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Published by:
University of St Gallen (2017)
17 pages
Data source:
Field research


The circular economy's, its business rationale and a diaper recycling project are the subjects of this case. TerraCycle is a highly innovative venture run by its charismatic CEO Tom Szaky, who co-founded it at his Princeton University dorm room in 2001. Princeton's dining halls provided him with his first viable product: food waste processed by worms and packed as liquid fertilizer in recycled plastic bottles. By early 2017, the firm had scaled to sales nearing USD20 million and provided waste solutions for basically anything from pet food bags to spent cigarettes. Making the circular economy work, however, is not easy. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has invested considerable resources into mobilizing support for the circular economy and invites Tom to its events. The specific TerraCycle project or this case illustrates the dilemma faced in the trenches. The technical obstacles to recycle diapers are secondary to the commercial, institutional and consumer behavior challenges associated with implementing diaper recycling. The case details all this as TerraCycle is about to launch in Amsterdam its city-wide diaper recycling program. Tom's idealism combines with business reality as he emphasizes: 'Altruism alone will not do the trick.'


Circular economy; (Future of) consumption; World Economic Forum (WEF); Recycling; Waste management; Entrepreneur; Social entrepreneurship; Monetization; Political economy; Consumer behavior; Marketing; Altruism; Business
Revenues USD19.3 million (2016)

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