Terracycle: One man's trash is another man's cash

By Eveliis Eek

Have you ever thought what happens to your Snickers bar package after you finish eating it. Most probably it will end up in a bin and from there it´s a one way ticket to the trash yard, right? Well there is a company that might take your snickers bar package and turn it into... well why not  a backpack. That company is called Terracycle, and snickers bar packaging is only a small piece of their story.

It all started with worm poop

The revolution began in 2001 when two freshmen at Princeton University Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer submitted a business plan to a contest sponsored by the Princeton Enterpreneurship Club. The following summer Szaky and Beyer made arrangements with Princeton Dining Services to take the dining hall waste and process it in their prototype „Worm Gin“. By 2002, the company had created a continuous flow process to take garbage and have it processed by worms into fertilizer. The products then were packaged worm poop used in soda bottles. Since then TerraCycle has grown into one of the fastest-growing green companies in the world.

In the picture: First product that TerraCycle ever produced was packaged worm poop used in soda bottles

According to a company´s spokesperson Stacey Krauss TerraCycle believes that trash does not exist in nature and that it is their purpose to eliminate waste. „By collecting and finding ways to reuse traditionally non-recyclable materials, Terracycle is changing the way the world views waste,“ said Krauss. Terra is defined as The planet, Earth or land, whereas Cycle is recognized with recycling and upcycling and defined as any complete round or series of occurrences that repeats or is repeated. By recycling or upcycling items that would normally be sent to landfills, TerraCycle finds a way to help the environment and create a sustainable solution to waste.

Upcycling is making trash valuable

A backpack made of Snickers packaging has more value than the original packaging, once the product inside is gone. „Once the packaging has served its purpose and the candy has been safely delivered to a hungry consumer, the packaging is usually discarded, because it is not believed to have any value. At TerraCycle we find value in packaging as-is and can reuse it in almost its original state,“ said Stacey Krauss.


In the pictures: Mars notebook, Capri Sun Backpack, Reverse chip Bag, Woven Wrapper bag, Skittles Boombox - are only a small number of items produced in TerraCycle through the process of upcycling.

Upcycling is the process of reusing waste material in or close to its original state to make a useful product of better quality or a greater environmental value. For example TerraCycle has made Eco-speakers out of M&M wrappers. „The hard plastic liners in every Ozard Trail cooler for sale at Walmart stores is made from chip bags collected through Frito-Lay Chip Bag Brigade,“ said Krauss

Millions helping the cause

Terracycle operates in over 20 countries, including USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the UK, France and Germany. „In these countries any individual, family, scool, office or community can sign up for free on Terracycle website to start collecting one of our accepted waste streams and earning money for charity,“ said Krauss.

With more than 20 million people collecting wasteTerraCycle has diverted billions of units of waste and used them to create over 1500 different products available at major ranging from Walmart to Whole Foods Market.

„Terracycle has a team of designers, lovingly referred to as the „Design Junkies,“ who get all kinds of pre-consumer and post-consumer waste and have to figure out what can be done from it,“ explained Krauss. For every waste stream, of course there are limitations to what kind of product can be created from the material.

Headquarters made from waste

The product created from waste that the TerraCycle team is most proud of, is there headquarters in Trenton. „As we transitioned to the Brigade model, waste was checked in, sorted and stored here until it was ready to be made into products. Now, the entire space has been converted to office using only upcycled, recycled and found materials and equipment,“ said Krauss. „Despite the fact that everything is basically made from woult-be garbage, the space is stunning, proving that with some creativity and a little hard work, you can make something gorgeous without having a negative impact on the planet,“ she added.

In the picture: Everything in TerraCycle headquarters is made from would-be garbage. A goergeous scene proves that with bright ideas and hard work one can make stunning things without having a negative on the planet.

About 1% of the material TerraCycle collects through the Brigade program is reused directly. For example, they´ve made seed starters out of yogurt tubs and packaged liquid fertilizer in reused soda bottles. Almost 4% of what is collected is upcycled, meaning it it is reused in its original state or very close to it. „Capri Sun drink pouches can be fused and stitched like a fabric to make backpacks, lunchboxes and pencil cases,“ said Krauss.

Over 95% of what is collected is shredded and extruded into plastic pellets that can be recycled into almost any kind of plastic product. „Every Ozart Trail cooler sold at Walmart in the US has a hard plastic liner made from recycled Frito-Lay chip bags,“ she added.

Future is possibly filled with diapers

„At Terracycle we haven´t found a waste stream for which we cannot develop a solution. Our founder and CEO Tom Szaky is constantly pushing the staff to uncover newer, grosser, tougher waste streams to collect, because solving for them can have a great environmental benefit,“ said  the spokesperson for TerraCycle Stacey Krauss.

Terracycle is willing to find a solution s even to dirty diapers, that most people would never even think about recycling. „Most people would probably think it is disgusting to recycle s dirty diapers, but the average chils goes through almost 5000 diapers in its first two years of life and they all end up in landfills. We want TerraCycle to be able to recycle those“.

Those in fond of black humor might think since Terracycle started with Worm poop it is only fitting to end this article with talks on human poop (diapers). To those I say that regardless if dealing with poop or not, TerraCycle is changing the world of garbage with their innovative and boundry-moving ideas and actions. They are proving that you can make world a better place whilst earning a profit as well. The fact it all started with worm poop only makes their revolutionary story even more remarkable and genius.

Update 08.01.2013:
Watch this short video story of Terracycle!