TerraCycle now operates from several small satellite offices in Atlanta, Trenton and Toronto, enabling them to cut down on their environmental carbon footprint. About ten different products are available, including plant food, bird-houses made from recycled bottles, and plant pots constructed from e-waste (electronic waste) such as discarded television parts.
"One of the problems is that eco-friendly products always seem to come with a premium," said Albe Zakes, Terracycles Public Relations director. "But using waste to make these products (and) we are able to offer them without the premium."
When founder and CEO Tom Szaky was a freshman at Princeton University in 2001 he learned about using worms to compost waste material, realizing the opportunity to start making a useable eco-friendly product entirely from garbage. Szaky left school in 2002 to fully put himself behind the idea.
"I think (these products) have been received very well amongst more progressive and informed consumers. We've yet to break through from being a cold product to a mainstream product, we are sort of stuck in between at the moment. That's part of the reason the Fred Myer deal is so exciting to us," Zakes said. "These are regions, especially Alaska, but also Washington and Oregon where the average consumer is probably much more progressive than the rest of the country, that is to say more concerned with the environment and more willing to use something that's organic or eco-friendly. For that reason, I think our products will do very well in Alaska."
"As the worms create organic fertilizer from otherwise unused waste, they actually leave a negative carbon footprint," he said. "It costs the worms no energy and they are consuming carbon as they transform the waste, there also is no electricity used."
The material for all the packaging of TerraCycle's products as well as some product components are collected from plastic waste picked up by schools. Four different programs such as the Bottle Brigades, or Drink Pouch Brigades, are run for schools to collect waste and in turn the schools collect money for each item. The Bottle Brigades earn five cents for each 20 oz. bottle they send TerraCycle and all shipping is paid for.
"The drink pouch's are completely non-recyclable anywhere on the globe and about five billion of them are consumed every year in America," Zakes said. "This program is a great opportunity not only to save these things from the landfill but to teach the students about waste and recycling and reuse. It's so easy for an eight-year old kid to throw something away and think that the problem goes away. I don't remember learning about the environment until I was almost out of high school."
The drink pouches will be turned into totes and pencil cases for kids.
There are no participating schools in Alaska so far, "probably because there's no retail presence yet," Zakes said. "But there are 4,000 in Bottle Brigades, 1,000 in Drink Pouch Brigades and 500 involved in the Yogurt Brigades."
While TerraCycle is not making a very high return on some of their products such as the pots recycled from e-waste, the company deems it a worthy sacrifice for what they are trying to accomplish.
"We can rest easier knowing that we are trying to address one of the newest ecological dangers," he said. "I think when we start to get people to think about what we are using and how we are wasting it, we can make a dent in the serious conservation problem this country faces."
For more information or to involve your school visit: www.terracycle.net
Naomi Judd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org