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Berkeley Recycler Seeks to Keep Toxic E-Waste Out of the Environment




For entrepreneur Kenneth Phillips, starting his own business was a lifelong dream, and the Bay Area native found his niche in the recycling industry.

Specializing in electronic waste disposal, Automatic Recycling Solutions in Berkeley collects computer products, mobile devices, televisions, and other electronic products that could be toxic to the environment if not disposed of properly.

These products are made of lead, nickel, mercury, and cadmium, elements that pose a risk to human and environmental health. In 2009, 25 percent of electronic products were collected for recycling in the U.S., according to a national report. The same report notes that “recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to electricity used by 3,657 U.S. homes in a year.”

Pile of Waste - Electronic Waste Documentation (China: 2007)

When asked how he came across the idea of recycling e-waste, Phillips says the opportunity to get into the industry was serendipitous.

After seeking work as a licensed insurance agent and having been convicted of a felony, Phillips landed in the recycling industry with the help of Farmers Insurance broker Frank Bliss, who got him hired with Automatic Response Systems – a company that does paper shredding. He then started managing the recycling business.

“I found myself thinking of how I could reinvent myself,” says Phillips. “The more people you put in front of you, the better your chances are for you to get that opportunity – that’s in anything you do.”

Phillips started Automatic Recycling Solutions, giving his customers an incentive through buying their e-waste, sometimes at five cents a pound, and selling it to a recycler. Those recyclables can include laptops, mobile phones, which have lithium-ion batteries, aw well as audio and video devices and computer towers.

“What was special about what I was trying to do is that no one’s buying e-waste from the average everyday person. The average person doesn’t have an opportunity to get to the collector because that collector is not going out to talk to them; they’re talking to the businesses,” Phillips says.

“What I did is open the door for the average everyday person to come to the collector. Now, you can come to me and get paid for your stuff.”

At the rate that recycling companies are growing the “green” economy, this industry will produce 1.5 million jobs in the next five to 10 years, Phillips says. He aspires to have the biggest recycling center in Northern California and raise awareness about e-waste.

“[People] don’t realize they’re throwing away stuff with precious minerals and very hazardous waste in these machines that can seep into your soil and your water. All those things can have a long-term affect on the environment and on the people in the environment. We’re all a part of an ecosystem,” Phillips says.

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