Last year, Damon Harris and his wife, Citirah, launched Wrecycleit, a recycling pickup service for offices, restaurants, schools and churches.
Harris said the company picks up and recycles almost anything, including not only cardboard, glass and plastic, but also electronic waste and carpets.
“We collect things in any form or shape that they come,” Harris said.
So far the company serves 91 customers across town: apartment buildings, offices, schools and grocery stores, including Ellwood Thompson’s. On an average day, the couple makes about 24 pickups with the company car and two trucks.
The company has two part-time employees but is looking to expand that by partnering with a local not-for-profit that provides job skills training for at-risk youth.
That organization, F.I.R.S.T. Contractors, teaches carpentry and other skills to young adults 16 to 21, most of whom are coming out of foster care or juvenile detention. Participants receive a weekly training stipend.
Founded in 1998, F.I.R.S.T. started out making picnic tables, which they sell for $125. They also make wooden trashcans and bins for the James River Parks System, among other things.
Now they are making large compartmentalized recycling bins out of wood and providing them to Wrecycleit. As part of the deal, participants in F.I.R.S.T. will be able to learn the recycling business from Harris.
“Our secret mission is to employ dozens of people,” Harris said.
In fact, that is one of the main reasons that Harris founded the company. He said that while working his previous job giving job training to ex-prisoners reentering society, he was awarded a grant for “green” job workforce training.
But he didn’t get to use it.
“The problem was that there were no jobs,” Harris said.
So instead Harris set out to create jobs.
“My wife and I decided to try and have a business we could run together, and [in which] I could do a better job serving the population I had been trying to help,” he said.
Harris said for every ton of recycling he collects, they will need to add one full-time and one part-time position. The company is collecting one ton about every four to five weeks. As they hire, Harris said, he wants participants in F.I.R.S.T. to apply.
In Richmond there is no municipal recycling pickup for businesses, so Harris is hoping to appeal to business looking to become more environmentally friendly, whether for personal beliefs or for image purposes. The Central Virginia Waste Management Authority lists Wrecycleit on its website among a handful of firms that offer local recycling services to area businesses.
“The response we hear is that they are tired of throwing stuff away that they know that can be recycled. They are tired of it but can’t find reliable, professional, uniformed services,” Harris said.
The company relies on collection fees for revenue, which are based on pick up frequency. Twice-a-week pickup costs $30 a month, for instance. Customers can get a dumpster with pick up service for $60 a month.
The company uses two recycling brokers based in Ashland to find buyers for their hauls, which are stored in a warehouse until enough is accumulated to fill a pallet.
Sale of recycled materials doesn’t always yield much, especially after paying to store it.
“Sometimes we make enough to put gas in the car, sometimes enough to take the guys out to eat,” Harris said.
In addition to building the bins, F.I.R.S.T. participants will help with collecting and sorting the recyclables. They’ll also be trained in the roles of paper broker, customer service representative, recycling auditor and marketing representative.
Frank Lindsey, executive director of F.I.R.S.T., said his program is just as much about learning job skills as it is social skills.
“Employability is less about skill sets but more about being emotionally prepared,” Lindsey said.
Lindsey said the program maintains about 15 people during the summertime.
He said young adults exiting the foster system are more likely to end up homeless. They also have higher rates of incarceration and unwanted pregnancies. So providing intensive job training helps them improve their lives, Lindsey said.
Lindsey said the partnership with Wrecycleit is a great match.
“It’s all hand in hand,” Lindsey said. “The more we can recycle, the more we can renew communities.”