Local company steps up to handle electronic waste
ALAMOSA Last July, the state of Colorado implemented a comprehensive landfill ban on all electronic waste. Most types of electronics contain hazardous heavy metals and the state legislature feared that the mismanagement of this material would contaminate the soil and water table. Unfortunately, the mandate came without any financial mechanism to help pay the costs of recycling.
Leading up to the ban, the San Luis Valley, like many rural areas of Colorado , lacked providers for electronic recycling services. Anticipating the landfill ban that was about to be put in effect, the City of Alamosa realized the Valley faced a difficult situation. With no local providers for electronic recycling, the businesses and residents of the San Luis Valley had no safe options for disposing of unwanted electronics once the material was barred from the landfill. Although well-meaning , the state mandate in Alamosa could result in the dumping of this hazardous waste stream in local fields , parks, and city streets.
In the months prior to the landfill ban, the City of Alamosa began placing calls to electronic recyclers in Denver and Colorado Springs to see if any of the existing recyclers could serve Alamosa. One of the those calls was to Blue Star Recyclers, a Colorado Springs based recycler that uses recycling to employ people with disabilities.
Blue Star Recyclers CEO, Bill Morris, recalls the call, "The city was scrambling to find a solution that would allow them to comply with this upcoming state mandate . They wanted to do the responsible thing and find a way for the people of the San Luis Valley to recycle, but they could not find a recycler willing to service such a remote region of the state."
Like the other existing recyclers, Blue Star Recyclers had limited resources to offer ongoing recycling services in Alamosa. Instead of simply turning away the City of Alamosa, Morris offered a unique solution: if a local business was willing to take on electronic recycling services, Blue Star Recyclers would support that business by teaching its model and managing the downstream processing of the material. The concept would provide San Luis Valley residents and businesses a local, ongoing, avenue to recycle electronic waste and provide vocational opportunities for local people with disabilities. It was not clear at the time, however, if any local businesses would be willing or able to step up and take on responsibility for the initiative.
In scouting for a partner, Blue Star Recyclers ended up at the doors of WSB Computer Services, a locally owned and operated IT support firm . After explaining the idea to WSB's owners John and Jenine Manesiotis, Bill Morris was surprised by their response.
"I anticipated having to really sell WSB on the idea, but John and Jenine immediately responded that they wanted to make this happen."
Jenine Manesiotis explained the rationale behind their decision, "We always are looking for ways to add value to our customer base. Many of our customers struggle with finding a way to manage their retired IT assets, and we saw adding electronic recycling to our available services as a natural extension to our core business. However, beyond the business case, WSB has always wanted to be seen as a community asset. We fell in love with the prospect of taking part in Blue Star's mission to employ people with disabilities."
In taking on the initiative, WSB was faced with the enormous task of essentially creating a new business. WSB invested incredible financial and staff resources towards the effort. To help with the startup costs, the City of Alamosa helped finance the costs associated with learning the recycling model and the state of Colorado awarded WSB an RREO grant to build an extension on their existing facility. After just a few weeks of preparation, the new electronic recycling program, WSB e-Recyclers , was officially launched in October of 2012, a full nine months before the landfill ban was set to take effect.
A year and a half later , WSB e-Recyclers has produced remarkable results . Prior to the program's launch, virtually none of the electronic waste being generated in the San Luis Valley was being recycled responsibly. To date, WSB e-Recyclers has ethically recycled more than 160,000 lbs. of electronics.
Along the way, WSB has partnered with multiple disability service providers in creating vocational opportunities for local residents with cognitive disabilities through the disassembly and sorting of the collected equipment. Bill Morris explained the magnitude of this development , "Prior to WSB e-Recyclers , there had not been one person with a cognitive disability placed in a job in Alamosa in five years. By virtue of recycling electronics , WSB is helping to change this dynamic. The more the recycling business grows, the more vocational opportunities will become available."
Through the development of this new venture, WSB has remained true to its commitment to be a community asset. When a local company skipped town abandoning a yard full of toxic computer monitors and televisions, WSB stepped up to help the landlord in safely cleaning up the site, absorbing most of the costs associated with the effort. Jenine Manesiotis summarized this commitment to the community, "We do business in the Valley; our employees live in this community. We care what happens to our local environment and our friends and neighbors, and WSB e-Recyclers is one way we can do our part in making the San Luis Valley a better place to live."
Recently, Blue Star Recyclers recognized WSB Computer Services with its annual Blue Star Award. Bill Morris commented, "WSB e-Recyclers represents an unique model that other rural communities can look towards when developing sustainable and dynamic recycling programs. Beyond that, WSB Computer Services can be a role model for all businesses as to what it means to be a good steward for the community."
The WSB e-Recyclers program is open for walk-in customers Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m., at 21 Craft Drive, Alamosa 81101. The program also offers a pickup service on behalf of area businesses for an additional charge. For information regarding recycling fees, pickup service, and accepted items please contact their friendly staff at 589-8940 .