Cashing in on trash

A company that started out selling worm droppings is now partially responsible for thousands of schools children learning the value of recycling.

Southgate Elementary School is one of the participants in a program run by environmentally friendly company TerraCycle, and school representatives are touting the program's success and planning to bring it back next year.

Emily Bradford, a representative from TerraCycle, said the mission of the company is to provide a holistic approach to environmentalism, while turning a profit on trash.

TerraCycle's entire mission is to eliminate waste, she said.

The company makes products out of otherwise discarded items and buys waste, primarily from schools, at 2 cents a pop, in order to give the schools extra incentive to participate.

Some products, like Capri Sun and Lays, have an agreement with TerraCycle to have distinguishable branding on the recycled products.

Bradford said everybody wins when waste is eliminated and schools teach the benefits of recycling while companies promote themselves by participating.

Schools can ship the waste in pre-paid boxes, she said.

With nearly 60,000 schools participating, Bradford said the company has come a long way from its college-dorm-room start almost 10 years ago.

Tom Szacky, a Prinecton University freshman, conceived of the idea after a project he worked on involved reusing worm excrement to make fertilizer.

At first the "fertilizer" was packaged in plastic bottles he dug up from trash bins, but he was asked to stop rummaging through garbage by university officials.

Keeping with the spirit of eliminating waste, Szacky turned to children and schools to provide the packaging.

"We started a 'bottle-buddy brigade,'" Bradford said.

In 2007 the company began collecting juice containers and other items to make its products. It also collects yogurt cups and candy wrappers, as well as drink containers, she said.

"We're still very, very new," she said. "We're still young and we're still growing."

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