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TerraCycle's History

About TerraCycle - Revolution in a bottle

Revolution in a bottle

Tom Szaky dropped out of Princeton University to found TerraCycle, a company that makes the non-recyclable, recyclable. Revolution in a Bottle is a rollicking tale of entrepreneurial adventure and an essential guide to creating a company that’s good for people, good for profits, and good for the planet.

“TerraCycle is doing more than selling good green products; it is changing how manufacturers, retailers, and consumers treat their waste. Read this book. I’m glad I did.” — Ben Cohen, cofounder, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

Get Revolution in a Bottle.

2014 - Zero Waste Boxes are born

2014 US History Photo

TerraCycle launched its Zero Waste Box division, bringing recycling solutions to almost all forms of waste. Within months, Staples, Office Depot, and Home Depot relisted hundreds of different Zero Waste Boxes to recycle everything from coffee capsules to three ring binders. TerraCycle continued its global expansion with the launch of TerraCycle Japan, with partnerships to collect cigarette and cosmetic waste. In addition, Progressive Waste Solutions, Canada’s largest waste management company, purchased 20% of TerraCycle Canada. TerraCycle signed a TV deal with Pivot for TerraCycle’s TV show Human Resources, which premiered in August 2014. Shortly after airing, Pivot contracted a second season for 2015.

Watch a clip from Human Resources

2013 - TerraCycle celebrates 10 years

2013 US History Photo

In 2013 TerraCycle expanded to Australia and New Zealand, marking over 20 countries of operation. By this point in time TerraCycle had over 100 programs running, collecting and recycling everything from plastic gloves to chip bags. In the US, the Cigarette Waste Brigade® won awards from PR News, PR Week, the EPA, and many other organizations. This same program then launched overseas in France, Germany, and the Nordic regions. In November, TerraCycle partnered with the City of Vancouver to run the first city-wide recycling program for cigarette waste. Landbell GmhH, a large waste management company in Germany, purchased 25% of TerraCycle Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Tom Szaky, was named one of the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs of the Year.

2012 - Cigarette recycling

2012 US History Photo

2012 marked the ninth straight year of revenue growth as well as the launch of the world’s first recycling program for cigarette butts. After launching the program in Canada it was quickly expanded to the US and Spain. With help from over 40 million dedicated Brigade participants around the world, TerraCycle had diverted 2.5 billion pieces of waste from landfills and over $6 million donated to schools and charities. In 2012, TerraCycle launched 14 new Brigade programs to collect everything from deodorant tubes to coffee capsules to baby bottles with help from companies like Tom’s of Maine, Nespresso, and Blédina. In 2012, TerraCycle continued its international expansion by launching operations in Turkey, Hungary, and Puerto Rico. The company also won several major awards including the UN Leader of Social Change Award.

Watch the SHFT Documentary.

2011 - Flip-flops into playgrounds

Flip Flop Playground image

In 2011, TerraCycle opened in Norway, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark, Israel, Belgium, Argentina, and the Netherlands. Over 30 new waste collection programs were launched and total staff grew to over 100 employees. TerraCycle also donated over $3 million to charities in 2011 for the total waste collected. For Earth Day 2011, TerraCycle partnered with Old Navy and Office Depot to collect used flip-flops and used pens. The Old Navy program saw great success with the donation of four recycled flip-flop playgrounds to schools around the US. The same year TerraCycle’s team in Brazil broke the world record for largest recycled sculpture ever made. TerraCycle also released Trash Tycoon, the first online game about repurposing difficult-to-recycle waste. Tom Szaky was named to the Forbes Impact 30 List, which recognized entrepreneurs wrestling with some of the world’s most pressing issues.

2010 - From TV to Times Square

From TV to Time Square: TerraCycle hits the Big Time

In spring 2010, Walmart introduced the TerraCycle Hot Spot, an eco-display in all Walmart stores across the US that paired products like Capri Sun pouches with TerraCycle's recycled and upcycled solutions for that waste. At the same time, TerraCycle set up its first pop-up shop in NYC's Port Authority Terminal. By mid-September, TerraCycle's Drink Pouch Brigade had collected and recycled over 50 million drink pouches, paying out over $1 million to schools and non-profit organizations in the process. TerraCycle renovated its offices late in 2010, creating new space for the company's ever expanding workforce.

2009 - TerraCycle goes global

The Brigade platform grew with the addition of over 25 new programs and the launch of TerraCycle in Brazil, Canada, and the UK. In March, Tom’s first book, Revolution in a Bottle, hit store shelves. On Earth Day, TerraCycle’s reality-show, Garbage Moguls, debuted on The National Geographic Channel. And in mid-2009, TerraCycle opened its first retail location in Princeton, NJ.

Watch a clip from Garbage Moguls.

2008 - Garbage Moguls

Sponsored Waste Goes Corporate

In February 2008, Capri Sun signed on as the leading sponsor for the Drink Pouch Brigade, allowing the program to expand dramatically. That same year TerraCycle teamed up with Target to run an innovative ad campaign on the cover of Newsweek’s green issue. Newsweek readers were asked to remove the cover and fill it with used Target plastic bags. Over 47,000 people returned their waste bags to TerraCycle. The collected bags were upcycled to make the Retote: the world’s first reusable tote bag made from used plastic bags. In 2008 a number of new Brigade programs were added, and as a result, Brand Packaging named Tom Szaky the Brand Innovator of the Year.

2007 - Sponsored waste is born

Sponsored Waste Is Born

In 2007 TerraCycle grew to nine different product offerings, including concentrated versions of its worm poop fertilizer, as well as a biodegradable Seed Starter and Potting Mix. Meanwhile, TerraCycle’s Bottle Brigade reached 5,000 participating locations. In August 2007, TerraCycle launched the Drink Pouch Brigade, with founding sponsor Honest Tea. The program was designed collect and repurpose used drink pouches. Neither company knew what to expect, so 100 open slots were authorized. In less than 24 hours they were filled! On the heels of this success TerraCycle launched the Yogurt Cup Brigade and the Energy Bar Wrapper Brigade, sponsored by Stonyfield Farm and Clif Bar, respectively.

2006 - The coolest little startup in America

The Coolest Little Startup in America!

In 2006, TerraCycle Plant Foods were widely available in the US for the first time, with both Walmart and The Home Depot carrying the plant foods nationally. In July of 2006, Tom and TerraCycle were featured on the cover of Inc. Magazine, as the #1 CEO in America under 30 years old as part of their coveted 30 under 30 Awards. By year’s end, TerraCycle had sold over $1 million worth of liquefied worm poop packaged in reused soda bottles.

2005 - Off to the races

Up and Running!

Walmart was the first major retailer to come on board in the US, with The Home Depot following shortly after. Before long, TerraCycle Plant Food was being distributed across many major retailers in North America. As demand grew, TerraCycle introduced TerraCycle African Violet and TerraCycle Orchid plant foods. TerraCycle’s Bottle Brigade was also launched to help collect used soda bottles to package its worm poop fertilizer.

Watch Big Ideas for a Small Planet on SundanceTV.

2004 - Starting to grow

Early Years

TerraCycle Plant Food was soon listed in The Home Depot and Walmart in Canada. As the company grew, TerraCycle moved from its offices in Princeton, NJ, to a much larger building in Trenton, where it is headquartered to this day. By allowing graffiti to be freely painted on its walls, TerraCycle became a mecca for urban artists from all over the world. TerraCycle also teamed up with local artists to throw its first annual graffiti jam. Since then, TerraCycle’s building has been repainted every few weeks with brand new urban art.

2003 - A million dollar question

Who Needs a Million Dollars and a College Degree?

Tom decided to leave Princeton University and pursue TerraCycle full-time, growing the team to half a dozen people. In April of 2003, TerraCycle won the coveted grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business Plan Challenge, complete with $1 million dollars of investment. Unfortunately, the investors wanted to move TerraCycle away from making a product from waste. Despite having only $500 in the company’s bank account, Tom turned down the investment in order to stay true to TerraCycle’s mission of Eliminating the Idea of Waste®. CBC shot the first documentary to feature TerraCycle.

Watch the CBC documentary on TerraCycle.

2002 - Millions of worms

A Man, Millions of Worms and a Lot of Debt

Tom emptied his savings accounts, borrowed money from friends and family, and maxed out his credit cards to create a massive worm poop conversion unit. Most of Tom’s time was spent shoveling rotting food out of the back of Princeton University’s cafeterias. Broke, exhausted, and ready to throw in the towel, Tom met Suman Sinha, an angel investor who cut the young entrepreneur a check and became TerraCycle’s first investor. With the money invested by Suman, Tom was able to rent his first office space at 20 Nassau St. in Princeton, NJ.

2001 - Boy meets worm

Boy Meets Worm

A freshman at Princeton University, 19-year-old Tom Szaky took several of his friends up to Montreal for fall break. There, he stayed with friends who were feeding kitchen scraps to red worms and using the resulting fertilizer to feed some of their indoor plants. The results were amazing and the idea for TerraCycle was born: to help eliminate the idea of waste by making quality fertilizer from food waste.