BioCycle March 2005, Vol. 46, No. 3, p. 24
An adolescent ethic is turned into a business fit for adults – “a fun business with positive personalities for the community instead of negative ones.”
FOUR YEARS AGO, in the magazine In Business, (“sister” publication to BioCycle), I chronicled the emerging career of a recycling entrepreneur – James Park, a 17-year-old high school senior, owner and CEO of Park’s Environmental Recycling. He had begun the recycling business at age 11 and in the ensuing years grew the business, educated his customers, collected, cleaned, processed, packaged and marketed the materials, all the while demonstrating an uncanny business sense.
From their family home outside Harrison, Arkansas, James’ business would sometimes fill the barn and parts of their home with the materials he had collected. James demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit when he expanded into commercial cardboard collection while retaining his original 11 residential curbside customers. Before he could drive, his mom would take him each day after school to several area businesses where he collected the cardboard and delivered it to a local, private recycler.
Realizing the need to be innovative and adapt to changing market conditions, James developed an alternate business plan – to recycle printer, fax, and copier cartridges. When the market forced him to change the focus of his business, he gave his cardboard routes to a local nonprofit organization and embraced a different kind of recycling.
With the help of his parents, he secured commitments from businesses across north Arkansas and southern Missouri to save their empty cartridges. James would collect the cartridges, pay the businesses, inspect them to ensure quality and then process and ship them to his manufacturing markets. Within a few months, he had a thriving, part-time business that continues some six years after its inception.
In the fall of 2001, Park entered the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. With his four-year scholarship in hand, he majored in Administrative Management in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. A review of his college career seems like an extension of his already successful high school years. In his freshman year, James joined a group called Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE). Soon after joining, he presented them with the idea of collecting used cartridges for money. Like any idea whose time has come, it soon became a profitable fundraiser for the club and provided a recycling alternative for the community.
Through such large accounts as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and several other Fortune 500 companies, as well as almost 60 smaller accounts, the SIFE-operated recycling enterprise increased volume by almost 200 percent in the span of two years. The new organization’s influence extended from New York to California, and 28 states in between. The remote accounts used a direct mail-in system while the local ones were picked-up, processed and shipped from the SIFE office on the U of A Campus.
When James graduates in the fall of 2005, the cartridge fundraiser business will remain a SIFE enterprise. This successful venture, one that has raised about $2,500 annually for the team, will serve to introduce many future students to the idea that recycling is good business.
In May of 2005, Park will graduate from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Science degree in Administrative Management. When asked about his plans after graduation, he said, “I majored in management because regardless of what I end up doing, I will be managing people and resources. And hopefully for me, companies will look for people who have a passion for the environment and who can help them develop and manage their plan for improvement. I would like to work in an environmental management position, or work for a recycling company (preferably in business development).”
Waxing philosophically but grounded in the ten years of experience in the recycling industry, James offers the following advice “…business is about finding a niche, and in recycling there’s room for lots of niches and plenty of creativity. It’s a fun business with positive externalities for the community instead of negative ones. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a garbage man. Being a recycling entrepreneur means you can make your own rules, wear a suit (sometimes), and still be a garbage man! You would be surprised how many empty cartridges you can fit into a Ford Mustang.”
Bill Lord is Program Director for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Solid Waste Management District in Harrison, Arkansas. In Business magazine – published by The JG Press (www.inbusiness.org) – reports on sustainable enterprises and communities and what it takes to succeed in a green business. www.inbusiness.org
March 28, 2005 | General
RECYCLING ENTREPRENEUR: THE NEXT GENERATION
BioCycle March 2005, Vol. 46, No. 3, p. 24