Founded in 2001 by then Princeton University student Tom Szaky, TerraCycle is on a mission to eliminate the idea of waste. Today, the company is a global leader in collecting and re-purposing hard-to-recycle waste and is operating in 21 countries, engaging over 80 million people, and recycling billions of pieces of waste through various innovative platforms.
Proud to be headquartered in Trenton, the company has raised close to $22 million for various charitable organizations across the globe.
“As a social business, we want everything we do to further our benefit to the environment or to society, while at the same time being profitable,” said Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle. “For us, profitability isn’t the reason we exist, but it’s a measure of health. We focus on environmental issues from a national scope. However, we try to make those programs benefit society.”
Understanding the Waste Crisis
According to an excerpt on TerraCycle’s website, “Garbage” does not exist in nature. In a natural system, any waste generated by one organism becomes a useful input to another. For example, a fox’s droppings may fertilize a nearby berry bush whose fruit may then become food for a bird. The bird might then become a meal for the fox, continuing the cycle. Any outputs generated in the system are utilized, and nothing is left to waste.
With the creation of synthetic materials, humans have broken this natural, cyclical harmony. While plastics and other man-made materials have allowed us greater and more cost-effective innovative freedom, when they reach the end of their life they become useless garbage that has no place in nature’s healthy cycle of input and output. They see fish with bellies full of plastic and birds making nests from cigarette butts, and the problem is only exacerbated with our tendency to over-consume. Easy and cheap access to so many goods and products, coupled with a dramatic increase in global population and a throwaway consumer culture have resulted in a global garbage crisis.
TerraCycle is working towards Eliminating the Idea of Waste by making the non-recyclable, recyclable. They do this by offering a range of free programs that are funded by conscientious consumer brands and manufacturers, as well as purchasable programs that are funded by eco-conscious consumers to bring circular re-purposing solutions to almost all forms of waste.
“When we pick a place to put our offices, warehouses, people, and so on, we take every opportunity to create the greatest good for society through our local presence in those areas,” said Szaky. “Wherever the company locates, be it in Japan, London or any of its locations in 21 countries around the globe, we go to the areas that could use companies the most – not just to create tax revenue, but to create inspiration.”
“We want to show people that they can do different things than what folks may gravitate to in inner cities. That’s the reason we chose Trenton from a social point of view. The reason Trenton makes a lot of sense from a profit point of view is that it’s super cheap. I love the fact that we win both ways,” said Szaky.
“I love that rent is the lowest in the Northeast. Just look at how great Trenton is as a location. People who live in Manhattan commute here every day. People who live in Philadelphia commute here every day. So, we get a radius from New York City to Philadelphia and everywhere in between – that’s a massive area for brains to pull from,” said Szaky.
The art on TerraCycle’s building changes every week during the summer as local artists come to paint murals or tags. Also, artist show their creative chops during TerraCycle’s annual graffiti jam offering its headquarters as a canvas for talent around the country to express their artistic freedom.
“We’ve been In Trenton for over a decade now… It offers the best location at the best price with a city that wants you to be here,” Szaky noted.