharing!

    Hodges Herald

  7. This is amazing!! I have never heard of it but it is a wonderful idea! I love that it really recycles used materials. Thanks so much for sharing!
    Fourth Grade Flipper

  8. Among some of our other "zero waste initiatives" I've been terracycling at my school for 3 years too! We usually just give all of the money away to a variety of the charities, but I've been tempted to take the check for the school too!

    We do Capri-sun pouches (among other items) and they are AWFUL. The have to be squeezed out and even then they ferment and attract a crazy number of fruit flies. But I keep collecting them because they're our biggest moneymaker!

    Congrats on that giant check! I know firsthand how much work must have gone into that!

    Sweet Rhyme – Pure Reason

  9. What a great idea to reduce all that additional waste! One of the recycling jingles in Australia is 'reduce,reuse, recycle'! Would be so amazing if all areas did this; it would be so helpful.

    Liz - BaysideMathTeacher

  10. Wow! I would love to do something like that. May have to look into it!

    Don't Let the Teacher Stay Up Late

  11. What a good idea... that could easily be implemented in a classroom too I would think! It'd be good for the kids to pick which charity-type place to donate the money. What a feeling of accomplishment! Thanks for sharing!

    The 4th Grade Journey

  12. This is AWESOME! Thanks for sharing! :) Lattes and Laughter


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