TerraCycle's History

2012 - The World's First Recycling Programme for Cigarette Waste

2012 UK History photo

2012 was another record year for TerraCycle. It marked the 9th straight year of revenue growth as well as the launch of the world’s first recycling programme for one of the most commonly littered items on the planet – cigarette butts. After launching the programme in Canada in May, it was quickly expanded to the US and Spain with help from Santa Fe Natural Tobacco and British American Tobacco, respectively. The collected cigarette butts are recycled into plastic pellets and used to make industrial products like shipping pallets.

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2011 - TerraCycle Grows from Strength to Strength

TerraCycle Grows from Strength to Strength

In 2011, TerraCycle launched operations in France, Norway, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark, Israel, Belgium, Argentina and the Netherlands. Launched over 30 new waste collection programs and grew in total staff to above 100 employees globally. TerraCycle also donated over $3 million to charities in 2011 for collected waste.

A few highlights in 2011 include: For Earth Day 2011, TerraCycle partnered with Old Navy and Office Depot to collect used flip flops and used pens, respectively, at in-store locations – the first retail collections for those waste streams! The program saw great success with the donation of four recycled flip-flop playgrounds to schools around the US. TerraCycle also launched its first sponsored e-waste Brigade with Logitech to collect mice and keyboards.

TerraCycle’s team in Brazil broke the world record for largest recycled sculpture ever made and landed in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Tangobo, made from Tang drink pouches, measured in at 15.2 meters high, 8.32 meters wide, and 4.25 meters deep. After the presentation at the Parque do Carmo in September, Tangobo was dismantled and the drink pouches were recycled into benches, tables, and other items for the Parque do Carmo.

TerraCycle also released Trash Tycoon, the first online game about upcycling and recycling difficult-to-recycle trash. The game simulates the real life TerraCycle Brigade system in which food packaging such as Kraft Cheese plastic is collected and upcycled and recycled into items such as tote bags, backpacks, and park benches. Trash Tycoon had 300,000 users after the first month, and we’re excited to see how recycling and upcycling in a game influences kids and adults alike to reuse and recycle in real life!

Additionally, TerraCycle’s founder and CEO Tom Szaky was named to the Forbes Impact 30 List for 2011, which recognized entrepreneurs wrestling with some of the world’s most pressing issues.

Closer to home 2011 saw the two year anniversary of TerraCycle UK which we celebrated by launching two new Brigade's in the shape of the JOHNSON'S Baby Wipes Packaging Brigade for used baby wipes packaging and the Aquafresh oral care Brigade for used toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes. With partner GSK, TerraCycle UK also ran a six month pilot of 'Complete the Cycle', Europe's first asthma inhaler recycling scheme across 40 Co-operative Pharmacies. The trial proved such a success that the scheme was extended to 200 locations nationwide.

2010 - From TV to Time Square: TerraCycle hits the Big Time

From TV to Time Square: TerraCycle hits the Big Time

In Spring 2010, Walmart introduced the TerraCycle Hot Spot, an amazing co-display in all Walmart stores across the US, that paired familiar products like Capri Sun, Lays and Oreos with TerraCycle's recycled and upcycled products made from waste.

Also around that time, TerraCycle set up its first Pop-up Shop in NYC's Port Authority Terminal for two months. An eco-sanctuary in the heart of the city, the store included TerraCycle's upcycled wares as well as bins where visitors dropped off waste to be upcycled and recycled.

Then came the "trashiest" reality TV show the world has ever seen, TerraCycle's four episode mini-series called Garbage Moguls, premiered on National Geographic Channel in August.

By mid-September, TerraCycle's [Drink Pouch Brigade] passed a major milestone. Having paid over $1 Million to schools, charities and non-profit organizations, the original sponsored waste program successfully diverted over 50 million drink pouches to be recycled and upcycled by TerraCycle.

TerraCycle renovated its offices late in 2010, creating new space for the company's ever expanding workforce. The theme of reuse continues throughout the new office space, with desks made from used doors and pallets. Office spaces are divided by strings of leftover soda bottles, and the perimeter of the room is covered with TerraCycle's trademark graffiti. The open floor plan encourages communication and fosters TerraCycle's collaborative culture.

2009 - Garbage Moguls Goes International

Garbage Moguls Goes International

To start off a big year, TerraCycle launched two new national product lines! Target showcased TerraCycle’s line of clocks, coasters, and picture frames made from either vinyl records or circuit boards, while Petco started selling our All-Natural Pet Products!

The brigades program also grew with the addition of over 25 new waste streams and the launch of TerraCycle in Brazil, Canada, and the UK.

In March, Tom’s Book, Revolution in a Bottle, hit store shelves at Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com. On Earth Day, TerraCycle’s reality-show Garbage Moguls debuted on The National Geographic Channel. Since then The National Geographic Channel signed on for a mini-series with three more episodes of “Garbage Moguls”. They are scheduled to run in 2010.

In mid 2009 TerraCycle opened its first retail location in Princeton, NJ.

2008 - Sponsored Waste Goes Corporate

Sponsored Waste Goes Corporate

The idea behind Sponsored Waste is simple. TerraCycle partners with Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) manufacturers to administer free programs which pay consumers to help collect non-recyclable packaging, which is then upcycled or recycled into eco-friendly products. In January of 2008, TerraCycle met with Kraft Foods and by February, Capri Sun signed on as the leading sponsor in the Drink Pouch Brigade. The program was opened up to thousands more participants.

With our media exposure off the charts, we teamed up with Target to run an innovative ad campaign on the cover of the Newsweek’s green issue. The ad provided instructions on how to reuse the magazine cover into a returnable envelope with prepaid postage printed on the inside cover. Newsweek readers were asked to remove the cover and fill with used Target plastic bags, and over 47,000 people returned their waste bags back to TerraCycle!

The collected bags are upcycled to make the Retote: the world’s first reusable tote bag made from used plastic bags. The tote is sold exclusively at Target stores nationwide. Meanwhile, Tom again made the cover of another major magazine: Brand Packaging named Tom the 2008 Brand Innovator of the Year!

As TerraCycle continued to blossom, our partnership with Kraft Foods grew by adding other brands into the fold. The next sponsor to sign on was Nabisco.

TerraCycle Founder and CEO Tom Szaky signed a book deal with Penguin Books, which published Tom’s first book: Revolution in a Bottle: How TerraCycle is Redefining Green Business. The book landed on shelves for Earth Day 2009.

After many years of pitching, TerraCycle finally sold the pilot of its TV show, Garbage Moguls. The documentary follows TerraCycle products from the idea board to the store shelf. Kites made from Cookie Wrappers and Messenger Bags made from billboard vinyl became the focus of the first episode.

Meanwhile, TerraCycle and its partners recruited over 10,000 participating locations into its new Brigade programs. In addition, we added three new waste streams to the list: wine corks, granola bags, and Toasted Chips bags.

2007 - Sponsored Waste Is Born

Sponsored Waste Is Born

In 2007 the excitement spread as TerraCycle grew to 9 different product offerings at Wal-Mart and The Home Depot. TerraCycle was now selling concentrated versions of its worm poop fertilizer, as well as a biodegradable Seed Starter and Potting Mix. Unfortunately, all of this positive attention attracted some unwanted attention. A lawsuit was filed against TerraCycle by Scotts Miracle-Gro. The 2 billion dollar behemoth claimed TerraCycle had committed trade dress infringement and false advertising.

Tom reassured his team, recognizing the impending suit as an opportunity. So, instead of settling out of court or admitting fault, TerraCycle launched a counter offensive, centered on a blog called suedbyscotts.com. Armed with only a press release and a blog, TerraCycle was got national media attention with articles in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, BusinessWeek and the Associated Press to name just a few! After a strong offensive from both sides, the case was settled on amicable terms.

Meanwhile, the extra publicity garnered from the suit helped TerraCycle’s Bottle Brigade hit 5,000 participants (more than anyone ever imagined) in a matter of months, Tom saw this as a sign that the sky was the limit. The popularity of the Bottle Brigade lead to a new partnership: In August 2007, TerraCycle launched the Drink Pouch Brigade, with founding sponsor, Honest Tea. The new program was designed to pay schools to collect used drink pouches. Neither company knew what to expect, so 100 spaces were opened. Less than 24 hours later all 100 spots were filled!

With a renewed confidence, TerraCycle decided to expand its product offerings with even more new products. First, the Urban Art Pot made from electronic waste, or E-waste, showed up on store shelves. Then two other items, the Rotary Composter, and the Rain Barrel, both of which are created out of old wine barrels, made their way into Sam’s Clubs and The Home Depot.

At the same time, TerraCycle launched two new Brigade programs, the Yogurt Brigade and The Energy Bar Wrapper Brigade, sponsored by Stonyfield Farm and CLIF BAR, respectively. As TerraCycle’s brigade programs grew in popularity, Tom had an epiphany: The idea of Sponsored Waste was born.

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 Wal Mart and The Home Depot carrying the plant foods nationally. After selling almost $500,000 in 2005, TerraCycle was on its way to becoming a million dollar company! 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 dollars worth of liquefied worm poop packaged in reused soda bottles.

2005 - Up and Running!

Up and Running!

With a factory and staff in order, the only thing left to do now was to make some sales. Despite orders from the Canadian big box market, the room to grow in the American market needed to be addressed. Wal-Mart was the first major retailer to come on board in the American market, with The Home Depot USA following shortly after. Before long, TerraCycle Plant Food was being tested regionally all across the country; we were on the precipice of being a nationwide brand!

The results of the TerraCycle All Purpose plant food were so overwhelming that there quickly became a demand for more specialized types of fertilizer. TerraCycle's product line grew to include added fertilizers such as TerraCycle African Violet and TerraCycle Orchid plant foods. With new products and increased sales, TerraCycle had its first taste of the limelight.

2004 - Early Years

Early Years

TerraCycle steamed ahead with its first major sales to The Home Depot and Wal-Mart in the Canadian market. Although the initial order was modest, it got TerraCycle's foot in the door of big box retailers. Pretty soon, major retail meant major orders. TerraCycle needed staff, storage, machinery, and most importantly: a factory. Since the original office was based in Princeton and the Eco-Complex was located in Bordentown, it made logical sense to find somewhere in between the two.

As a result, Trenton became our new headquarters! In the 1930's Trenton had over 400 businesses with 5 or more employees. You'd be lucky to find forty now. With that in mind we found a perfect facility on New York Ave. in West Trenton. The low cost of the property was a huge boon to a young startup such as TerraCycle, while the added benefit to the community dovetailed with Tom's personal ideals of social responsibility. Right off the bat TerraCycle became a second chance employer for ex-convicts, veterans and parolees. We posted a job listing for laborers and 300 people showed up to apply for 9 slots!

TerraCycle soon put the word out that we had an ugly and dilapidated factory that could use some art to lively up its brick walls. Before long, TerraCycle became a 'Mecca' of sorts for urban artists from all over. Most people think of Graffiti is akin to garbage; graffiti is perceived as something that defaces buildings and other structures. Moreover, they pay to have it removed like any piece of trash! For artists, this meant that society was out to destroy their means of expression. So when the factory was offered as a blank canvas, the response was astounding. Graffiti artists transformed the outside of the building to the living, breathing masterpiece it is today. Today, our building is now repainted every few months with brand new urban art!

2003 - Who Needs a Million Dollars and a College Degree?

Who Needs a Million Dollars and a College Degree?

After spending more time developing the company than going to class, Tom decided to take a leave of absence from Princeton to pursue TerraCycle fulltime. And in April of 2003, TerraCycle won the coveted grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business Plan Challenge, complete with 1 million dollars of investment money. Unfortunately, the investors wanted to move TerraCycle away from its eco-friendly mission and focus entirely on the plant food. Despite having only 500 dollars in the company bank account, Tom turned down the money in order to keep using waste products as packaging!

CBC also shot a feature documentary on the company:

2002 - A Man, Millions of Worms and a Lot of Debt

A Man, Millions of Worms and a Lot of Debt

After Tom placed 4th in the Princeton Business Plan Contest, he decided to go ahead with his idea anyway and start producing worm casting based fertilizers. He emptied his savings accounts, borrowed money from friends and family and maxed out his credit cards to buy a massive worm poop conversion unit.

Most of Tom’s time was spent shoveling rotting food out of the back of Princeton Cafeterias. Broke, exhausted and ready to throw in the towel Tom met Suman Sinha, a venture capitalist 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.

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 table scraps to red wiggler worms in a composting bin and using the resultant fertilizer to feed some of their indoor plants. The results were amazing! Tom was looking for a business idea to enter into the upcoming Princeton Business Plan Contest, early the following year. He had his answer: use worms to eat organic waste. He could make a quality fertilizer and address a major environmental issue at the same time!