Black Gold

Worms are converting trash to fertilizer in Terracycle's factory.

If Tom Szaky were a typical 25-year-old college-dropout CEO, he'd probably be running an internet start-up. Instead, he sells worm poop-an excellent fertilizer, as it turns out. TerraCycle, the company he founded in 2001, sold almost $2 million worth of the stuff last year.The company also boasts one of the most sustainable business models imaginable: they get paid to convert garbage into a consumer product. "What caught my eye was less the fertilizer nature of worm poop, although that was fantastic, but the fact that it started with garbage," Szaky says.Every day at TerraCycle's factory, millions of worms chomp through beer brewery jetsam or peels from a potato-chip factory and then answer nature's call. The "castings"-that's the technical term-are packaged in a variety of reclaimed soda bottles (which TerraCycle buys from thousands of enterprising "Bottle Brigades" across the country). The motley mix of bottles helps TerraCycle stand out on the shelves of Home Depot and Wal-Mart. That, and the words "worm poop" in huge letters on the labels.LEARN MORE
Szaky realized the effectiveness of worm poop when it significantly increased the yields of his friend's dorm-grown marijuana crop.