Upcycling: CEO Turns Trash Into Cash

Tom Szaky has created a green business that goes beyond recycling.

ByABC News via logo
April 21, 2009, 6:49 PM

April 22, 2009 — -- On this Earth Day, when many people are thinking about recycling and deciding on just one thing they can do to become more eco-friendly, one 27-year-old entrepreneur has managed to turn his dreams of a greener Earth into money in the bank.

Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, has a tale of ultimate eco-capitalism. To Szaky, another man's trash literally is his treasure.

"I don't see garbage anymore. I just see cash," he said.

Instead of recycling, his company upcycles, which is the art of turning garbage into making something new while still utilizing the trash's original shape.

"This is an eco-revolution and we're eco-capitalism," Szaky said. "The point of TerraCycle is to prove that you can make a boatload of money and save the world at the same time."

For example, Szaky's company has made an art kit that is packaged in a recycled beta case and a table with a base made from 12 large beta cases and four small ones. The garbage mogul said he has managed to make money by turning used cookie wrappers into kites and other items consumers are looking to purchase.

"You can really eliminate the entire idea of garbage," Szaky said.

That is exactly what TerraCycle plans to do.

Szaky's idea for TerraCycle came to him when he was a Princeton University freshman in 2001. The Hungarian-born entrepreneur, who lived in Holland and Canada before emigrating to America for college, cooked up the idea in his dorm room with a friend, Jon Beyer, after realizing the power of worm feces.

Szaky's friends said they were having trouble getting their garden to grow and an experiment revealed that worm feces was an excellent fertilizer.

Szaky said he so was excited by the idea of turning something discarded into a moneymaker, he dropped out of Princeton -- without telling his parents for six months -- to start his own business.

Today TerraCycle has grown to three locations, one in New Jersey, one in Toronto and another in suburban Atlanta.