Turning the Worm Poop into Big Bucks

It’s the age-old tale of an entrepreneur taking something that everyone else has completely overlooked and turning it into a multimillion dollar business. In this case the entrepreneur is Tom Szacky and the business is TerraCycle.

The idea, and it’s a grand one, that Szacky had was to eliminate all of the world’s waste and, considering that he’s grown that idea into a multimillion dollar global enterprise, it doesn’t seem as idealistic and far flung as it used to be.

“When you look at the global garbage problem, it’s important to realize every object we buy will one day become waste,” says entrepreneur Szacky. “That’s where we end up with this monumental issue: 5 billion tons of waste a year.”

What his company does is collect materials that people throw in the garbage daily and turn them into consumer products like shopping bags, office supplies, packing materials, toys and plastic bins.

Szacky likes to say that “If you can use garbage as a raw material then that’s not really garbage at all.”

A Hungarian who emigrated to the US with his family when he was still a child, Szacky came up with a super effective garden fertilizer using earthworms or, more specifically, earthworm poop.

The boys decided to drop out of Princeton and focus on their idea full-time but, because money for packaging was tight, they began to use old soda bottles that they had collected from recycling bins to bottle their product.

“We realized that the No. 1 seller of fertilizer in this country was Walmart (WMT). So we just started aggressively calling Walmart,” Szacky says.

Still, without a factory or a bottling system at hand, the boys decided to turn to the local school system in order to get all the used soda bottles they needed. Their plan worked and, with over 100,000 containers that were hand bottled and labeled by Szacky at his friends, they not only created an excellent plant food but also the world’s first product made from, and packaged entirely with, waste products.

Although they did get a little bit of help from some smaller investors and a number of business contests that they won, most of the funding that they were offered Szacky turned down so that he could do things “his way”. That paid off when Home Depot came calling and, now more than 10 years later, Terracycle is earning over $20 million in annual revenues.

The company’s “Bottle Brigade” program, allowing schools and communities in over 26 countries around the world to send in their recyclables for cash, has been a particularly big hit.

It also proves that the best entrepreneurs can turn (worm)  poop into gold.

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