Taco Bell is launching a nationwide pilot program with TerraCycle to divert as many used sauce packets as possible away from landfills and give them new life, following an initial trial earlier this year. This partnership is the beginning and part of a potential industry-wide solution for recycling sauce packets and other single-use food packaging.

Taco Bell’s hot sauce packets have been there for all sorts of pivotal life moments, from spicing up a meal to inspiring creative outfits and aiding marriage proposals. While the beloved packets provide such promise, they are made of commonly used single-use flexible film materials, which unfortunately leads to 8.2 billion used packets a year ending up in a landfill. 

“As simple as it sounds, it’s important to remember to first reduce our consumption habits, then reuse products wherever possible, and then recycle,” says Missy Schaaphok, Taco Bell’s Director of Global Nutrition & Sustainability. “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 is an international recycling leader that collects traditionally non-recyclable items, cleans them, then melts and remolds them into hard plastic that can be used to make recycled products. That means one day, used hot sauce packets will be transformed and given a second life. Since the majority of Taco Bell transactions currently take place at the drive-thru and fans eat their meal out-of-restaurant, U.S. customers can mail-in their packets via four simple steps

  1. Sign up for a TerraCycle account, if you don’t already have one.
  2. Collect empty sauce packets within a cardboard box or any other recyclable container you already have on hand. 
  3. Once your collection box is full, log into your TerraCycle account to download and print a free shipping label.
  4. Ship your box via UPS.

In other words? Sign up, sauce, send, repeat. These instructions will be available at tacobell.com/terracycle and via QR codes found where customers obtain their restaurant sauce packets: at the drive-thru and inside near condiment stations and trash receptacles. It may sound strange to save used hot sauce packets, but TerraCycle has seen success with similar collection programs for 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,” says 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.”

Since announcing the partnership in April, Taco Bell and TerraCycle have been working through logistics, including health and safety considerations, and are simultaneously determining the most feasible way to collect packets in-restaurant. Based on testing and past experience, TerraCycle’s tried and true mail-back model will be used to help customers minimize their transportation footprint and ship their box of saved sauce packets once full. The results of this pilot launch will determine the most viable long-term solutions for Taco Bell moving forward.  Taco Bell is also testing other ways to reduce packaging waste, like assessing the impact of using quesadilla bags that no longer include PFAs or plastic windows and that use recyclable paper.

Despite the challenges of the last year and a half, Taco Bell recognizes the continued importance of working towards its commitment to make all consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025 in its restaurants across the globe. Partnering with TerraCycle is a first step, but not the final step, in identifying viable solutions quickly and efficiently. 

Taco Bell is on an ever-evolving journey to feed people’s lives with unexpected good. From providing customizable options for any lifestyle, to empowering its team members, to helping to protect the planet, Taco Bell is always working to Live Más.

News, Sustainability, Taco Bell