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Talking Trash on Earth Day

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Terracycle turns trash to Gold

“Trash” has certainly been the talk of the town lately.

The Inspired Economist recently published a story about Funding Factory, a company that provides funding through recycling. Ecopreneurist has featured several stories about recycling startups. However, even with all the buzz, IBISWorld, an industry research firm tell us that recycling is expected to decline significantly in 2009 – after five years of strong growth.

“Falling prices have put the recycling industry on the scrapheap this year,” explained George Van Horn, senior analyst with IBISWorld. “It is the thirteenth biggest revenue loser in 2009, and is expected to plummet a drastic 20 percent.”

Growing at an annualized rate of 6.3 percent for the past five years to 2008, Recycling Facilities is one of the few industries in the “green sector” to observe a decline.  Metal price declines combined with lower demand for recycled material are major factors impacting sales.  A fall in revenue and profits may hasten consolidation between the larger industry players, such as Waste Management and Covanta.  Smaller operators, more labor intensive, and without integrated waste collection and disposal activities, may be forced to exit the industry all together.

In spite of the green generation, many people still underestimate the enormous benefits of recycling.  Luckily, major retailers like Walmart and Officemax do not fall in this category.  Instead, they placing orders with companies like TerraCycle, for products created entirely out of garbage scavenged from landfills.

One of the only companies of its kind, TerraCycle stands in a category or “landfill” unto itself.  But TerraCycle is more than just a company; it’s a group of people that has defined the power of a product made solely from waste.  Since its inception, TerraCycle has saved over 70 million drink pouches, 10.5 million cookie wrappers, and 3.1 million plastic bottles from ending up in a landfill. It’s much more than recycling.  According to Tom Szaky, the founder of Terracycle, it’s ‘up-cycling.’

“What we’re trying to do is to flip capitalism on is head,” says Tom Szaky.

And indeed, Terracycle is succeeding by creating solutions for garbage with pure creativity and a great attitude.

“Garbage Moguls,” a new National Geographic show that premieres tonight, Earth Day, at 9 PM ET/PT, follows the Terraycle team’s unorthodox creative process ― the brain-racking and stress, the silliness and infighting ― all working to build a profitable business with products composed entirely of trash.  Once named the “The Coolest Little Start-Up in America!” by Inc. magazine, TerraCycle™ is redefining green business, focusing each day on the next million-dollar idea, even if that means spending hours scrounging through stinky garbage.

“Garbage is a man-made idea, and we’ve created garbage because we haven’t created solutions for it,” explains CEO Tom Szaky, a 27-year-old eager brainiac who got his “Ah-Ha!” idea for TerraCycle as a Princeton freshman.  “We take waste, we add design and produce mass merchandise.”

Garbage Moguls tracks the team’s work on two prototypes:  a messenger bag for OfficeMax — made from old billboard materials and seat belts — and a kite made entirely of Oreo wrappers for Wal-Mart.  Viewers witness the zany brainstorming ideas (a Slip ‘N Slide made of wrappers?), the uphill battles and the real-life Generation “Y” dramedy in the vein of “The Office.”

Don’t miss the premiere tonight.  No better time than Earth Day to understand the economics of recycling!

Related post: “Garbage Moguls” – A new reality show about Terracycle 

Written by Reenita Malhotra

Reenita Malhotra Hora is an Ayurveda clinician, entrepreneur, writer and mom. Her experience has ranged from running Ayoma, an Ayurveda business to running a natural health practice at San Francisco's California Pacific Medical Center.

Reenita is a published author of two books books about health and wellness: ‘Ayurveda - the Natural Medicine of India’ and
‘Inner Beauty’. She is also the Editor for Green Options Media's business blogs and a freelance writer for a variety of print and web publications.

In quieter moments, she likes to spend her time hiking, swimming the warm seas, cooking with the family or writing fantasy fiction adventure stories for kids from from 2 to 92.

Check out her wisdom at www.reenita.com

Comments

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  1. I am torn on upcycling, particularly concerning the products that Terracycle makes in the process. I feel as though there could be some unintended consequences of these efforts. For instance, making the Capri Sun packaging into capri sun bags doesn’t make any headway towards eliminating those inefficient items in the first place. I fear that it doesn’t address (and has the potential to push us a step in the wrong direction) an issue that I find to be the most critical, which is, manufacturers need to stop making products that cannot be continually introduced back into industrial processes. In this sense, upcycling has the potential to reward manufacturers for making items that are an inefficient use of resources. To me it feels like a form “Greenwashing”. Am I totally off base

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FundingFactory: Funding Through Recycling

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