Industrial Design and Innovation

‘Google of Garbage’ expands in NZ

TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky and Australia & New Zealand GM Anna Minns are working to expand the company's recycling operations in the Asia-Pacific. Photo / Supplied

TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky and Australia & New Zealand GM Anna Minns are working to expand the company’s recycling operations in the Asia-Pacific. Photo / Supplied











Kiwis will soon be able to recycle toothbrushes and coffee capsules thanks to the local expansion of global trash-to-treasure company TerraCycle.

The US-headquartered company, often called the “Google of Garbage”, teams up with major corporations and local authorities around the world to recycle waste that would otherwise end up in landfill.

“Everything can be recycled if it’s deconstructed into its raw materials,” TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky, 32, said during a recent visit to New Zealand – and if enough of the same type of rubbish can be collected.

“Let’s say we had ten truckloads of toothbrushes, I bet we could brainstorm a hundred solutions for that right now. It’s not that hard.”

Cigarette butts, for example, can be shredded and separated to ash, tobacco and paper for composting, and filters and packet wrappers, which become injection-moldable plastic.

“We just launched cigarette recycling in Australia. It’s now nine countries around the world collecting close to one million cigarettes every three days and that rate’s growing by 30 per cent each quarter.”

Since 2001, with the help of 40 million consumers in 26 countries, TerraCycle has collected over 2.5 billion pieces of waste and raised over $US6.4 million for charities and schools.

In New Zealand, which it entered in July 2013, members of the public can sign up to a free waste collection scheme sponsored by Cadbury owner Mondelez. For every confectionary packet mailed in by freepost, provided it’s a shipment of at least 2.5kg, Mondelez will donate two cents to a non-profit organisation or school of the sender’s choice.

The company intends to add programmes in partnership with Colgate and Nespresso in New Zealand “in a month or two”. Other plans include expansion to Japan and South Korea.

While the company’s goals are environmentally-friendly, it also turns a profit – and has done so for the last five years, Szaky said.

The company made $US20 million in revenue last year, of which about 60 per cent came from brands, municipalities and individuals paying for specialist recycling services. The other 40 per cent came from the sale of repurposed or recycled materials.

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