By: Colleen Hilbert
TerraCycle was founded on an idea, a phrase which is heard almost every day in the office and can be found in the signature of every employee’s email: “Eliminating the idea of waste.” This phrase is not only the idea that helped our CEO Tom Szaky start the company, but it is the dream which guides him every day, and the strategic vision that directs TerraCycle in how, where, and why it operates.
Rewinding to 2001 in our company’s story, we find our CEO and founder at Princeton University. After a friend of Tom’s discovered that worm poop helped one of his plants grow fast and healthy, Tom spent a few months at school using cafeteria waste and worm poop as a fertilizer – a creation which soon became TerraCycle’s first product. After four months of this, Tom dropped out, as a freshman, in order to turn his focus on creating a profitable, sustainable, and responsible business.
When our company’s history is put simply, it comes across as your typical startup miracle: our CEO dropped out of college with a dream to change the world, and the company has since managed to grow into multi-national, multi-million dollar enterprise.
Our history hasn’t exactly been a fairytale, as there have been ups, downs, and blockades along the way. One of the main struggles is convincing others to take a chance with us. At first, when the company was just selling liquefied worm poop as a fertilizer, investors were hesitant to take a chance because it seems like a crazy idea by a young kid just trying to make it big.
Now, the challenge is getting our name out there: making TerraCycle a household name by partnering with big names. Our company has shifted its operations from selling to ‘brigades.’ The first brigade, the Bottle Brigade, launched back in 2005. TerraCycle Plant Food was distributed across North America in soda bottles, so the company wanted to ensure we followed our product through the entire cycle – all the way to the ‘disposal.’ This initial brigade was so successful, with over 5,000 participating locations in 2 years. TerraCycle built on the opportunity, launching three brigades over the course of 2007: the Drink Pouch Brigade, the Yogurt Cup Brigade, and the Energy Bar Wrapper Brigade. In 2008, after kick-starting several brigades and running a campaign with Target to up-cycle bags and create totes, our CEO Tom was named Brand Innovator of the Year.
TerraCycle grew exponentially in the year of 2009 – launching over 25 programs and starting up in Brazil, Canada, and the UK. Furthermore, Tom released his first book, Revolution in a Bottle. By 2011, the company was also operating in Norway, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In 2012, we launched the world’s first recycling program for cigarette butts. Later on, in 2014, we launched our Zero Waste Box Division – collection boxes which allow us to provide recycling solutions for almost all forms of waste.
Our company is solely focused on eliminating the idea of waste and moving our world toward zero waste. Our recycling programs and Zero Waste Boxes allow us to repurpose both non-recyclable and hard-to-recycle waste. You can join any of our free recycling programs or brigades here and purchase any of our Zero Waste Boxes here.