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Taco Bell has long been a favorite of vegetarian and vegans on the go; before you could get a veggie burger from every other fast food chain along the highway, at least you knew you could reliably get a bean burrito or a handful of other meat-free dishes. More recently, the company has even actively courted plant-based eaters, offering expanded menu options and ordering tips. Still, it hasn’t exactly what we would call an eco-minded enterprise. Now the brand is trying to shift that reputation, revealing a plan to recycle some of the 8.2 billion used Taco Bell sauce packets are generated each year – but it isn’t most intuitive waste-reduction program we’ve ever heard of.
Under the initiative, CNN reports, the company and its recycling partner TerraCycle will encourage customers to send used Taco Bell sauce packets back though the mail so they can be recycled.
To participate, customers will have to sign up for an account with TerraCycle and start collecting packets in any cardboard box they happen to have around. Once they’ve worked through a decent number of Taco Bell sauce packs – it’s not clear if there’s a minimum number per box, but a note on the website encourages waiting until you’ve gathered a good number to “minimize the transportation carbon footprint” – the sauce enthusiast can print out a free UPS shipping label and take the carton to a local drop-off. UPS will then deliver the box of packets back for processing.
“You don’t need to clean the packets before sending it to TerraCycle, but please remove as much of the remaining sauce as possible,” the program website states. “UPS will not accept dripping packages.”
Why not just put a bin at Taco Bell locations where people could drop the packets? The company tells CNN it’s because most Taco Bell transactions are drive-through or otherwise off site, so people aren’t using most of those packets while at the restaurant. Execs figured people would rather keep a personal packet collection box in their own home or car rather than have to drive back to a Taco Bell to drop off the waste each time.
Once sent back on fossil fuel-powered airplanes and trucks, TerraCycle will recycle the Taco Bell sauce sachets into new, hard-plastic materials, used for items including picnic tables and park benches. TerraCycle already works on recycling programs for a number of other brands, including Tom’s of Maine and L’Occitane.
It remains to be seen how enthusiastic consumers will be about a process that involves holding onto used sauce packets for an indefinite period of time – short of the most dedicated Taco Bell diners, will any individual really generate enough of them to justify the procedure? – but at least it’s a step towards trying to divert trash away from landfills. And it isn’t the chain’s only effort in that arena. Taco Bell says it plans to use “fully recyclable, computable, or reusable” packaging at all its locations around the world by 2025.