Damon Harris is a green entrepreneur who’s found a formula for making money while helping the environment. His green business, Wrecyclit, aims to provide an easier method for recycling while providing job training for unskilled workers and protecting local environments. It’s a true trash-to-treasure story.
Where did the concept for WrecycleIt come from? What inspired you to create this green entrepreneurship?
Wrecycleit started when my wife Citirah and I were looking for a way to not only work together but support our environment and make money at the same time. It was at a time when gas prices sky rocketed. That made us think that we had to treat our environment better by using less. So we started to learn more about the recycling process. Once we realized that businesses where we live didn’t have access to recycling we had a light bulb moment.
Before Wrecycleit, I ran my own consultant firm that provided non-profit organizations with program development, executive training and other forms of capacity building. This led me into the world of the green economy, because most of my clients were looking for ways to get some of the green jobs funding. The more I researched it, the more I realized that I wanted a green business that even I could do.
We have a program called the Green Print Co-op. It’s a recycling education and job training program. It is designed to provide hard-to-employ, unemployed and underemployed individuals with skills so they can get back to work. We just use recycling as that skill. Since we have a recycling company, those participants might as well work with us. We create job task and specific responsibilities that gives participants real job experience.
We connected with a Richmond, VA based non-profit called First Contractors early in 2010. Their mission is to provide foster youth with workforce training. I loved the mission, the services and it was a great fit. We are a small and fast growing company so we needed the help.
Working with an organization that is built around self-development and job training benefits us tremendously. In fact by partnering with a group that has external funding for staffing, intense professional development support and a desire to give kids some real life work experience it is allowing us to expand our service areas, speed up our collection routes and reduce our rates.
How did you get started? Did you need investor funding or grants from foundations?
I got a business license, some business cards, made a website and hit the streets. Our whole idea is that we are recyclers. We want to use less, maximize what we have and use the skills we have gained throughout our professional careers to make this business work. Using this strategy made us profitable within 6 months.
We worked hard at connecting with organizations that were already in the recycling industry. In addition to recycling industry people, we promoted recycling to audiences that may have not previously recycled. To do that, we used a lot of social media. Thanks to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, we were able to find people who worked in offices, taught in schools and got their hair done in places that didn’t recycle. To get their attention we educated them on how easy and important recycling was. To our surprise the green customer hasn’t been our biggest customer.
How do you choose which materials to recycle? What’s the hardest material for which to find a recycling home?
We try and recycle materials that our customers use the most like paper, plastic and aluminum. We then match those products up to processors in the area that collect and process that type of item. So far the hardest and most popular item to recycle has been plastic #5.
How do you ensure that your recyclers follow sustainable materials processing methods, especially for e-waste?
We try and use local providers for our recycling processing needs. For paper materials we use Four Seasons recycling and trading. They do all of our sorting and bailing for us. From there we are able to speak with the companies that purchase their items. Most companies utilized are in the Virginia area. We use a local company called 2nd solutions for our ewaste recycling. They have an actual facility that you go in and see them breaking the electronic waste down. They have a small staff that we have gotten to know very well. It’s another example of how forming local partnerships for recycling works great.
We have three key measurements. One is of course how many customers we have. Two how well our customers are recycling. Are they reaching higher diversion rates. Do they have a better understanding on what they can recycle. Lastly, how many kids we can sit and front of and talk about our environment.
Are there any mistakes that you made on this entrepreneurial journey that you would like to share with other green entrepreneurs?
The number one mistake was thinking that it would be easy. That we could offer recycling to customers that didn’t have access and they would jump all over it. My only suggestion is that if you are venturing out into the green world, you have to know clearly know how it benefits your customer. The more you understand, the more you can make them understand. Once the see they can use your service or product without a huge hassle they will become your customers.
What advice would you have for other aspiring green and social entrepreneurs?
You have to think money first. After you think profits, you can slowly incorporate your social beliefs. If you only focus on social benefits, you will miss the big picture of your green idea. It’s not all about money, but money keeps you in business and allows you to keep your mission alive.