A Totally Sweet Book on a Smelly Start-Up: Terracycle

Book Cover - Revolution in a BottleREVOLUTION IN A BOTTLE: How Terracycle is Eliminating the Idea of Waste

by TOM SZAKY

(Founder of Terracycle, the company that recycles cigarette butts, dirty diapers, and everything in between)

$9.99 on Barnes & Noble Nook

$7.99 on Amazon Kindle

$0.01 Used on Amazon <—awesome

There is a disclaimer to be made here.  I didn’t really have high hopes for this book.  My roommate plopped it on my lap 3 days ago and said, “Try this.  It’s pretty good, and my boyfriend and I read it each in a day, so its fast.”

Perhaps she didn’t want to oversell it.  If so, she did a remarkable job.  I only started it because I was bored and couldn’t motivate myself to go to the gym.  What shocked me when I did start reading it, is how drawn I was to Founder Tom Szaky’s story.  Throughout his tale, he brings everyone to his side with his green (and brown…lots of brown) ideas and enthusiasm.  That same charisma seems to enrapture everyone that comes across his story.

Tom Szaky A.K.A. Captain Planet

Which makes it more impressive that the wares he got everyone excited about was bottled liquid worm poop.  And when they outgrew their own success there, they moved on to making those messenger bags made of Capri-suns that you see everywhere these days.  And they did it all with the slimmest room for error, on the smallest startup capital, and with the resounding conviction that not only could they start a business that did well by the environment, but one that – by taking advantage of traditional economics and being as green as possible – Could make huge profits.

Terracycle was the brainchild of Tom Szaky, the child of Hungarian immigrants to Canada, a committed entrepreneur and environmentalist, he dropped out of Princeton to found Terracycle in 2001 which sold worm poop as an all-natural fertilizer.  What he knew about the topic couldn’t have filled a thimble, and honestly, shovelling the cast-offs of Princeton’s dining hall sounds disgusting.  But with a group of volunteers, legions of interns, prize money from business plan competitions and angel investors like Martin Stein and Suman Sinha, Terracycle limped along until it took off in 2005 with the business of Home Depot and Wal-Mart Canada.  Terracycle moved to Trenton (and benefitted from the rock bottom real estate prices in the disputed territory of the Bloods and the Crips) and without a doubt he and his team worked harder than one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.  in 2007 they began upcycling – making things like skittles wrappers into laptop cases.  Since their founding, they’ve been a media darling, with Tom gracing the cover of Inc. Magazine, the New York Times and Canadian TV stations.

Most importantly, they’ve been proving that sustainable companies – Terracycle has literally ZERO carbon footprint – can be as much, if not more profitable than traditionally sourced companies.  Terracycle gets paid to take trash and recyclables off other people’s hands and their products are made from this waste.  Their sourcing costs are negative, the incredible marketing attention is positive, and the margins are very, very wide.  It should come as no surprise that Terracycle is a $15 million dollar company.  Think that’s small?  It has tripled its growth in just 3 years, up from $4 million in 2008 through 2012…and during the financial crisis no less.

THAT’S A PRETTY TRASHY BAG!  Ha, I’m hilarious!  (http://www.terracycle.com)

Still not convinced it’s worth the read?  When everything hinges on a single 15 minute meeting with the Walmart Canada buyer who isn’t exactly thrilled to see them, they get creative.  Here is a quick excerpt:

When we walked in, we didn’t say anything, just put the [biggest, juiciest tomatoes we could find] on the table and sat down.  The buyer looked us over and finally asked, “So what are the tomatoes for?”  He wasn’t allowed to accept gifts from vendors, which a poster in the meeting room clearly reminded everyone.

Robin said, “We wanted you to see what an amazing job our plant food can do on vegetables.  Aren’t those the most beautiful tomatoes you’ve ever seen?”  The buyer looked non-committal.  “And the other reason is that, if you don’t like what we have to offer you this morning, you can throw the tomatoes at us.”

That broke the ice.  Thirty minutes later, he was still fascinated with us.  He loved the whole idea of a product that was made of waste and was packaged in waste and especially that it wasn’t at a premium price.

– Szaky, “Revolution in a Bottle”  p. 84-85

I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story, is interested in entrepreneurship, or the upcycling/recycling movement.  Even if you don’t give a worm’s shit about the company, it is hilarious and tells a great story.  It’s got some heroes and some villains, angels and miracles, an incredible overdose of enthusiasm and lots and lots of “trash”.  You can buy it used from $0.01 on Amazon, which I recommend.  The story is about recycling, after all.

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One thought on “A Totally Sweet Book on a Smelly Start-Up: Terracycle

  1. Pingback: Recycling every little thing | Attempting zero waste lifestyle in a military household

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