BY "WE," OF COURSE, Szaky really means everybody else. He and his colleagues at TerraCycle have done just fine jettisoning the whole concept of waste. Their plant fertilizer, which is available in the United States and Canada at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, and Whole Foods Market, is packaged in soda bottles collected by what TerraCycle calls its Bottle Brigade, made up of school groups and nonprofit organizations around the country. The groups collect bottles and send them to TerraCycle, which pays them for their efforts. It's a virtuous circle: The groups get cash, and TerraCycle raises its profile, generates goodwill, and, most importantly, gets the bottles it needs. The containers aren't the only secondhand goods TerraCycle uses; the company's computers are castoffs from corporations, and some of its furniture came from Princeton University dorms that were undergoing an upgrade.

Then there's TerraCycle's product, which itself is waste-based. A good way to get Szaky, who grew up in Canada after his parents fled then-Communist Hungary, fired up is to ask him about the virtues of red worms. Night crawlers, which are what most of us see when we dig up a spade full of soil, are all well and good, he says, but they burrow and don't eat all that much, which is not cool if the success of your business is dependent on huge volumes of worm excrement. Red worms, on the other hand, don't burrow and are, to say the least, eating and pooping machines. "They eat [the equivalent of] their body weight every day, and they double in population every 90 days," says Szaky, with more than a little enthusiasm. "They're fantastic for this type of process."

While Szaky won't disclose exactly what his worms are fed (think of it as Coca-Cola's secret formula), he will say that about half their diet consists of nitrogen-based items, like grass clippings and coffee grounds, and the other half consists of carbon-based items, like paper products. The important thing to remember is that the food the worms eat is essentially garbage. So in one swoop, TerraCycle takes garbage people want to get rid of and feeds it to worms in order to make a product it can sell. Waste, indeed.