On an average day I receive a couple dozen emails from various interests wanting to get their story into the newspaper. I’m not sure the topic of “worm poop” is going to see the printed pages. But since this particular email, titled “Scotts Miracle Gro sues Worm Poop Firm” caught the attention of several of us on business desk today, why not share it with all of you online?
Here’s the pitch, which the writer personalized to several of us on business desk:
The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company has filed a lawsuit against TerraCycle, Inc., a small inner-city manufacturer of eco-friendly gardening products that are made from organic waste fed to worms. The resulting worm poop is liquefied and packaged in used soda bottles. Scotts claims that the two company’s products look similar and might confuse consumers.
In addition, Scotts is suing TerraCycle for saying that its plant foods are as good or better than “a leading synthetic plant food” and for refusing Scotts’
demands to hand over its scientific tests conducted at the Rutgers University EcoComplex to Scotts’ scientists and lawyers.
Scotts products are packaged in traditional plastic and cardboard containers, while TerraCycle’s non-toxic products are packaged in re-used soda bottles that are collected through its Bottle Brigade Recycling Program. Children in communities all across the country participate in TerraCycle’s Bottle Brigade program on a daily basis, saving hundreds of thousands of used bottles from ending up in landfills. TerraCycle donates 5¢ for every bottle collected to the nonprofits chosen by the collectors. Nonprofits that have benefited from TerraCycle’s donations include Habitat for Humanity, Nature’s Conservancy, Earth’s Birthday, and Boys and Girls Clubs – just to name a few.
Scotts Miracle-Gro is a New York Stock Exchange-listed company with annual sales last year of $2.7 billion dollars and a profit of $132.7 million. In comparison, TerraCycle’s sales in 2006 were $1.5 Million, this .06% of Scotts annual sales and TerraCycle has yet to break even. Its office and plant are located in the Urban Enterprise Zone of Trenton, New Jersey. TerraCycle has 33 workers compared to Scotts’ 5,000.
Martin Johnson, who founded Isles, Inc., a Trenton-based nonprofit community development and environmental organization, in 1981 says: “TerraCycle is an important leader in bringing new private-sector energy and jobs into Trenton, one of the nations most distressed cities, which is why Isles is a shareholder.”
“If successful, this lawsuit could mean the loss of jobs for inner-city low-income residents, most of whom did not have a regular job until they joined the TerraCycle team,” said 25 year-old TerraCycle CEO Szaky. “Consumers could also lose access to products which have been independently rated as North America’s most eco-friendly products.
Scotts is claiming that TerraCycle makes false comparisons about the performance of the two companies’ products. However tests conducted at Rutgers’s University showed that TerraCycle organic plant food performed as well or better than an unnamed synthetic fertilizer in most aspects of plant growth. But forget science and testing, said Suzy Bales, former editor of Better Homes and Gardens, “No test is necessary, the answer is obvious. Of course worm poop is better then a chemical. Worm poop is Mother Nature’s fertilizer.”
Extensive additional information on the lawsuit and each company can be found at www.suedbyscotts.com. The site contains all legal documents pertaining to the case, letters between the companies and much more.
As Advertising Age recently commented: “It’s a rather novel marketing strategy:
touting your company as being sued by a rival. But what else would you expect from a company that built a business from compost, worm droppings and old plastic bottles. With a pending lawsuit from fertilizer giant Miracle-Gro, TerraCycle has turned a legal liability into a marketing asset – and hardly spent a dime doing it.”