Terracycle tote from cookie packages
There is a lot of trash and very little treasure in Trenton, NJ these days. But nestled in a graffiti-covered warehouse in a gritty urban enterprise zone, is a company named Terracycle, that is literally turning trash into treasure faster than you can say Rumpelstiltskin.
Terracycle calls it upcycling rather than recycling and it is a brilliant business concept. When you recycle, you expend energy to break down trash and reform it into something else. When you upcycle, you re-use trash by re-purposing it. Upcycling is what you do when you store nails in old coffee cans or make curtains out of old sheets. You basically take trash and make it into something else so it is not trash anymore.
Terracycle’s business plan is based on the premise that there is no such thing as trash. Everything can be reused and must be, if we are to keep the whole planet from becoming nothing but a giant trash bin. The idea is to do away with landfills by re-purposing and re-using as much as possible.
How it Started
CEO Tom Szaky founded the company in 2001 when he was a freshman at Princeton. He and a friend hit on a scheme to make organic plant fertilizer by feeding table scraps to worms and using the resulting worm dung as a natural, nitrogen rich plant fertilizer. The plant fertilizer, packed in used plastic soda bottles, was a hit. Soon orders were pouring in. In
Terracycle plant food
2003, Szaky dropped out of school to devote his full attention to Terracycle. By 2006 the plant food was available nationwide, the company was making money, and Szaky was expanding his product line by exploring other upcycling possibilities.
Today the company makes more than fifty products, from shower curtains and flower pots to backpacks and pencil cases, using a variety of discarded items including drink packs and cookie wrappers. The upcycled products are sold by major retailers such as Walmart, Target and Home Depot.
But here is the best and most unique part of Terracycle’s business plan. The company has more than 30,000 collection teams nationwide, collecting cookie wrappers, or drink packs or whatever. Millions of people participate–not only individuals, but also schools, churches, and neighborhood groups who raise funds this way. If you want to partiipate, you can read about the program and sign up for it on their website. Go take a look.
Terracycle gets all its materials from these collection teams or brigades. Now, how brilliant is that? They get their raw materials. Non profits get a fundraiser, and trash that would usually end up in a landfull is transformed into something new and useful. Everybody wins, including Trenton, New Jersey. I think Terracycle deserves a whole bunch of peachygreen kudos for the greenest business concept I’ve heard about in quite a while.