Recycler aims to make a big dent in electronic waste
After two decades in the software business with companies such as Oracle and Hewlett-Packard, James Kao grew disillusioned by the waste created when people ditched the latest technology dreamed up by his industry.
Angered that old computers, televisions and other gadgets from U.S. consumers were ending up in landfills in China, Africa and other parts of the world, Kao decided to do something. He started Green Citizen, a company that collects and disposes of old electronics in the San Francisco Bay area, tracking everything to ensure the gadgets are recycled back into raw material, or refurbished and resold.
The holiday gift-giving season will bring a fresh crop of electronic waste to Green Citizen, part of the 2.4 million tons cast off each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. As consumers buy new gadgets and trash their old wares, Kao, Green Citizen's chief executive officer, expects the waste his company handles to rise 30 percent from November to February.
“The holiday period is the biggest buying time for most consumer electronics, and it absolutely results in more e-waste,” said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, an electronics-recycling advocacy group.
As both the collector and monitor that ensures waste doesn't end up in dumpsites, Kao's company only partners with certified recycling companies that can prove material isn't shipped overseas or put in landfills. Kao and his team expect to collect about 700,000 pounds this holiday season.
In addition to helping the environment, Green Citizen is profitable, said Kao, without disclosing the company's earnings. He wants to expand to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
The inspiration to start Green Citizen came while Kao, 55, was taking time off after selling Managize, a supply-chain management software company, in 2000. Up late one night watching television, he saw a documentary that showed dump sites in China, Africa and the Philippines overflowing with old computers, televisions and other electronics from the United States and Europe.
Limited awareness and lack of convenience keep the general public from doing more, Kao said, while poor accountability and oversight make it difficult to ensure enterprises do their part.
Green Citizen hauls disposed devices to a large warehouse in Burlingame, Calif. Technicians determine whether a gadget can be fixed and resold. Repaired devices are put up for sale on eBay. Kao said about 21 percent of electronics Green Citizen handles can be refurbished, generating about half its revenue.
For devices that need to be recycled, a team in the warehouse uses drills and screwdrivers to take them apart. Components are sorted in bins for plastic, circuit boards, glass and other base materials.
Much of Kao's material goes to a recycling facility in Roseville, Calif. There, pieces are put through shredders. The materials are then sold to companies seeking aluminum, plastic, glass or other recycled material.
While Green Citizen is trying to offset gadget waste, Kao said that still isn't a match for a consumer culture that encourages people to seek the latest and greatest technology.
“It's going to get worse and worse,” Kao said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Federated Investors forecasts optimistic scenario for growth in economy, markets
- Harmar developer sells 15 hotels in Western Pa., West Virginia
- Rice Energy spin-off priced below expected range
- Consumer prices drop aside gas cost plunge
- Wesco cautious, reaffirms guidance
- FedEx to buy product-return firm Genco in e-commerce push
- Fed emphasizes patient approach on rate increases
- Stock market jumps as Fed pledges patience in rate hikes
- Natural gas groups says increase in Pennsylvania taxes would bring dire results for economy
- 84 Lumber vice president McCrobie says company, housing market rebounding
- FedEx 2Q profit jumps 23%; revenue up 8% at Moon-based Ground business