Eco-capitalism

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“We take waste, we add design and produce mass merchandise,”says TerraCycle founder and CEO Tom Szaky in the opening of his new show, Garbage Moguls. “I don’t see garbage, I see cash.”

9pm ET/PT, Wed., April 22nd on the National Geographic Channel

9pm ET/PT, Wed., April 22nd on the National Geographic Channel

He’s a soundbitey guy, that Szaky, which is probably an element of TerraCycle’s success. The man knows how to bottle charm.

After watching a sneak peak of the first episode—airs at 9pm ET/PT on Wednesday, April 22 a.k.a. Earth Day—I can honestly say it’s a show I would watch [If I got the National Geographic Channel. Which I did, until this week when my sister and I decided we couldn't afford cable anymore]. It’s like Ace of Cakes, if you’ve ever seen that gem about a punk rock baker running a fancy cakemaking service with his friends.  Only better, because this reality show is about a guy and his employees making neat stuff out of garbage and selling it to huge companies like Wal-Mart and OfficeMax.

Garbage Moguls is a flattering look at the TerraCycle crew. Szaky is the executive producer and in the show boldly refers to his company as an eco-revolution. But oddly enough, despite my own bias against anything profit-driven, the project doesn’t come off as entirely self-serving. They’re a cute bunch and all clearly dedicated to the TerraCycle cause—eco-capitalsim, which is just what it sounds like, in equal parts.

Episode one includes a brianstorming session about plastic cookie wrappers. First, they discuss the strengths of the material: very strong, waterproof. Then they toss out ideas for what could be made out of this product and sold commerically: poncho, hot air ballon and place mat are among the ideas rejected in favor of a flying kite.

“There isn’t’ any kind of waste that can’t be reinvented,” declares Szaky.

Which, when you think about it, is a rad concept to have aired on television, even if it’s being said in the context of personal profit. Still radder is the fact that TerraCycle collects the cookie wrappers from schools accross the country. Students and teachers gather up the trash from their institutions and mail them in to the company. In return, TerraCycle donates two cents per wrapper to the school it came from. My favorite scene is one of a couple staff members opening boxes of used Oreo wrappers and reading out the different states from which they came. It’s an all-American upcycling venture and a beautiful business model.

Anyway, enough of the spoilers. Watch for yourself and report back. I will say the most surprising bits are scenes of Szaky on the phone with buyers from large companies straight up lying that he has prototypes ready or is sure he can meet an order on time when he doesn’t and isn’t. The sense of do or die urgency lends the show some adreneleine, but isn’t the best ad for best business practices. I guess dramatic tension, good design and the fact that the company always delivers in the end overshadows this little detail.

At any rate, it’s the most entertaining Earth Day event I’ve ever come accross and sure to become one of my favotite shows. Trash! On TV! Perhaps we trashies can find a bar that gets the National Geographic Channel and organize weekly viewing get-togethers the way sports fans do for football and lesbians do for The L Word.

Update: Sorry, having issues with embedding video lately. Teasers for Garbage Moguls can be viewed here, here, here and here.

 

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