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John Shegerian is Chairman and CEO of Electronic Recyclers International (ERI). He is an entrepreneur, environmental and social activist, and international speaker. Prior to his founding of ERI, Shegerian was the co-founder and CMO of FinancialAid.com, one of the most successful student loan companies in the country. While at FinancialAid.com, John created RateYourCampus.com, a college student polling and feedback community, which then led to the creation of CampusDirt.com. Last but not least, CampusClix.com was created and became one of the first college social networking properties on the web. In October 2004, Shegerian and his partners sold FinancialAid.com and all the aforementioned affiliated properties to Education Lending Group, which was purchased for $400M in February 2005 by CIT. Shegerian went on to found Addicted.com, a comprehensive, interactive website dedicated to helping those struggling with the disease of addiction.
Established in 2002, ERI is an Electronic Waste collector and recycler, specializing in the environmentally safe and socially responsible dismantling of electronic items such as computers, televisions, monitors, cell phones, and other electronic items. Under Shegerian’s leadership, ERI has fast become the leading recycler of electronics in North America. For his work with ERI, Shegerian was named the Clean Tech Entrepreneur of the Year for Northern California by Ernst & Young in 2008 and placed into the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. John is also the creator of 1-800-Recycling and 1800Recycling.com, as well as the corresponding iPhone app, “My Recycle List.” He recently announced 1-800-Recycling’s partnership with 1-800-GOT-JUNK.
The process for recycling electronics is very thorough, ensuring that all sensitive data is destroyed and all reusable materials are salvaged. We at Electronic Recyclers International have built the largest electronic shredder in North America to facilitate this. Processing over 20,000 pounds of electronic waste per hour, the shredder is highly-efficient and safely slow-shreds and separates anything with a circuit board and a plug. This ensures that 100 percent of electronic waste is recycled so that everything is broken down to commodities, nothing is illegally exported to other nations, and no electronics are placed in landfills.
For many, the most immediate reason for proper disposal is found in the e-waste laws that mandate the appropriate recycling of all electronic items that have been instituted by many states. Soon hefty fines will be handed down to all offenders. But money aside, when electronic products are tossed in the trash, they end up in landfills and are subject to frequent acts of “toxic trading.” This occurs when obsolete electronics are removed from local landfills in order to avoid government fees for their disposal and then shipped to other countries, posing tremendous health and environmental risks such as toxic substances leeching into soils and water tables.
ERI has a very strong internet presence with 1800Recycling.com, mobile phone apps, and more. How are these, and some of your other online tools and marketing making an impact on your business and the environment?
Well, we at Electronic Recyclers International have “green” in our DNA. We try to make every aspect of our company very transparent when it comes to bettering our environment. I personally believe that most Americans would choose to adopt a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle if only information and services to do so simply were made available.
The idea behind 1-800-Recycling and 1800Recycling.com is to streamline the recycling process, making it easy and convenient for anyone, anywhere to learn how and where to recycle. By calling or visiting the online site, users can select specific recyclable products and enter their zip code to access a comprehensive index of the appropriate local recycling facilities.
“My Recycle List,” is the first fully comprehensive “all items, all zip codes” recycling app designed for the iPhone. Now available for free, it enables users to quickly search to find nearby recycling locations that accept specific items selectable from a provided list. The app also enables the user to easily organize locations by adding them to a personalized index – like an intuitive grocery list for recyclers. Within weeks of its release, “My Recycle List” hit number one at the Apple App store.
These services and tools help people reduce waste that either is shipped illegally to countries with fewer protections regulating toxic substances or to landfills. Instead, we can recycle these obsolete electronics, extracting valuable metals for reuse.
You’ve recently announced a partnership with 1-800-Got-Junk? What will this partnership look like and how will it ultimately serve the consumer?
Previously, people with large electronic items could use 1-800-Recycling to find the nearest appropriate facility but, once found, they were overwhelmed with the daunting task of hauling the item to the recycler’s location. Indeed, such a demanding chore can give even the most dedicated (and able) of recyclers pause, and often results in more convenient and less eco-friendly manners of disposal. We wanted to give people another option to do the right thing.
Now, 1-800-Recycling.com will also be recommending 1-800-GOT-JUNK? as a service for instances when no one is available to ‘take it away.’ The concept will provide a greater accessibility to recycling for the elderly, infirm, or anyone else that is short on time but still wants more space. Users are able to schedule one easy pick up, either online or over the phone, and can combine their recyclables with neighbors to reduce collection costs.
Electronic Recyclers International is the largest electronic waste recycler in the nation. How did you achieve this and what are your plans for continued growth?
Recently, ERI has landed so much new business that we are slated to double our volume in the next 24 months, and then again in another 24 months. Contracts with companies like Panasonic, Toshiba, Best Buy and the city of Los Angeles to properly dispose of their e-waste have given us a great edge in the market.
We’ve also had to think innovatively. In addition to building and developing the largest e-waste shredder in North America, we have invested in cutting-edge urban mining technology. This above-ground mining technique requires no drilling to extract precious metals and has far less of an environmental impact than traditional methods. Additionally, recycling saves up to 95 percent of the energy required to harvest this metal than when extracting from an underground source.
Korea-based LS-Nikko, one of the largest copper smelters in the world, recently invested in ERI’s urban mining initiative. In return, the partnership guarantees that LS-Nikko receives the massive amounts of commodities that go through ERI’s electronic waste recycling facilities across the country. We see great potential for the development of similar partnerships.
Among your many accomplishments, you’ve traveled with Governor Schwarzenegger, who appointed you as a member of the California Commission for Jobs and Economic Growth in 2007 and asked you to serve on the Governor’s Gang Advisory Committee. You serve social needs both in business and with your own time. Where does this combined and rare passion for business, eco and social causes spawn from?
Right after the Rodney King Riots in 1993, I recognized the need to give young people influenced by gangs another option for making money. So, I started Homeboy Tortillas, adopting the motto, “Nothing Stops a Bullet Faster than a Job,” which became the most popular and discussed post-riot social business venture in Los Angeles. It was then that I had my epiphany – all my business ventures from that moment forward had to be about more than making money; they had to serve a social purpose.
Since my realization that success and benefiting society go hand-in-hand, I’ve never looked back. Today, ERI sponsors “urban renewal,” or giving second chances to people who have been incarcerated. We currently employ 50 such individuals.
You also had some great success at FinancialAid.com, spinning several different online resources for college communities. What lessons did you learn while building online businesses?
I learned to take intuitive name brands and create remarkable technology within that brand to support it. This technology will allow us to use the internet for why it was created. It’s the great democratizer of information. For example, we democratized the process of finding a student loan with FinancialAid.com. At 1-800-Recycling, we democratized the process of finding out where you can recycle almost anything in a radius very close to where you live or work.
What responsibilities do today’s entrepreneurs have in adopting your trademarked slogan of “Green is Good” and running their businesses effectively while considering the environment?
The planet’s resources are finite. On our top-rated green radio show, Green Is Good FM (listen at www.greenisgood.fm), we like to highlight the fact that eco-preneurs and other sustainability leaders need to first understand that they have to make a profit before they can go save the world with their new invention, technology, or idea.
Sustainability and the Green Revolution is only now in the top of the first inning. We have a long way to go and a multitude of opportunities in front of us. We have just started what is going to be a very long process, and the revolution is now leading to what we’ve needed for a long time – the sustainability revolution here in the United States. All entrepreneurs have a role they can fill. Just as I have posted on ERI’s website and over the front door of each of our locations, “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.”
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