“Send us your trash – we’ll make it into cool products.” That's the simple premise and promise aof New Jersey-based startup TerraCycle, a green recycler founded by two former Princeton University classmates who dreamed up the idea in 2001 for a business plan contest.
Now full-time "eco-capitalists," they're making good business from trash by partnering with brands to create recycling campaigns for their products, and a halo effect for their affiliates.
Instead of used packaging clogging up landfills, they encourage organizations such as schools (at no cost) to send them, for example, used Capri Sun juice packets (above) so they can turn them into products such as bags and backpacks.
Other so-called TerraCycle brigades turn Frito Lay chip bags into speakers, Stonyfield yogurt containers into vegetable growing kits for schools, newspaper into pencils, cereal boxes into notebooks, Oreo packaging into kites and other products and a partnership between Sharpie, Paper Mate, Expo and TerraCycle creating a second life for used pens, markers and highlighters.
"With the writing instruments, we'll be breaking them down into felts, ballpoint, and plastic. They'll be shredded and cleaned," explains TerraCycle's George Chevalier. These materials are then "upcycled’ into clipboards, plastic pavers, fences and even trash cans, aka "garbage garbage cans."
"In the past, we've been selling branded merchandise. Now we're going to be making stuff that blends into your life—stuff for the office, stuff for the home," Chevalier tells Fast Company.
TerraCycle is also featured in Garbage Moguls, which this week kicks off its second season on the National Geographic Channel and has been building a following on Facebook.
It may not be as dramatic as that other New Jersey-based TV show about a waste management operation, but it's definitely more useful ... and fun.