Recycling Mysteries: Candy Wrappers


You've got a sweet tooth you need to satisfy, but did you know that most of our favorite candies are wrapped in what has somehow become the unwanted stepchildren of waste management? Tossed in the trash or in a recycle bin, all candy wrappers make their way to the landfill. But why is this small, colorful package so seemingly difficult to recycle?


Although candy wrappers are made from plastic, they're hard to recycled because of the difficulty to recover valuable materials. Photo: Emily O'Chiu

Packaging consultant, Sterling Anthony says it all comes down to the state of the recyclable materials market.

“PET plastic, the plastic used for most water and soft drinks, is made from one material, and that material can be broken down into materials that can be used for other items. So, there’s a market for it,” Anthony says.

Because plastic bottles can be recovered easily and economically, and there’s a healthy end-use market for their recovered materials, waste management facilities have an incentive for their collection and processing. However, candy wrappers are usually made up of mixed materials, making the recovery of useful materials difficult and expensive.

As a result, most waste management companies, manufacturers and municipal recycling facilities tend to turn their backs from candy wrappers.

The Volume Dilemma

While a healthy market for recovered candy wrappers may be in our reach, Anthony says the market overall is contingent upon the volume of discarded candy wrappers.

"Infrastructure always follows volume," he says. "If volume is not great enough, there’s not an economic incentive."

Waste management organizations are not inclined to collect and transport candy wrappers because, unlike higher volume recyclables like paper, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, candy wrappers do not account for a large amount of waste presence nor volume. Photo: Polyflow Corp.

Unlike higher volume recyclables like plastic bottles, candy wrappers do not account for a large amount of waste presence or volume. Photo: Polyflow Corp.



Waste management organizations are not inclined to collect and transport candy wrappers because, unlike higher volume recyclables like paper, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, candy wrappers do not account for a large amount of waste presence or volume.

But Joe Hensel, CEO of Polyflow Corp., says his company can remove the volume variable and increase the value of overall waste management strategy. Hensel says his team has developed a technology that turns mixed material waste into consumer goods without the need for sorting.

“A lot of these items are put into recycle bins, but because they’re all mixed in together, it becomes too expensive to sort out," he says. "We can take these items without sorting them."

Furthermore, Hensel says his facilities will have the ability to turn mixed and unsorted waste, including all candy wrappers and potato chip bags, into products like gasoline and diesel fuel, adhesives, household and industrial cleaners and paint.

“We’ll be able to take all post-consumer and post-industrial polymer waste from the community in which we’re going to build our first facility,” he says.

Hensel says his facilities will also be able to take other difficult-to-recycle items like lettuce bags, toothbrushes, plastic toys and plastic food containers like peanut butter, margarine and butter tubs. Polyflow Corp. is raising funds from investors to build a larger version of its successful pilot plant. Once that plant is in commission, Hensel expects Polyflow Corp. will dramatically improve the end-life cycle of candy wrappers and other waste typically sent to landfills.


Terracycle will be partnering with Mars, Inc. to upcycle candy wrappers into consumer products such as laptop sleeves (pictured). Photo: Flickr/Dave Pinter

A Sweet Alternative

Eco-conscious folks have thought of creative ways to repurpose candy wrappers. A quick search on the Internet for items made out of candy wrappers will generate page after page of handbags, wallets and even candy-wrapper jewelry.Upcycling company TerraCycle is working to reduce the amount of candy wrappers headed for the landfills by teaming up with one of the world’s largest candy makers, Mars, Incorporated.

The idea is to turn packaging, including candy wrappers, into consumer goods. TerraCycle will upcycle wrappers from M&M’S, , Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, Starburst, Skittles and 3 Musketeers. The material will be reused for backpacks, tote bags, messenger bags and even cell phone holders and laptop sleeves.

Albe Zakes, vice president of media relations for TerraCycle, believes the repurposing initiative, or upcycling, offers an easy and convenient way for consumers to recycle candy wrappers.

“We hope to inspire consumers and corporations to think about the end-life cycle of food wrappers,” he says.

  • Trey Granger

    I think candy wrappers serve an important purpose, because they make us feel safe about the food we are eating as it’s “factory-sealed.” It’s unfortunate that so many end up in the garbage, but hearing some of the crazy stories about people tampering with Halloween candy for kids makes me understand the need for wrappers.

  • Tania Fleming

    Another great way of “upscaling.” I recently read of a company that does similar things with candy wrappers, juice boxes and plastic bottles. Terracycle has partnered with non-profits and schools by paying a small amount for each item that is recycled and provided for them. In turn, Terracycle uses bottles to package their plant food or they create bags, pencil cases, etc. out of everything else.

    It’s nice to that people are starting to see the need to use the resources we have to the fullest extent possible.

  • http://deliciousvanilla dshuante mosley

    this is a good idea for recycling

  • Christina Judge

    Perhaps now there needs to be more advertising so the recycled products can be seen and bought by consumers, such as (what are the particular stores that might carry them) where these recycled/reused products can be purchased, etc…maybe also a vendor/distributer at a Farmer’s Market, at Flea Markets?
    I guess my point is that not everyone will be able to know about the products if they are only marketed online (lots of people who are interested in environmental causes do not necessarily have computers) and we all know that if an item is not bought, it’s worth will go down and there will be no demand to make more of the item.
    It is a great thing that Terracycle, and others like them, are doing…I applaud their efforts!

  • Jonathan

    I have to find it hard to belive that a backpack like the one in the picture would be made of recycled materials. Especially since none of the package labels have been torn, and I don’t know anyone that opens the package without ripping the whole top or side off. Looks more like the materials were bought directly from the candy manufacturer.

  • Mary

    The article is very interesting. I always wondered about this each time my wrappers make it to the trash can. I would also like to feature it in my company’s Go Green newsletter. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get the full story when the links (repurpose candy wrappers and upcycling) lead you to a totally unrelated story (“Know Before You Go”™ About Beach Water Quality This Summer). Also the link for the candy wrapper jewlery has been moved and there is no redirection. If it is at all possible to get the links to these three stories/sites I would be most appreciative.

  • Jamica Hammond

    Very interesting subject. Thanks for all the info.

  • Blanca

    OMG!!! I am not a weirdo after all!!! I want to recycle everything. (including candy wrappers and chip bags but I just didn’t know that you actually can) My kids are always telling me that there is something wrong with me because I do not like to throw everything in the trash much like they do. I try to recycle and repurpose as much as a can (even before this world went ‘green’). I am very excited that there are others out there in world that care about the environment!!!

  • anonymous

    I am 11 and I am OBSESSED with the planet. I am actually working on a PowerPoint about TerraCycle for my school. Thanks a LOT for the information!

  • Oemissions

    Its NOT just candy wrappers.
    There are HUGE amounts of mixed materials in food products that recycling depots won’t take. Many of these held ORGANIC and FAIR TRADED products: coffee, chips,snacks.
    This is RIDICULOUS.
    And it’s HYPOCRISY.!
    One other thing: ALL THOSE flimsy fabric bags made to replace plastic bags are ending up in the landfill.

  • Erik

    Those fabric reusable bags that seem ubiquitous now are actually mostly made with virgin petroleum as well, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. The ones that I see the most are non-woven polypropylene, but some, like at Whole Foods are actually made of recycled PET bottles.

    This article doesn’t address a lot of things. The one problem nobody seems to want to admit is why this plastic is being used in the first place. Why aren’t companies taking responsibility for the waste they create? Why should consumers be the only ones responsible for this problem?

    I don’t personally buy candy unless it is organic/fair trade and natural, even when I do it is seldom because I don’t see how individually packaging anything in plastic is sustainable or economical. If we get back to local production and use materials that are safe to come in contact with food and are either recyclable or compostable, we solve this problem of huge amounts of wrappers ending up in the trash.

    I applaud what Terracycle is doing, cause they are at least trying to do something about our waste predicament, but I question the continuing viability of a business like them, especially considering their partnerships with these large candy makers, who are nothing more than players in our military-industrial complex of junk food producers that degrade our quality of health. Making business deals with Mars does not really strike me as something a “green” company would do. They are in a way encouraging unsustainable practices. I participate in the Terracycle brigades because that is what is available now, but I do question the company’s motives. They are in fact a profit-making business, so you have to question whether this is just a money-making scheme, or are they really doing this for the right reasons.

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  • Anonymous

    But HOW do you make it?!?!?! Links needed! Please help, because my mom says she’ll throw my wrappers away if I don’t start by the end of the month! HELP!!!

  • K Pomeroy

    During Halloween when we purchase large quantities..we collect all the candy bags and mail them back to the companies. They made them, let them deal w/ them.

    It may be passing the buck, but it does let them know there is a problem, and a need to solve it.

  • elvin

    Wow, its amazing how I stumbled upon this 😀 I had an obsession for collecting candy wrappers 3 years ago, I’m 17 now. I thought candy wrappers were really pretty and its a pity that I have to throw it away, so I ended up saving all the wrappers and I have a fine collection now. I brought this idea to my school where I encouraged people to save up their wrappers of all sorts, including chip bags for a green project I’ve been thinking for awhile. I wanted to do something and show how incredible our consumerism is…how how much wrappers that could of ended up in the landfill, but we can do something about it. I plan to make something useful out of these wrappers next year in June 2011 before I graduate! I want to show people what a huge difference we can make when we work together and put in our effort together:)