Taco Bell wants customers to return used sauce packets for recycling

Taco Bell has an ambitious, potentially industry-altering idea, but they need help to pull it off.

The restaurant chain is partnering with TerraCycle to launch a recycling program for its used sauce packets. Customers are asked to sign up for a TerraCycle account, completely fill a cardboard box or any recyclable container, download and print a free shipping label from TerraCycle, and ship the box via UPS.

Taco Bell estimates 8.2 billion of its sauce packs end up in landfills every year. The recycling program aims to reduce that, but it only works if customers send the empty packets back.

"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," said Missy Schaaphok, Taco Bell's Director of Global Nutrition & Sustainability.

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Hot sauces are arranged for a photograph inside a Taco Bell Corp. restaurant, a unit of Yum! (Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The two have been collaborating since April, trying to work through the logistics of collecting the used packets in restaurants. Ultimately, they decided the mail-in method would most effectively minimize the customer’s transportation footprint.

Taco Bell acknowledges most of its business is conducted through drive-thrus anyway. They are also testing other ways to reduce packaging waste, like using quesadilla bags that no longer include PFAs or plastic windows and that use recyclable paper.

TerraCycle is an international recycling leader notorious for collecting traditionally non-recyclable items, cleaning them, melting and remolding them into hard plastic that can be used to make recycled products. They’ve had similar programs that recycled coffee capsules, chewing gum and more.

"Since our founding, TerraCycle has made it our mission to ‘Eliminate the Idea of Waste' and provide solutions for items that are not traditionally recyclable curbside," said Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle. "This unique recycling program not only highlights the forward-thinking nature of Taco Bell, but also marks a huge step forward for the quick service industry on its journey towards more sustainable business practices."