Don't call it garbage
Terracycle turns old packaging into some of the coolest goods on the shelf
You can learn a lot from worm poop. Just ask Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Terracycle, who once manufactured fertilizer made from the stuff. "It got me thinking about waste streams, because we had to collect uncrushed soda bottles from thousands of schools to hold the worm poop."
When major consumer packaging companies began asking Szaky to pick up their trash, too, he realized that he had a different opportunity on his hands.
The result is Terracycle, which collects all sorts of unrecyclables--Lunchables packaging, old pens, dead cell phones, potato chip bags--and turns them into items such as school supplies and gardening tools, which are then sold at retailers including Target and The Home Depot.
Really, Terracycle is proof that there's never been a better time to be a green business, with customers becoming increasingly eco-conscious and venture capitalists pinning their hopes--and a lot of money, $5.6 billion in 2009--on the cleantech industry.
Terracycle is expected to pull $20 million in retail sales in 2010, and it has doubled the number of employees (currently around 100) every year since its inception in 2001. Better still, these efforts will divert 3 billion pieces of garbage from landfills.
"We're relevant because we create a tangible solution," Szaky says. Although most of the "upcycling" happens in the lab, where engineers and scientists manipulate the trash into textiles and plastics, he wants to involve as many people as possible.
"Sign up on the website to be a collector," he says. "You don't have to pay or buy anything. Just collect."
Terracycle has more than 9 million citizen collectors, who've sent in more than 1 billion pieces of trash. And, yes, they were paid: 2 cents for each chip bag or drink pouch, plus shipping.
Who says you can't turn garbage into gold? --J.W.
9 More to Watch:
Advanced Electron Beams AEB's sustainable manufacturing technology sterilizes products and cures coatings, all the while producing less pollution than the usual chemical processes.
Bloom Energy The Sunnyvale, Calif., firm is behind the Bloom box, a miniature power plant that creates electricity from air and fuel cells--without emissions.
Environment Furniture A sophisticated furniture line that uses eco-friendly materials such as reclaimed wood and aims for low environmental impact.
QD Vision Inc. Spun out of MIT in 2004, this company develops lighting that's 500 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs.
RavenBrick The thermo-reflective windows and walls developed by this cleantech firm can reduce energy usage by half and replace materials such as brick, insulation and concrete.
Recycle Match The site matches resources at one business with users at another. Example: Unrecyclable windows from a building upgrade were turned into countertops and tiles.
Relay Rides This car-sharing program in Boston rents out underused vehicles to drivers in need.
Terra Plana Purchased in 2002 by Galahad Clark of the Clarks shoe dynasty, the company uses recycled materials and minimal glue to make shoes ranging from sneakers to pumps.
The Green Garmento A $10 reusable dry-cleaning bag that holds 12 garments--and doesn't contribute to the 300 million pounds of plastic bags dumped in U.S. landfills each year.