TerraCycle: Recycling Profits

Named the No 1. CEO under thirty by Inc. magazine in 2006 for his innovative approach to fertilizer and recycled goods, in the two years that followed (2007-2009) Tom Szaky went on to write about 30 blogitles for Inc. and a book that surely has more than 30 pages – Revolution in a Bottle.

Now it’s 2011 and he’s still under 30 but he’s worth at least 30 times 30 more than he was at the start of 2006. Tom, a Princeton drop-out, is a man on a mission to run a fully sustainable company. While he was still in his dorm room he was dreaming up TerraCycle, one of the fastest growing private companies named by Inc. magazine in 2009.

TerraCycle started with an idea, 5th place in the Princeton Business Plan Contest, and a venture capitalist who believed in the organic fertilizer Tom stumbled upon while working on a “better tomato” project (worm poop packaged in used soda bottles). Canadian Home Depot and Wal-Mart were the first bites in the major retailer business but that is all history now as TerraCycle has expanded to become a U.S. nationally recognized waste diverter. TerraCyle had revenue of more than $7.5 million in 2009 by using waste to produce new products (some of which are carried at Walmart and Whole Foods Market).

Recycling and Upcycling are two main ways the company approaches waste:
  • Upcycling takes the current form of a piece and makes a new product. For instance, converting drink pouches into backpacks, or candywrappers into picture frames.

  • Recycling takes a piece of waste and reshapes it into something completely new like a plastic trash can or bench or flowerpot.

  • Many local markets across the U.S. have started to get into the game with a program called “Recycle Write.” University of Michigan and the Phoenix, Arizona library have started promoting a recycling program to collect used pens, pencils, and other writing instruments for TerraCycle who will take the items and turn them into something else as part of their Writing Instrument Brigade, as well as donating 2 pennies for every item received to local programs or charities. Shipping of the items back to TerraCycle is free for participants as well.

    As a result of this and many other programs across more than 60,000 locations worldwide, TerraCycle has been able to divert nearly 2 billion pieces of waste and has been able to donate $1 million to schools and nonprofits while education school kids about the benefits and value of conservation.

    Tom is definitely an entrepreneur worth more than his weight in worm poop and who could tell you a thing or two how to run a White Elephant event

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