Contributing Monkie Boise Thomas
Published on June 10, 2008
Going for the green, getting wasted, dropping out of college and collecting bottles is not the first thing you’d think of when you meet Tom Szaky, Princeton dropout. But the 25-year-old Hungarian born refugee, raised in Toronto, Canada, has done just that. The Ivy League freshman went home to visit friends who happened to be growing ganga plants. And they were doing really well. The secret wasn’t in the seed or the weed. It was in the soil. Vermicompost, the end-product of the breakdown of organic matter by earthworms — also called worm castings — is rich in nutrients and serves as nature’s soil conditioner and fertilization. And when Szaky saw worm poop, he saw dollar signs.
Szaky went greener by developing the first and only business built from beginning to end using waste: organic garbage, turned into worm castings, packaged in recycled soda bottles and shipped in other companies’ misprinted boxes. Ironically, all of this from New Jersey, which is referred to as both the “garden” state and the “garbage” state.
The company is called Terra Cycle and they make all natural fertilizer.
His amazing journey began back in 2001, when he first learned about vermicomposting. From there he built the business out of his garage, rummaging through the trash bins at college to get all the bottles he needed to ship the product. In 2003, the company made $70,000. Today, Terra Cycle has seen the type of growth every entrepreneur dreams of: 300% annually and the CEO and Founder was voted the #1 under 30, beating out Facebook founder Mark Whatshisbucket. With over 40 employees in three North American offices, Terra Cycle’s products are currently available at Home Depot and Wal-Mart and will be released to Target and Sam’s Club in 2008.
Szaky drives his team crazy with the launch of a new product every two weeks, but the vision for Terra Cycle goes beyond gardening and recycling and revolutionizing they way we all do business. He dreams of a day when there is no trash — or at least a world in which trash has a use and people think about where it goes when they’re done with it.
Remarkably, the only materials that are not reused or recycled at Terra Cycle are the shrink wrap labels. Everything else is taken from what would be either incinerated, thrown out or put in a landfill. Eco-capitolism is a buzz word; but at Terra Cycle, they’re actually doing it.
They remain (as of press time) the only company whose products are made entirely from waste. Several other products coming to market include purses and pencil cases made of reused juice boxes, planters from yogurt cups, bird feeders from 20 liter soda bottles, composters and rain collectors made from wine barrels as well as a drain cleaner that is 100% organic and non-toxic.
Ask Szaky where he sees Terra Cycle in 10 years, and he visions being the SC Johnson of the new millennium. If Terra Cycle continues its rapid growth in a marketplace with little competition, he just may fulfill this vision. Win or lose, he’s one to watch. Stay tuned to G Living and see our Room 101 interview with Tom Szaky when we talk about Terra Cycle’s past, present and future.