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Tom Szaky, Eco-entrepreneur, UCC Grad

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Cereal box notebooks. Oreo messenger bags. Kool-Aid packet pencil holders.

Eco-entrepreneur Tom Szaky, 29, has taken the concept of the three Rs a step further with his big idea to eliminate the idea of waste.

"We have started toward that goal, but it will take decades to truly achieve a waste-free system," Szaky says. "What we have already achieved is changing the way people view and think about waste."

Through his company TerraCycle, billions of pieces of previously non-recyclable garbage are diverted from landfills and incinerators, then recycled and upcycled to make more than 1,500 new "eco-friendly" products sold in major retailers. More than 21-million people in 15 countries have signed up to join his green movement.

Born in then Communist Hungary in 1982, he remembers growing up poor in Budapest, where his parents were doctors but earned the same as everyone. The family moved to Canada when he was eight, and Szaky is grateful to his parents for giving him the opportunity to study at private school.

"I loved going to school — it just suddenly felt like opportunity was oozing from the walls," he says of Upper Canada College, a boys' school in Toronto, Ontario, where he developed his entrepreneurial dreams and grew to care about the environment.

Today his family’s Trabant — "an old Communist car that can hardly go uphill" — is only a distant memory of his childhood in Hungary. Szaky — who admits he drives a BMW convertible today but recycles and composts religiously at home — is now living the life of opportunity that Canada, his private school and mentors along the way opened up for him.

Learn more about Terracycle.

—Christl Dabu

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