“I feel that we in the green movement have a tremendous responsibility to educate and convert people’s habits from being consumers to being Earth stewards,” says Mike Green, one of the founders of Project KOPEG.
Mike should know. His business model is devoted to doing just that. His Project KOPEG works to empower groups, individuals, and businesses to raise funds by collecting electronic waste. It's a win-win-win proposition that cleans up communities, raises money for worthwhile causes, and educates the public about responsible waste streams. We asked Mike to tell us how it all came about.
Green America: What does your business do?
Mike Green: Our business, Project KOPEG, is an electronic waste (e-waste) recycling firm.
Not going to a landfill!
We combine the ideas of environmental responsibility and philanthropy by facilitating easy-to-do e-waste-collection fundraisers for organizations such as schools, churches, charities and other non-profit groups. Our fundraiser consultants work with the organizations every step of the way from creating customized fliers to arranging free pickup and shipping of the items they collect. They get the word out by asking people to donate their used electronic items that were going to end up in the trash. They collect these used items from households and businesses and turn them in for cash through recycling them at Project KOPEG.
Businesses themselves can also get involved also by recycling their e-waste to benefit the non-profit of their choice.
How did Project KOPEG get started?
Mike: A friend of mine and I were working in the cell phone industry as sales consultants for one of the major companies. Every day we were being asked by our customers the proverbial question; what do I do with my old phone? We had no answer and it was getting to be very frustrating. Neither my boss nor the company I worked for had an answer.
My friend and I started studying the impact of throwing these things in the trash, as I am sure many of our customers were doing. With a little research we found out that our children were going to be the benefactors of our “I don’t know” standard answers. Americans consume 426,000 cell phones and 1,370,000 ink cartridges EVERYDAY! One cell phone has the potential to pollute over 158,000 gallons of ground water! We decided right then and there that there had to be a better way.
We discovered there are secondary markets for these pesky little critters, and that virtually 100 percent of the materials found in a cell phone are completely recyclable.
As we have grown our business has grown. We have developed a market to handle large quantities of cell phones and have evolved into recycling ink jet cartridges, digital cameras, iPods and mp3 players, and almost any hand held electronic device as well.
Josi Green, Mike's wife,
What makes your company green?
Mike: The very nature of what we do – recycling – makes us a green company.
Our name, Project KOPEG, really says it all. It means Keep Our Planet Earth Green. We are dedicated to making a difference by leaving the planet a better place for our children, and grandchildren.
Also, our Zero Landfill Pledge states: “All electronics materials collected (cell phones, chargers, cartridges, etc), all shipping and packaging materials (cardboard, bubble wrap, paper, newspaper, etc), all materials involved in processing recyclables, and any other material sent to Project KOPEG is recycled or disposed of properly. Our entire operation is therefore virtually zero landfill”.
What’s been your proudest moment as a green business owner?
Mike: When we first got started, one of the first fundraisers we put together was for a local High School’s Special Education department. They needed to raise money to buy some specialized exercise equipment for some of their students to help them with their mobility. Once it started, the local media found out and ran a story about the fundraiser and why they were raising money. A few weeks later I received an exciting call from the special ed teacher that an anonymous donor had donated the equipment they needed for the kids.
I was touched by the generosity of the community and it led me to realize that you never can quantify the amount of good that can come out of actions such as these. By recycling E-waste for a high school fundraiser, a story was told to our community and strangers donated cell phones and eventually the equipment itself to help these kids lead more healthy lives. They used the extra money earned from recycling to go on field trips and buy materials needed in the classroom.
What is the most hopeful sign you have seen recently from the green economy?
Mike: Virtually everyday I hear stories in our business about new organizations we are helping to raise money for, through recycling e-waste. It is very inspiring to see the green economy rise up and collectively take action in a way that has never happened before. It is further testament tp my belief that there is no better gift and no greater responsibility than to preserve our environment for generations to come.
What advice would you give to green entrepreneurs just starting out?
Mike: The universe often has a strange way of revealing one’s destiny, but there is a reason you are reading this right now. You are currently or were meant to do something to help the cause of protecting the environment. No matter how long it takes or the obstacles you come up against, just know that you are headed in the right direction by working in the green. “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going”.
If you need help, don't be afraid to ask. Talk to others that have actually had some experience, don't listen to those who just have an opinion or think they know, especially if they are related to you! Learn to trust your instincts, not your ego, and how to differentiate between the two. Life can be an emotional rollercoaster if we allow it but it does not have to be that way. It’s simply our choice to find the solution and move through any problems wisely and with caution.
What’s the next green step you’re working on right now?
Mike: Aligning ourselves with other organizations of like mind, in the quest to create change in the world. We are currently working with a group called Environmental Rescue that is developing an educational program for young people to teach the value of recycling and making a positive impact in their communities.
We are expanding the scope of our services to help simplify the recycling process so that more will be inclined to participate. We just recently created a free prepaid return label that individuals can print out and use to recycle their items and they can choose the organization they would like the recycled materials to benefit. We added it to our web site here [PDF].
We are also working closely with a company testing a solar-powered cell phone. Learn more about this on our Web site soon.
What green product could you not live without?
Mike: Organic food products rate very high on our list. We are looking for a hybrid car and we are looking forward to using many of the sustainable products supplied by many of the other Green America Green Business Network members. Thank you for the opportunity to share what we do with others on this green pathway.
Questions from readers:
Q: One of my chief concerns regarding e-waste is that it not become just another exported waste or pollution externality. Are you able to know where your materials ultimately end up? What suggestions do you have for other e-waste recyclers concerned about their impacts on people and environments outside of the US? — Amanda
Mike: Thank you for your very good question. This is something that we feel very strongly about also, recycling 100 percent in the USA and according to EPA regulations, or better! Anything we cannot refurbish for reuse is sent to a “scrap” recycler that recovers the metals, plastics, and toxic materials contained in electronics and batteries. We work with two waste management companies, both of which are members of the Basel Action Network. BAN is leading the charge for preventing exporting of e-waste and techno-trash, and we are proud to promise that 100 percent of the items we work with are recycled here in the USA.
Q: I'm wondering what to do with old computers. I can't find a group that wants mine (it's that old!), but I don't want the heavy metals to end up in a landfill (here or in southeast Asia). Any ideas on the best way for me to dispose of it? — Jeannie
Mike: This is a growing issue as well. There is a great company here in Idaho called Computers for Kids. They recycle/refurbish computers and offer them to kids who cannot buy one. Their address and information about how the program works can be found on their site. Check it out.
Q: I have read that no matter if you erase the personal data on your cell phone, a knowledgeable hacker type can revive it and get it; therefore, said the article, it's better to smash your cell phone than recycle it, out of fear of identity or personal information theft - yours and anyone else's. Comment? — Elizabeth
Mike: I cannot prove or disprove this, but I find it very unlikely. What personal information do you keep in a cell phone? You should never have sensitive personal information stored in a device as easy to lose as a cell phone. Names and phone numbers are ok, but NEVER put in social security numbers, passwords, credit card or PIN numbers, garage door codes, etc. Names and phone numbers aren’t considered sensitive personal information, as most cell phone numbers will be published in directories soon too. I guess if you lost it someone could prank call your grandma though! Destroying it just makes the best recycling method impossible, RE-USE!