Tom Szaky: Staying one step ahead of the world’s trash

(Courtesy Penn State)

Tom Szaky dropped out of Princeton University to collect trash. He founded TerraCycle to keep garbage out of landfills and incinerators, where it releases carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

But TerraCycle is more than an environmental project. The business, profitable since 2011, repurposes the trash and sells it as entirely new items.

Candy wrappers, plastic bottles and cigarette butts are among the items from which the company has created more than 1,500 products, from backpacks to watering cans, all available at major retailers and online.

Courtesy Terracycle
(Courtesy TerraCycle)

Szaky’s business model involves everyday people in trash collection. Around 40 million people in 22 countries collect trash for points that can be redeemed for charitable contributions or for products. TerraCycle sells boxes into which individuals or businesses (called “collectors”) place waste before sending it to the company. The waste is made into completely new, trendy products.

The process of collecting waste and sending it educates people “about the effects that waste has on the environment,” Szaky said.

You too can reduce, reuse or recycle. Here’s how.

Let TerraCycle and other green innovations inspire you during Global Entrepreneurship Week (November 17–23) and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which in 2014 is happening in Marrakech, Morocco (November 19–21). These events celebrate people who create economic benefits for their communities as well as for themselves.