Exclusive Interview with Tom Szaky of Terracycle

Smithers Apex: What are some of the largest challenges you face when recycling products?

Tom Szaky: The largest challenge with recycling is twofold--the purity of material, and the volume of material. The first challenge in recycling is separating and capturing all the materials you are targeting and removing non-compliant and contamination. With cleaning materials, depending on if there are residual chemicals, they have to be handled properly and any soap residue has to be removed. Then, it's separating multiple materials if rigid, and if flexible, developing a plastic formulation using the multi-layer packaging.

Smithers Apex:  How do you think people in the cleaning industry approach recycling, right now? And where would you like to see it go, in the future?

Tom Szaky: I think there is a nice focus on integrating recycled materials into products which is great to see. Lightweighting a package, using pouches, for example, is not good because those are unrecyclable and doesn't help solve the garbage problem in the long run.  Speaking of the long run, I would like to see companies explore durability and function of a package instead of just going for the cheapest option.

Smithers Apex: It seems like people are more aware of recycling. Do you think it has helped it has helped with the waste problem?

Tom Szaky: I think more people are aware of recycling, but the actual rate of recycling hasn't changed that much. There has only been a small dent in the global issue compared to what it could be. Still today 25% of our plastics end up in the aquatic systems which is obviously not good.

Smithers Apex: What are you most looking forward to hearing at Cleaning Products US?

Tom Szaky: I look forward to hearing about innovations in packaging function and more durable packaging so that we can start the move away from disposability.

  • Tom Szaky

    CEO Terracycle

    Tom Szaky is the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, a global leader in the collection and repurposing of otherwise non-recyclable pre and post-consumer waste. TerraCycle operates in 21 countries, working with the world’s largest brands and companies to create national platforms to recycle products and packaging that currently go to landfill or incineration.

    Through TerraCycle, Tom is pioneering a new waste management process, involving manufacturers, retailers, governments and consumers, to create circular solutions for materials such as cigarette butts, laboratory waste, coffee capsules and even food packaging that otherwise have no other path to be recycled.

    Tom is the author of three books, “Revolution in a Bottle” (2009, Portfolio) and “Outsmart Waste” (2014, Berrett-Koehler) and “Make Garbage Great” (2015, HarperCollins). Tom created, produced and starred in TerraCycle’s reality show, “Human Resources” which aired on Pivot from 2014-2016. Tom and TerraCycle have received over 200 social, environmental and business awards and recognition from a range of organizations including the United Nations, World Economic Forum, Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, and the Environmental Protection Agency.