Back in 2001, two Princeton students wanted to create a product with not only zero, but negative environmental impact. And unlike most eco-friendly product manufacturers, the two didn’t want to pass the higher costs of manufacturing a green product on to the consumer through higher price tags. And it still needed to make a profit.
The solution? Worm poop. A form of plant food easily created in three weeks, free of pesticides and harmful additives. From worms fed waste materials. And packaged in recycled plastic bottles. A product made from garbage and packaged from garbage. Thus, TerraCycle products were born.
Seems so simple, you wish you would have thought of it, right? The Pet Rock concept, really. However, the concept underwent a lot of experimentation, some of it involving solid waste from dining halls at Princeton University. The two business founders dealt with “a lot of crap”, according to them.
Their specific eco-production concept itself is a novel one, guided by a decision to not rely on the generosity or charity of the consumer, who is usually relied on to pay a dollar or two more when choosing a green product. To do this, the two identified different, un-tapped “unnatural resources”, or waste streams, and channeled these for their materials. They picked They were also one of the first to use the concept of up-cycling, using post-consumer products still in their original form, not decomposed or melted down, thus saving energy and money.
Every aspect of their production utilizes cast-off or used items: bottles are collected through drives at local elementary schools, sprayer nozzles are acquired second-hand, Terracycle labels are printed on old Kraft or Nabisco cookie wrappers, and orders are shipped out in other companies’ miss-printed cardboard boxes.
The students made money to fund the development of their original concept by winning business plan competitions, seven in a row, to be exact. These competitions brought awareness of the brand, but the two remained true to their original green-friendly mission by turning away a million-dollar funding offer that would have required them to turn away from green to traditional fertilizing products.
Their products can now be found at Home Depots across the nation, alongside other fertilizers, for the same price. Office Depot is now carrying their line of binders, pecil cases, and totes.
Says founder Toms Szaky:
“I think that we can all agree that profit, or the economic bottom line, is that ultimately corporations cannot grow tremendously big if they rely on the generosity of their consumers, either through donations or paying higher prices. Fundamentally we cannot rely on the consumer to pick up the tab for the environmental and social bottom lines.”
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