Tackling our waste crisis while accepting people are inherently selfish


Instead of getting people to go against their will and desires to sacrifice things for sustainability, what if we just acknowledge that most of us are selfish, and learn to play into that? How did we even get to our global waste crisis today, and what do we need to do to address this issue on a national and global level? 

Tom Szaky is the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, an innovative company that's becoming a global leader in recycling waste that's traditionally difficult to recycle, shares his wisdom with us today. Let's dive in.

This is a conversation on Green Dreamer Podcast with Kaméa Chayne, a show exploring environmental and intersectional sustainability from ideas to life. Subscribe to Green Dreamer on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or any podcast app and let’s learn what it takes to thrive in every sense of the word!


[2:24] What first inspired Tom's passion for nature. 

[3:20] How Tom first got into the world of recycling. 

[4:26] Tom: "I felt that the purpose of business is what it does, or how it changes the world or society. The function of business is to do so profitably, but it's not the purpose of business.

[4:49] Kaméa: "What gave you the courage to do things differently and think beyond what you had been taught about entrepreneurship?" 

[8:37] Tom: "For anyone who's running an environmental or social organization, we don't want to frame any of this as a 'do-gooder' thing, even though it fundamentally is. Let's not frame it as saving the environment; instead let's frame it as benefitting an organization for paying for it. That way, we release really robust funding to be able to save the environment and do pretty amazing things." 

[9:26] Tom explains how some items and materials have been deemed "un-recyclable" and how TerraCycle manages to recycle them anyway. 

[12:18] Tom: "Anything that isn't recyclable today, can be. The key is finding other points of value beyond just the material that makes up that object." 

[13:07] Kaméa: "What's been the most difficult part for you in bringing your ideas to life and growing TerraCycle into a successful business?" 

[15:40] Tom explains why we need to accept the fact that most consumers are selfish and how to lean into that to create scalable sustainable solutions. 

[17:30] Tom gives a few examples of how to convince consumers "on the positive." 

[18:25] Tom: "Unfortunately, most of the focus of the movement goes toward sacrifice-based living—live in the smaller house, bike to work, consume less. Don't get me wrong, these are all super meaningful, but it's not going to attract the masses as quickly as, hey, here's just a better way to live—oh and by the way, you're also saving the world while doing it."

[21:48] Tom: "The more you ask the consumer to sacrifice—and sacrifice could simply be time, complication, whatever—the lower the response will be."

[25:22] Kaméa: "What do you think allowed us to get to where we are today in terms of the scale of our waste issues?" 

[27:35] What's better: recyclable or biodegradable packaging? 

[29:31] Kaméa: "What would your biggest tips be for us as individuals?"  

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Tom Szaky



To follow: Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken

Words of inspiration: "[Staying positive and inspired] is the only thing  that will ever lead to change." 

Health tip: "Play with my kids." 

Green tip: "I'm trying to live a durable life." 

Element of hope: "People agreeing that the environment is in crisis." 

Words of Wisdom: "Now is the time. So, stop thinking and start doing."  


Two Takeaways