Meet the guy who is solving our massive recycling crisis

TerraCycle Include USA Tide Loop Tropicana Hellman’s
Tom Szaky fell in love with tackling big problems while he was still in college: He founded his first company as a freshman at Princeton. Then he dropped out his sophomore year. "The irony in this country is if you leave one of those places, your credibility actually goes up," says the 38-year-old CEO of TerraCycle, who immigrated to Canada and then the U.S. in the 1980s. "I was born in communism in Budapest, and we left effectively as political refugees," he says. "I went from effectively communism to the heartland of capitalism and fell in love with entrepreneurship for all the obvious reasons." Originally created to recycle food waste from university dining halls into fertilizer, TerraCycle, based in Trenton, N.J., has grown into a company worth more than $20 million. In 2019, TerraCycle introduced Loop, a platform that harkens back to the simple days of the milkman. Loop collects and refills reusable containers for everyday household products — from Hellman's mayo to Tropicana orange juice and Tide detergent, among other big-name brands. Even though consumers are buying just the contents, the products cost about the same as those sold in single-use containers, in part to offset the cost of the development and manufacturing of the more durable containers, as well as cleaning and refilling them. Szaky's ascent from refugee to sustainability tech leader has not been without some inevitable stumbles along the way, but he notes how crucial that is to the process of entrepreneurship. "If you're a young entrepreneur, it's a really exciting path you may embark on. It's gonna be a ridiculous amount of work," he notes. "Chances are you will fail multiple times, so be prepared for that. Now the payoff is amazing. You get to really manifest your dream."