Tom Szaky

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Tom Szaky
Born (1982-01-14) 14 January 1982 (age 42)
OccupationCEO of TerraCycle
Years active2001–present

Tom Szaky (born 14 January 1982) is the CEO and founder of TerraCycle, a private, US-based business headquartered in Trenton, New Jersey that turns non-recyclable pre-consumer and post-consumer waste into raw material to be used in new products.[1][2]


Early life[edit]

Szaky's parents are medical doctors, and Szaky is an only child.[3][4] At age four, Szaky left his home in Hungary after the Chernobyl disaster.[5] In 1987, Szaky immigrated to Canada,[5] where he grew up in Toronto.[6] Szaky attended high school at Upper Canada College.[5][6] Szaky notes that growing up in Canada and around the strong conservationist movement there is what sparked his interest in environmentalism.[7] According to Szaky, he became fascinated with the concept of recycling after seeing the “astounding” things people threw in the trash, adding that the first television set he ever saw was being thrown in the garbage. This experience proved formative as he credits it with helping him understand that waste was a “modern idea.” [7]

He started to attend college at Princeton University, originally intending to major in psychology and economics.[8] He dropped out during his sophomore year to develop his green recycling business model, known as TerraCycle.[9]


Early on in his career, Tom started three small '' companies.[10] These were,, and[8] Building on his early success,  he attended Princeton University where he studied economics and merged his interest in environmentalism and social good with his entrepreneurial studies. Following a road trip to Montreal, Szaky discovered vermicompost and developed a business plan for the Entrepreneurship Club's annual Business Plan Competition that centered around the business model of converting garbage into worm poop fertilizer. Even though he placed fourth in the competition, the seed that would become TerraCycle was planted along with the company's first product in mind.[11][12] Szaky sits on the board of the World Economic Forum Consumers Beyond Waste initiative.[13][14]


Armed with initial capital funding generated through family, friends and monetary awards earned via additional business plan contests,[15][16] Szaky purchased a $20,000 continuous flow composting system that converted organic waste from the dining halls of Princeton University[12] into fertilizer through the use of worms.[17]  It was at that time TerraCycle's corporate breakthrough came, when Szaky realized that by utilizing discarded plastic bottles as the packaging for the fertilizer, which he engaged schools and local organizations to collect,[12][18] he could reduce production costs and allow the fertilizer to be marketed as “an entire product made of garbage.” [19][20][21]  In 2004, the company secured its first high-profile clients with Home Depot Canada and Wal-Mart Canada agreeing to carry TerraCycle products, thereby solidifying the company as a viable business.[12][22]

In 2006, Tom was named the "#1 CEO under thirty" by Inc. magazine in its July 2006 issue for his work at TerraCycle.[23]

In 2007, TerraCycle pivoted away from organic fertilizer manufacturing and began moving toward developing recycling solutions and collection systems designed to recycle products and packaging that is traditionally not recyclable through standard municipal waste facilities. Once collected, the packaging is cleaned and melted into hard plastic that can be remolded to make new recycled products. Since the company's inception, Szaky and TerraCycle designed the world's first recycling processes for cigarette butts, soiled diapers, and chewing gum.[24][25][26] In 2021, The Last Beach Cleanup filed a Green guides claim against TerraCycle and consumer packaged goods companies, with the complaint withdrawn when TerraCycle agreed to pay legal fees.[27]


At the 2019 World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Szaky announced Loop, a global circular shopping platform that utilizes durable containers that can be reused, recycled, or both.[28] In May of the same year, Szaky launched the first trial of Loop in Paris, France.[29] Carrefour, a French multinational retailer and owner of one of the largest hypermarket chains in the world, was announced as Loop's founding retail partner for the Paris trial with plans to make the Loop service available in its brick-and-mortar stores at a future date.[30][31]

The U.S. pilot program launched in late May in the Mid-Atlantic region of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C., with Kroger Co., the country's largest grocery retailer, and Walgreens, one of the nation's largest pharmacy chains, as Loop's founding retailers in the United States.[32][33] Due to consumer demand, additional East Coast markets were added just a couple months later. Loop will launch in Canada, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the western U.S. in 2020.[34]


Tom created, produced and starred in TerraCycle's reality show, Human Resources which aired 3 ten-episode seasons on Pivot from 2014 to 2016.[35]

He has published four books since 2009:

  • Revolution in a Bottle (2009, 2013) [36]
    • Szaky's first book chronicles the young CEO's entrepreneurial beginnings featuring the establishment of TerraCycle.
  • Outsmart Waste (2014) [37]
    • Szaky's second book focuses on the environmental degradation associated with the prevailing societal response to waste management.
  • Make Garbage Great (2014) [38]
    • The CEO's third published work functions as a how-to-guide for an environmentally conscious lifestyle.
  • The Future of Packaging: From Linear to Circular (2019)
    • Szaky's fourth book offers a road map out of the modern waste crisis through packaging design with perspective from 15 innovators in sustainability and was named the book “Most Likely to Save the Planet” by the Independent Publisher Book Awards.[39]

Personal life[edit]

Tom is married to Avigail Adam and has four children.[40]


  1. ^ "TerraCycle's Szaky Gives Advice to Mission-Drivden Companies During Chat". NJ Tech Weekly. 21 December 2020. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  2. ^ "No. 93, TerraCycle". Inc. magazine. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  3. ^ Lewis, Al (8 May 2007). "A dirty business". The Denver Post. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  4. ^ Stern, Robert (8 August 2010). "It began with worms - Trenton-based TerraCycle has become a high-profile player in a niche corner of the recycling market known as 'upcycling". The Times of Trenton. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Szaky, Tom (2013). Revolution in a Bottle: How TerraCycle is Eliminating the Idea of Waste. New York, New York, USA: Penguin Group. pp. 12–15. ISBN 978-1-59184-595-9.
  6. ^ a b Chong, Barry (27 June 2013). "ECO-CAPITALIST TOM SZAKY". TORO Magazine. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Tackling our waste crisis while accepting people are inherently selfish". GREEN DREAMER. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  8. ^ a b "Executive Profile Tom Szaky". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 15 May 2014.[dead link]
  9. ^ "I AM AMERICAN BUSINESS: Tom Szaky". CNBC LLC. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  10. ^ Tom Szaky: Chief Executive Officer, TerraCycle. Accessed September 14, 2012 (via Wayback Machine)
  11. ^ Shambora, Jessica; writer. "One man's rubbish is Terracycle's bounty". Fortune. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  12. ^ a b c d Burlingham, Bo (2006-07-01). "The Coolest Little Start-Up in America". Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  13. ^ "This Young Initiative Aims to Make Reusable Consumer Goods Mainstream". AdWeek. Retrieved 28 January 2022.
  14. ^ "Social innovation can help tackle climate change – here are the lessons of 7 innovators". World Economic Forum. Retrieved 28 January 2022.
  15. ^ Strauss, Robert (2005-04-10). "But the Employees Are Really Spineless". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  16. ^ Strauss, Robert (2005-04-10). "But the Employees Are Really Spineless". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  17. ^ Piazza, Jo (2002-07-28). "UP FRONT: WORTH NOTING; Garbage In, Garbage Out. A Princeton Success Story". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  18. ^ Walker, Rob (2007-05-20). "Architecture - Consumed - Rob Walker - Waste and Waste Materials - Recycling". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  19. ^ "Garbage mogul: TerraCycle's plan to make millions from trash - Mar. 25, 2009". Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  20. ^ "The duke of rubbish - Video". Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  21. ^ Natalie Allen and Matthew Knight (10 October 2011). "Recycling the world's trash into cash". CNN. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  22. ^ "TerraCycle Turns Waste into Wonder". Path to Purchase IQ. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  23. ^ Burlingham, Bo. "The Coolest Little Start-Up in America", Inc. (magazine), July 2006. Accessed October 25, 2007.
  24. ^ "Recycling entrepreneur stubs out cigarette garbage". Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  25. ^ "Trenton company trying to recycle diapers". WHYY. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  26. ^ Shaw, Dougal (2018-03-06). "The chewing gum you don't mind stuck to your shoe". Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  27. ^ "TerraCycle and brands settle California labeling lawsuit". 17 November 2021.
  28. ^ Goldsberry, Clare (2019-01-23). "Game-changing waste-free shopping platform introduced by TerraCycle at Davos". PlasticsToday. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  29. ^ "Pioneering circular shopping system launches in Paris". Business Green. 2019-05-15. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  30. ^ "Carrefour and TerraCycle launch 'Loop' test in Paris to tackle waste". Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  31. ^ "Carrefour and TerraCycle launch 'Loop' test in Paris to tackle waste". Reuters. 2019-05-14. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  32. ^ "Circular Shopping Platform Loop Launches in the U.S." Waste360. 2019-05-22. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  33. ^ "Kroger, Walgreens Join P&G and Unilever in Reusable Container Launch". Bloomberg. 23 May 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  34. ^ "A Shift to Circular: How Loop is Leading Supply Chains to a More Sustainable Future". City National Bank. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  35. ^ Gorce, Tammy La (2015-08-20). "'Human Resources': Reality TV About a Recycling Company". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  36. ^ " Revolution in a Bottle". Amazon. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  37. ^ Szaky, Tom (2014). Outsmart Waste. ISBN 978-1626560246.
  38. ^ Szaky, Tom; Zakes, Albe (7 July 2015). Make Garbage Great. ISBN 978-0062348852.
  39. ^ "2019 Outstanding". Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  40. ^ "Absolutely real: Abigail and Tom's magical home". Mako News. 20 April 2022. Retrieved 16 June 2022.