Move over, Outbacks, Foresters, and Imprezas. Subaru of America has gotten into the outdoor furniture business.
Two years ago, the Camden-headquartered automotive corporation teamed up with TerraCycle, a Trenton-based recycling company, to create tables, chairs, and benches out of discarded, hard-to-recycle items: snack wrappers, disposable cups, lids, plastic straws, and coffee, tea, and creamer cups.
Some of the furniture is now permanently installed outside Camden City Hall. Other pieces have graced the Philadelphia Auto Show and the Philadelphia Flower Show. The items are among more than 100 the company has donated as part of its Subaru Loves the Earth program. The initiative aims to reduce waste, safeguard resources for future generations, and preserve natural spaces.
“We’ve collected over 3 million pounds of waste,” said Amy Strawbridge, Subaru’s brand partnership and experiential marketing manager.
The recyclable materials are collected in Zero Waste Boxes supplied by TerraCycle that are pre-labeled and shipped to Subaru’s 589 U.S. dealerships for use by Subaru employees and the community.
“We’re collecting items that traditional recyclers don’t want,” said Rhandi Goodman, global vice president of zero waste at TerraCycle. “We have good success in making sure we are getting the proper [materials]," which stay in the United States and are not shipped abroad. When a full box is returned to TerraCycle, an empty one is automatically sent out to the dealer. Subaru’s Strawbridge estimates that the car company has filled about 3,500 boxes.
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While some customers drop off items when they’re shopping for cars, others make a special trip to the dealerships. Subaru dealers in Seattle, San Francisco, and New England have returned the most waste, while Philadelphia-area dealers fall in the middle of the pack.
At TerraCycle, the recyclable materials are separated out, cleaned, and turned into pellets. Paper-based and organic waste are composted. Metals are melted down.
The pellets are used to mold the parts for park benches, picnic tables, and playground equipment, which can then be ordered from a catalog by individual Subaru dealerships and donated to their local communities.
“All of the pieces are molded like a typical manufacturer," would mold them, said TerraCycle’s Goodman. “We work with a couple of vendors to produce the benches.”
“They’re super sturdy," added Dominick Infante, director of communications for the automaker.
Subaru hopes to expand the program into other locations, Infante said. For example, the company is now in a year-long pilot program with outdoor retailer REI to collect snack wrappers in 148 REI store locations. And plans are in the works to collect additional tough-to-recycle materials like pet-food bags and coffee bags.
“We don’t see an end in sight,” said Infante. “We just see this growing.”