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TerraCycle has been called the “Google of garbage” by the New York Times and “the coolest little start-up in America” by Inc. Magazine. We think these are pretty shrewd comparisons, considering the current in-demand job for change makers is in technology start-ups. TerraCycle, on the other hand, is a company that deals with waste.

The founder of TerraCycle, Tom Szaky, has all the characteristics of his peers who have gained success in the tech industry. He was an Ivy League student, is business-savvy, an innovative thinker and has an entrepreneurial spirit. But instead of another tech start-up, he decided to create a business in one of the more unimaginative industries around. For someone with his background, that’s a pretty bold move.

So what is TerraCycle, and why was it worth the risk? It’s a company that challenges the idea of existing waste systems. It started small, with Tom looking at how he could turn food waste into money by selling organic fertilizer. Today it collects and recycles over 100 different kinds of ‘non-recyclable’ garbage in 24 different countries.

Terracycle's offices are known for their use of upcycled and recycled furniture
Terracycle’s offices are known for their use of upcycled and recycled furniture

The current business model is called ‘sponsored waste’. The idea behind sponsored waste is simple. TerraCycle partners with consumer packaged goods manufacturers to administer free programs that pay consumers to collect non-recyclable packaging. This collected waste is then upcycled or recycled into eco-friendly products.

With the help of over 40 million dedicated participants around the world, TerraCycle has diverted more than 2.5 billion pieces of waste from landfill and donated over $6 million to schools and charities. In 2012, TerraCycle launched 14 new programs to collect everything from deodorant tubes and coffee capsules, to baby bottles with help from companies like Tom’s of Maine, Nespresso and Blédina.

The waste itself is recycled and reused into an array of different uses. The waste has been upcycled into different lifestyle products, public furniture, and even playgrounds.

Until February this year, Australians couldn’t take part in any of TerraCycle’s ‘brigades’. But with Australia being the second highest producer of waste per person in the world – around 650 kilograms per person – it makes sense that TerraCycle has just set up shop here.

The sponsored waste partners that TerraCycle has signed for their Australian launch include Nespresso, Colgate and Natures Organics. This will give Australians a way to divert coffee capsules, toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and cleaning packaging waste from our red waste bin.

Process of collecting the un-recyclable waste
Process of collecting the un-recyclable waste

For the first time in our country, cigarette butts will now also be able to be recycled. TerraCycle has partnered with several Australian cigarette manufactures to recycle the butts, which are some of the most commonly littered items on the planet. The collected butts will be recycled into plastic pallets and other items for industrial use.

To get involved, sign up to the brigade program you want to collect for – cigarette butts, Colgate, Nespresso or Natures Organics. Download their Collect, Store, and Ship Guide for helpful suggestions on how to become a successful waste collection station. Then start collecting as much waste as you can. When you want to send it in, request a shipping label from your TerraCycle account.

Once your waste is received and checked in to the TerraCycle facility, your collection location will be credited with TerraCycle points. Your waste can then be redeemed for a small payment to the non-profit organisation or school of your choice.

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