Colorado Springs' Blue Star Recyclers receives $50,000 grant for nationwide expansion

Carla Ganao and other volunteers sort through electronics equipment being dropped off for recycling at Blue Star Recyclers on Saturday, November 16, 2013. Twice a year, electronics can be dropped off for recycling at the center for a $10 fee. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

Colorado Springs-based nonprofit Blue Star Recyclers has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Mitsubishi Electric American Foundation to help it expand nationwide, starting with two cities next year.

Blue Star, which employs disabled adults to recycle electronics that would otherwise end up in landfills, is pondering new locations in Austin, Texas; Richmond, Va.; Salt Lake City and Lincoln and Omaha, Neb., and Mitsubishi wants Blue Star to consider 10 other cities where the Japanese giant operates manufacturing plants. Within Colorado, Blue Star, which also has locations in Boulder and Denver, is looking at expanding to Aspen and later to Fort Collins and the rest of the Front Range.

Out of the cities Blue Star is eyeing outside of Colorado, it will select the first two based on volume of electronic waste generated in the cities and whether it receives financial support from the cities, said Bill Morris, the nonprofit's co-founder and CEO. Blue Star applied for the grant in April, Foundation representatives later toured Blue Star headquarters and awarded the grant Friday. Blue Star plans to use the grant money to research locations, build relationships in selected cities and eventually build facilities in the cities it selects, he said.

"The goal of the grant is to have two operations open in 2018 by the end of the year," Morris said. "The simplicity of this company is electronic waste; every city has it - cities need an ethical solution. The other element is having people with disabilities who want to work (but can't); less than 20 percent of people with disabilities are employed. Also, less than 20 percent of electronic waste is recycled - we are trying to address both things."

While the grant won't cover all costs for the new operations, Morris is optimistic Blue Star can start out small and, with the help of each city and other organizations, expand nationwide.

"The number of employees is based on the volume of electronics each city recycles," Morris said. "We started out in Colorado Springs, with about 1.5 million pounds of electronic waste per year (more than 100,000 pounds per month). This corresponds to the number of jobs, usually eight to 12 jobs for people with disabilities per 1 million pounds of waste. In a new city, our job is to get the community involved (and reach) that level of volume."

Blue Star was started in Colorado Springs in 2009, expanding to Denver in 2014 and Boulder last year. While the company still operates its largest facility in the Springs, Morris said he expects the Denver location to outgrow the headquarters, based on serving a larger population.

In Colorado, about 15 percent of electronic waste is recycled; nationwide, 12.5 percent is recycled. Morris said Blue Star will consider expanding to any city that shares a commitment to its mission.

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