Tom Szaky, 31, is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc, one of the world’s foremost leaders in eco-capitalism and the reuse of non-recyclable, post-consumer waste. In 2006, Inc. Magazine named TerraCycle, “The Coolest Little Start-Up in America”! That same year Tom was named the #1 CEO in America Under 30. Recently, Tom was named one of the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs of the Year for 2013. However, the rapid growth and success of TerraCycle is no surprise to those who have known Tom his whole life
Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1982, Tom emigrated with his family as political refugees from Hungary to Holland and eventually to Toronto. At age 14 he started his first business, a Web design company called Flyte Design, which employed three associates and earned its young proprietor a five-figure income, while landing clients as big as Roots clothing company. Flyte Design also earned a number of Canadian national design awards. That earlier entrepreneurial success motivated Tom to engage in the start-up of three successful ‘dot.com’ companies.
Tom came to the United States in 2001 when he matriculated as a Princeton University freshman. In 2002, he took a leave of absence to dedicate himself full-time to starting TerraCycle, which began as a two-man outfit in a dorm room in Princeton. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy only one year into starting the business, Tom turned down a million dollar grand prize from the Carrot Capital Business Plan because the investors wanted TerraCycle to become less focused on being environmentally responsible.
Even without the investor’s money, TerraCycle had its breakthrough in 2004, selling its little-known fertilizer to The Home Depot and Walmart – two of the world’s biggest retailers. Today, TerraCycle’s Global Headquarters occupies a 25,000 sq. ft. factory in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ, and is a second chance employer as part of its pledge to being socially beneficial to the local community.
In 2008, TerraCycle began works with major companies such as Kraft Foods, Nestle, Kimberly-Clark, Frito-Lay, Mars, Kashi, L’Oreal and many more to sponsor the collection of post-consumer packaging. With the help of these sponsors, TerraCycle pays schools and non-profits two TerraCycle points, (one point is equal to one cent) for every piece of packaging collected. These points can be redeemed for a variety of charitable gifts or for cash donation to the collector’s charity of choice. TerraCycle recycles or upcycles the collected ‘waste’ material into affordable, innovative products sold online at www.terracycleshop.com and at major retailers. Today over 125,000 organizations worldwide have helped collect over 2.5 billion pre- and post-consumer wrappers, while earning over $7 million dollars in donations.
In April 2009 Tom released his first book, Revolution in a Bottle, published by Portfolio to critical acclaim. In April 2013, Portfolio is releasing a revised and updated edition of the book. The National Geographic Channel also broadcast a 4-part documentary about Tom and TerraCycle called, Garbage Moguls, which followed TerraCycle’s revolutionary products from the landfill all the way to the store shelf.
Between 2009 and 2012, TerraCycle expanded run its recycling and upcycling fundraisers into 22 countries around the globe including Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brasil, UK, Ireland, most EU countries, Israel, Hungary and Turkey. In 2010, TerraCycle was named the #288 fastest growing privately held company in America by Inc. Magazine’s Annual listing, the Inc. 500.
In 2012, TerraCycle became the first company in history to conduct the widespread collection and recycling of cigarette filters (butts). After developing a technology to sanitize and recycle the cigarette butts, TerraCycle started working with major cigarette manufacturers to fund the free collection of cigarette related waste by anti-litter groups and beach clean up efforts.