Garbage into Gold

TerraCycle transforms trash into everyday products.

Worm poop.

Those two words mark the beginning of Tom Szaky’s ten-year-and-running quest to found and champion TerraCycle, a company that uses upcycling techniques to turn garbage that is usually difficult to recycle, such as packaging, into other, functional items.

It all started after high school graduation, right before he entered Princeton University.

“My friends started growing pot in their basement at the end of senior year,” said Szaky. “When I went to Princeton, they went to Canada and started using worm poop in compost to grow the marijuana, and they got amazing results.”

Szaky was sold. He drew up a business plan and six months later dropped out of Princeton and dedicated himself to running his new business full time.

‘We spent the first few months just shoveling organic waste,” said Szaky. “Before we knew it, the company just got bigger and bigger.”

What began with organic fertilizer packaged in used soda bottles has grown into a worldwide organization that collects waste from 11 different countries and transforms it into products such as tote bags, picture frames and office furniture.

TerraCycle has twice won the Home Depot Environmental Stewardship Award from Home Depot Canada and was named “The Coolest Little Start-Up in America” by Inc. magazine in 2006. The company was also the subject of Garbage Moguls a four-episode reality series broadcast on the National Geographic Channel in 2009.

Beginning on Earth Day and lasting until May 23, will accept used flipflops and turn them over to TerraCycle, which will then process the material into rubber mulch for playgrounds.

“We’re really happy with this partnership,” said Szaky. It’s one of many corporate relationships Szaky has developed over the years. His first breakthrough came when Wal-Mart and Home Depot put his organic fertilizer on its shelves in Canadian markets. This boost helped him move operations out of Princeton and into a large factory in Trenton, N.J.

The next year, the fertilizer was introduced into the American market with great success, selling $1 million worth of worm poop in 2006. TerraCycle teamed up with Capri Sun in 2007 to form the Drink Pouch Brigade, which collects the juice containers in schools nationwide. By fall of 2010, the brigade had recycled more than 50 million pouches into backpacks, messenger bags and pencil cases.


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