• Image about Tom Szaky

Thanks to a horde of ravenous worms, TerraCycle is turning garbage into dollars.

Tom Szaky is convinced that he's found a miracle substance that will both make him millions and save the world: worm poop. Yes, it may sound laughable, but don't be too hasty to judge. Szaky, a scruffy 25-year-old Princeton dropout who founded TerraCycle, a small company based in Trenton, New Jersey, that makes organic plant food by using worm excrement (known as castings) as the key ingredient, can weave a pretty compelling case.

See, to Szaky, there are some fundamental, perhaps even fatal, flaws in the way our capitalist system currently functions. Most companies, he says, are concerned only with profits and are more than willing to pollute the environment and create mountains of waste for others to clean up if doing so means boosting the bottom line. Szaky believes that companies that go against that paradigm - in other words, those that are socially responsible - usually have to raise their prices and lower their profits. "That's why, in general, organic foods, fair-trade foods, eco-friendly products cost more," he says.

Not only do those products cost more, Szaky says, most people just aren't willing to pay a premium for them simply because they're green - which is why TerraCycle's worm-poop-fueled plant food is no more expensive than similar nonorganic products. What Szaky sees as necessary for the future, and what he believes TerraCycle is an example of, is a new model for doing business: eco-capitalism. Forget recycling and trying to reduce Americans' consumption, he says. Instead, get rid of the idea of garbage and waste altogether. Do that on a worldwide basis, and pollution goes away, the environment is healed, and people can still buy and consume what they please. "Waste is a man-made concept. In nature, waste doesn't exist," he says. "The only reason waste is waste is because we haven't figured out what to do with the material once we use it the first time. If you can find uses for waste, you can eliminate the idea of waste."