Worm Poop Empire
Young gardener turns waste into plant food.
By James Carlton, Editorial Intern
Tom Szaky has created a business selling what is, essentially, garbage. And his customers couldn't be happier.
Tom is the 26-year-old founder of TerraCycle, an eco-minded company in Trenton, New Jersey that turns waste into new products. Their most prominent item is a liquid organic plant food made from earthworm castings. In other words, worm poop.
Some of the company's other products include school supplies, seed kits, bird feeders, rain barrels and compost bins, all made from recycled items. Still, the worm castings fertilizer remains their signature seller.
From Ivy League to Earthworms
Tom started TerraCycle while attending Princeton University. He was astounded at the amount of trash people discarded and wanted to do something about it.
During a trip home to his native Canada, one of Tom's friends introduced him to the wonders of worm castings. Shortly after, he took the idea back to school where he soon developed his self-described "worm poop empire."
Armed with a pioneering, environmentally focused business plan, Tom dropped out of Princeton to concentrate on his fledgling company.
In the beginning, TerraCycle survived financially on prize money won in various business plan contests. Now, the company is being lauded for turning the traditional business model on its head.
Trash Becomes Treasure
Instead of producing garbage, TerraCycle consumes waste and creates product from it. The company feeds organic waste to worms that process and expel it as a fertilizer. Then the company takes the fertilizer, liquefies it and packages it in recycled containers.
"I don't think there's a more ecological way to fertilize plants," Tom says. "Garbage is a commodity people pay to get rid of. We take that garbage in as a resource, process it into a product and sell it."
While Tom doesn't claim to have invented the concept of using worm castings as fertilizer, his company did make it more mainstream. Through TerraCycle, this type of organic fertilizer is readily accessible in a way it wasn't before.
"There's really nothing like worms," Tom says. "Gardeners have been doing this for years. It's a natural way to fertilize and makes for really healthy plants."
That's because worm compost, or vermicompost, is rich in organic nutrients and teeming with microbial life that breaks down nutrients into a form plants can consume.
"It's so organic, I don't have to worry about overfertilizing," says Marlene Zakes, a TerraCycle user from New Hope, Pennsylvania. "I use it on my garden a couple of times a month, and my plants look great."
Expanding the Mission
TerraCycle is constantly developing new creations, but Tom also has a larger goal in mind.
"We want to educate people and spawn a new eco-conscious way of thinking," Tom says.
TerraCycle started a recycling program that pays individuals and groups for bottles and other recyclables. In less than 2 years, almost 4,000 schools and organizations signed up to collect bottles, drink pouches, cookie wrappers, yogurt containers and more. In turn, TerraCycle pays 2 cents an item and covers the shipping.
For an increasingly green-conscious public, TerraCycle's efforts resonate with gardeners trying to do right by their environment.
"Ever since that first day when I learned of composting using worms, I knew I wanted to offer eco-friendly alternatives to gardeners," Tom says.
"Serious gardeners love the Earth and want to protect it, and we want to do everything we can to support them."
Put Worms to Work for You!
Here's What You'll Need...
- l Plastic box
- l Bedding of shredded paper or cardboard
- l Kitchen scraps (no dairy or meat)_
- l Red worms (one pound can process about 1/2 pound of kitchen scraps a day)
Drill holes in the bottom of the container. Fill with moistened bedding. Add peat moss or leaf mold to increase water retention. Mix in a couple of handfuls of soil that the worms need for grit. Occasionally add a pulverized eggshell for calcium and grit.
Place red worms in bedding. Bury kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and filters with the bedding in one corner of the box and cover loosely with black plastic. Place the next installment of kitchen scraps next to the first. Continue this pattern, placing the raw material in an unused portion of the bedding. Moisten as needed to keep bedding moist but not soggy.
Add fresh bedding every 4 months or when you have more worm castings than bedding. Use worm castings as a slow-release organic fertilizer for your container gardens.
You'll be amazed at the impact these little critters can have on your garden!
Source:_Melinda Myers; www.melindamyers.com