Update, September 10, 2021: Taco Bell and TerraCycle’s used hot sauce packet recycling project is officially underway, as CNN reports that the pilot project is being rolled out nationwide. Back in April, the logistical details hadn’t yet been unveiled, but it looks like we now have more info on how it all works.
Interested in participating in the program? You’ll have to sign up online for a TerraCycle account, which you can then use to print out a free UPS shipping label. Gather all your used sauce packets (no word on whether or not you need to rinse them), box them up, and ship them out. Taco Bell is opting for this type of delivery over a restaurant drop-off because most people eat off-site anyway, and individuals can ship their own boxes once they’re full enough.
Taco Bell enthusiasts, do you think you’d participate in this program? Using up enough sauce packets to justify the work of shipping a box on your own might keep people from going that extra eco-conscious mile, so how are you feeling about it?
Original Post, April 19, 2021: It’s well known that Taco Bell’s hot sauces have developed a cult-like following, and this fandom has demonstrated its power to fuel black markets, save lives, stall drive-thru operations, and inspire culinary creativity. The biggest problem with these condiments isn’t that they make your eyes water, it’s that their single-serve wrappers create tons of litter that goes straight to the landfill. Today, Taco Bell announced via press release that it has partnered with TerraCycle, a waste management company, to work on finding ways to recycle the used sauce packets instead.
I would’ve thought that the solution lay in switching the condiment packets to some sort of compostable material, but that doesn’t sound quite like what’s happening here: per the press release, “TerraCycle is renowned for collecting traditionally non-recyclable materials, cleaning them, then melting and remolding them into hard plastic that can be used to make new recycled products. This means that one day, used sauce packets could have an exciting future as something totally new.”
The press release notes that 8.2 billion T-Bell sauce packets (!!!!) are used in the U.S. each year. That figure exceeds the number of people on Earth, much less the number of Taco Bell customers in a country of 329 million people. Even if you presume that half the United States population is responsible for that level of sauce packet consumption, that’s about 50 packets per person annually. This stuff is even more beloved than we knew.
Further details about the program are forthcoming, but the press release stresses that “customer participation will be easy and will incorporate free shipping.” Sounds like it’ll involve mailing packets to the company to be recycled? I’m trying very hard to tamp down my skepticism that even a single late-night Taco Bell customer will remember to do this in the harsh light of day (myself very much included), because I’m curious to see what kind of waste reduction results from such a program.
The recycling initiative is part of Taco Bell’s stated goal of “making all consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025 in restaurants across the globe.”