Think sustainability and innovation have become overused buzz words? Get ready to rethink that, because a paradigm shift is taking place. Brilliant, sustainability-focused organizations are working together to create a self-sustaining closed-loop, and put an end to the resource-hungry monster of a linear system we have relied on since the industrial revolution. One young upstart has already made a tremendous difference, changing the perception of trash, raising money for charity, and making civilized life more environmentally responsible.
Just seven years ago, a college student named Tom Szaky started a company that turned waste, (which usually has negative value -- people pay to have it taken away) into a valuable raw material. The contents of TerraCycle's warehouse are similar to that of landfills, but organization is what sets the company's facility apart. By separating waste into its individual components, TerraCycle transforms it from discarded rubbish into valuable raw materials -- commodities.
Tom Szaky, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of TerraCycle, Inc.
The company also works with pre-consumer materials. For example any change in dye lot, graphics, promotions, a misprint or defect of any sort renders packaging useless. While manufacturers have historically landfilled or incinerated these materials, with increased emphasis on environmental responsibility, our partners are taking necessary steps to do the right thing with their waste. In 2008, pre-and post-consumer collections diverted over 80 million wrappers from the waste stream. The 2009 goal is to divert more than 3,000 tons of materials from the Mars company alone.
TerraCycle is a company conceived in 2001, during Tom Szaky's undergraduate studies at Princeton University. Szaky's innovation came through flipping the traditional waste removal business on its head. Specifically, rather than let the university continue to pay haulers to take dining hall waste to landfill, TerraCycle would remove it free of charge. TerraCycle composted these food scraps to create the highly lauded organic Worm Poop Fertilizer sold in major retailers and garden centers across North America.
What does TerraCycle's progress mean to others in the field? Product development is adapting as materials that can be upcycled become more diverse; as a result, manufacturing processes are greatly evolving. Long term, perhaps this means a shift toward locally focused economies where materials remain in a closed loop. The supply chain will be transformed from a linear process to a more cyclic operation. There is an almost limitless supply of resources to work with, which don't have to be harvested, cut down, mined, or synthesized.
Now could be the time for businesses to reconsider opportunities they wrote off in the past, or to evaluate the partnerships that might not be right for their competition -- perhaps it could afford your organization a competitive advantage, or simplify your work in ways that would greatly amplify your strengths. Through our programs, partners gain several advantages, including sustainable materials disposal and excellent PR. Whether you are looking at the current market from the eyes of a materials supplier, a manufacturer of brand name or private label goods, or the perspective of someone charged with the myriad details of compliance, it truly is time to tread carefully and to seek out new opportunities that may have been written off as impossible this time last year.
George Chevalier is a Sr. Publicist at TerraCycle, Inc. www.terracycle.net
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