New ‘trashy’ reality TV show focuses on recyclers

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Human Resources

• 9 p.m. Fridays

• Pivot TV (check your provider’s channel listings)

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A new show wants to redefine the meaning of trashy television.

Human Resources, airing on the Pivot network, focuses not on hard-partying beachgoers but on a socially conscious recycling company. The debut episode aired Friday and can be watched in its entirety at www.pivot.tv.

The “reality docu-drama” chronicles what it is like to work at the Trenton-based company TerraCycle Inc. Founded in 2001 by then-20-year-old Princeton University student Tom Szaky, TerraCycle collects hard-to-recycle items, from potato chip bags to cigarette butts, and transforms them into colorful consumer products. It donates a portion of its proceeds to charity.

Szaky hopes the show will inspire a new generation to become socially conscious business entrepreneurs.

“A lot of people have said the show is like a 20-something socially conscious reality version of The Office,” Szaky said, referring to the long-running mockumentary-style comedy that had British and American versions. “I’m a big fan of content with a purpose; there isn’t that much TV out there like this.”

Szaky is confident the show will have wide appeal, and he sees it as part of “trying to accomplish different ways of getting our message out.”

Szaky is main draw

A trailer for the premiere episode featured quick-cut edits of droll and jokey asides from employees who both embrace and mockingly disdain TerraCycle’s workplace culture. The indefatigable, Budapest-born Szaky, now 32, is a main draw, as he offers a frenetic tour of the graffiti-walled, recyclables-filled office and evangelizes about a trash-less future and his goal to “eliminate the concept of waste.”

A bit of Tarrant trivia: In 2008, Szaky married pianist Soyeon Lee, who competed in the 2005 and 2009 Cliburn Competitions; as a publicity stunt to promote recycling, Lee wore a dress made of recycled plastic juice pouches for her debut at Carnegie Hall.

“I have a lot of garbage samples in my home,” Lee told the Star-Telegram in 2009. “We’re like New Jersey’s second landfill.”

The couple have since divorced, and Lee married fellow 2009 Cliburn competitor Ran Dank last year.

With its “superhero socks” theme days, Nerf gun fights, dogs wandering the office and yoga breaks, a green company that is both successful and socially conscious can be a lot of fun, Szaky said.

“The main point is to get more people to know about TerraCycle,” Szaky said. “The second is to really inspire young people to look at becoming entrepreneurs for socially responsible reasons.”

The company is committed to remaining in Trenton, Szaky said, bringing what he describes as a “Silicon Valley vibe” to the city that once boasted “Trenton Makes, The World Takes” — words that still appear on the Lower Trenton Bridge spanning the Delaware River — but has since fallen on hard times with the large-scale flight of manufacturing.

Szaky said the company’s 22 other offices around the world are located in similarly economically depressed areas.

Szaky says he wants people to feel inspired when they watch the show and to realize they can make a difference, one cigarette butt or discarded juice box at a time.

“If people like the show, send us your garbage — totally free,” he added, pointing out that TerraCycle’s website offers free pre-paid shipping labels for people to mail in their trash.

Belisa Balaban, executive vice president of original programming at Pivot, said the network was immediately impressed by TerraCycle’s employees and mission.

“We knew they were a perfect fit for Pivot, perfectly aligned with everything we want to do, to create positive social change through entertainment,” Balaban said.

“TerraCycle is an amazing company that’s doing amazing things,” she added. “It’s a funny place to spend time at, a place with great bold characters who are unique individuals and extremely passionate about what they do.”

The network plans to air 10 episodes of the show in its first season.

This story contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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