By Jeremy Ogul | Contributing editor
Facing increasingly fierce competition in the market for electronic waste recycling, Louise Batchelor knew she had to take steps to set her company apart.
She started offering to pick up old electronic items for free. She now pays by the pound for certain items. She targets her marketing to small and medium businesses. And there is almost no e-waste item she will not accept.
The strategy seems to be working. Batchelor’s company, EnviroGreen Recycling Services, has grown steadily since it began four years ago with nothing more than a pickup truck and a garage. So far in 2014, EnviroGreen has collected 328,760 pounds of batteries, copper, computer parts, televisions, aluminum, steel and other discarded e-waste. That volume forced the company to expand in November from a 1,500-square-foot warehouse into a larger, 2,000-square-foot warehouse space in an industrial park off Friars Road in the Grantville area.
“It’s exciting that we’ve grown as much as we have,” Batchelor said.
Much of that growth has come from small and medium businesses, which are sometimes overlooked by other e-waste collectors.
“Everybody wants the Qualcomms of the world,” Batchelor said, but small companies “are the ones that really seem to appreciate it, because they don’t know what to do with it.”
Increasing awareness about e-waste recycling helps drive the growth of companies like EnviroGreen, but one of the biggest challenges electronic waste collectors face today is the fluctuating price of commodities. The collectors earn part of their income by selling the scrap metals — copper, for example — that can be found in small amounts in old computer towers and other items. But prices for those materials have dropped over the past couple years. Whereas computer motherboards fetched $4 just two years ago, the same item is now worth $2.20.
Those changes have driven Batchelor to diversify EnviroGreen’s revenue sources. She noticed a couple years ago that many businesses were dumping printers, security cameras and flat-screen televisions that were only slightly outdated or missing only one or two small components. She realized that with some minor repairs, this stuff could be cleaned up and sold for far more money than scrap would, and a consumer could buy it for far less than a comparable new item. In some cases, people threw away new items that they just did not need anymore — EnviroGreen has a closet full of unopened printer toner and ink cartridges that would have ended up in the trash.
So Batchelor added a wholesale and retail sales side to EnviroGreen. Those sales now make up around 40 percent of her revenue stream. Her goal is to eventually reach 60 percent.
Dario Farisato, who works to refurbish used items at EnviroGreen, said his pay is only part of what makes his job worthwhile.
“Our mission is to make sure this stuff doesn’t end up in a ditch off the side of a freeway, or in a dump somewhere,” Farisato said. “That makes me feel good.”
Farisato spends much of his time operating a machine that strips wire out of discarded cables. The machine is affectionately known as Bubbles the Stripper.
“They gave it that name to make fun of me, so they can say, ‘Well, at least you get to spend all day with the stripper,” Farisato said with a laugh.
Unlike many other e-waste handlers that have strict rules about which items they will collect, EnviroGreen will take anything as long as it is not considered hazardous, Batchelor said.
That policy has yielded some weird and interesting items, including an ancient Remington typewriter, a dialysis machine, an early Macintosh laptop, microscopes, centrifuges, and even a cast-iron stove that “weighed a thousand pounds,” Batchelor said.
All of the e-waste EnviroGreen collects is sold to companies that recycle in the U.S.
“None of it goes to third-world countries,” Batchelor said.
Before getting into the recycling business, Batchelor had a career as an insurance agent that was cut short when she was convicted in 2009 of two counts of grand theft for stealing customers’ insurance premiums. She entered a guilty plea and was sent to prison and ordered to pay more than $24,000 in restitution to four victims.
After completing her sentence, Batchelor came out not knowing what to do next. She went through a program with Second Chance, a local nonprofit that provides workforce training for “difficult-to-serve” populations. The program gave her the confidence to put her mistakes behind her and move forward with her life, she said.
“You have to decide if it’s going to define you. And that’s not what defines me,” Batchelor said.
For more information on EnviroGreen Recycling Services, visit their warehouse at 6344 Riverdale St., call 619-501-7885 or go to egers.org.
—Reach Jeremy Ogul by email at email@example.com.