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Springs recycling operation receives loan to expand

June 26, 2013 Updated: June 28, 2013 at 2:52 pm
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In a case of perfect timing, a Colorado Springs-based recycling operation has received a $53,500 loan to expand its program across the state, just as a new law prohibiting the dumping of electronic waste in Colorado landfills takes effect Monday.

The loan, from the Denver-based Beanstalk Foundation, is intended to help Blue Star Recyclers and its program, the Vocational Electronics Recycling Network - VERN - take its business model to recycling organizations in other Colorado communities.

It's the first loan made by The Beanstalk Foundation under its new social enterprise loan fund, established to give "well-run" Colorado charities and social enterprises the capital to grow and become sustainable.

"They kind of went through our financials, scrutinized us pretty good, and they came away impressed with our business model and impressed with our prospect of being able to use the money to expand our team," said Andy O'Riley, president of the VERN Network.

Blue Star, a nonprofit with facilities in seven small Colorado towns, is looking to expand that number to 14 in Colorado and Nebraska by the end of the summer, O'Riley said.

"For a small community, typically if they're recycling at all, they're shipping all their materials to Denver, and with it, their financial potential," O'Riley said.

Julie North, Program Director for VERN, said some counties have events twice a year to collect electronic waste, also known as e-waste.

"If each one of those events raises $50,000 to $80,000 dollars from your products that people are bringing in, then you're sending that money out of the community," North said.

Blue Star's social mission goes beyond recycling to employ people with autism and other developmental disabilities who would ordinarily have a hard time finding a job. By creating jobs for a social group with a high unemployment rate - 85 to 90 percent in some communities - Blue Star is helping taxpayers, North said.

"We've saved the taxpayers in Colorado Springs $500,000 since our startup," North said. "We've employed 42 guys and they've become taxpayers, and they have a value in the community."

Blue Star and other recycling outfits will likely see a lot more business once the new law takes effect Monday, banning certain types of electronics from landfills. All Colorado counties will be required to provide individuals and small businesses with access to e-waste recycling facilities.

"We don't want to have people turned away from the landfills; we want to be able to provide an avenue for people and businesses to be able to take advantage of that," North said.

Consumers are urged to ensure that their recycler is actually sending their materials to reliable facilities. One way to do that is to see if the company is certified by e-Stewards and R2.

El Paso County and the state of Colorado provide lists of registered electronics recycling facilities. Locally, these facilities include Blue Star - which used some of its loan money to achieve e-Stewards and R2 certification - Waste Management, Best Buy, Staples, Goodwill and others.

El Paso County also has a hazardous waste facility at 3255 Akers Drive, where residents of El Paso and Teller Counties can recycle their household electronics for free.

"The whole object here is to keep things out of the landfill that can eventually leech down into the water table and cause water contamination," said El Paso County spokesman Dave Rose. Many electronics, like televisions and computers, contain heavy metals like lead and mercury that, if allowed to sit in a landfill, could cause permanent environmental damage and put unsafe material into the city's water supply. However, those electronics also contain plastic, glass, and precious metals that can be valuable and can be reused effectively.

Nearly 97 percent of the materials in recycled electronics can be salvaged and retained, said Kathy Andrew, El Paso County Community Services Department Environmental Division Manager.

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