Set to launch later this year, the national pilot will see TerraCycle melting down the packets to reuse as raw materials.

By Mike Pomranz
April 19, 2021
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As with pretty much anything Taco Bell, diehard fans are obsessed with brand's hot sauce packets. That love affair is even the center of an online joke where pseudo-serious pranksters list the free packets on eBay at exorbitant prices. But Taco Bell says that, pretty soon, the fast food chain will offer a better option for getting rid of your old packets than hoping someone will pay $25,000 for some Diablo sauce: Customers will finally be able to recycle them.

This morning, Taco Bell announced a new partnership with TerraCycle—billed as a company "renowned for collecting traditionally non-recyclable materials"—to give the currently non-recyclable plastic packets a second life. TerraCycle has a history of working with the food and beverage industry, previously teaming up with everyone from Burger King to Anheuser-Busch. But Taco Bell says they're the first fast food chain to work with the forward-thinking recycling company to attempt to deal with "flexible film packets." And the project, which is set to launch "later this year," could have a big impact: Taco Bell says customers tear through about 8.2 billion sauce packets every year in the U.S. alone.

Recyclable Sauce Packets from Taco Bell
Credit: Taco Bell

"In the food industry today, there is no widely available solution for recycling the flexible film packets that are so commonly used for condiments," Liz Matthews, Taco Bell's global chief food innovation officer, stated. "So, we're thrilled to leverage the expertise of TerraCycle to recycle our iconic sauce packet packaging in a way that's as bold and innovative as our menu."

Unfortunately, Taco Bell wasn't able to disclose the details of this "national U.S. recycling pilot program" quite yet, but they do promise that "participation will be easy and will incorporate free shipping," implying that in this era of increased drive-thru and delivery, customers will also be able to recycle these packets from their own home.

And as for what will become of these former hot sauce holders, as with other TerraCycle programs, the plan is that the packets will be melted down and remolded into hard plastic that can be used as a raw material for building other things. Examples of end products in the past have included things like outdoor furniture or storage containers.

"Together, Taco Bell and TerraCycle will push the quick service industry by finally finding a way to recycle this type of product," TerraCycle CEO and founder Tom Szaky added. "This effort takes us one step closer to keeping packets out of landfills and our mission of 'Eliminating the Idea of Waste.'"

In the meantime, Taco Bell also offered a couple of tips for creating less hot sauce packet waste while customers wait for the new program to get up and running. For instance, "if you don't use each packet from your Taco Bell order, save it for later to add some kick to other meals." Or put it on eBay. I've heard you can get 25 grand for those things.