Real Estate, Sustainability, and Technology

Obsolete electronics keep recycling business growing

August 12, 2014
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Stacks of computers waiting recycling. Photo via fb.com

Obsolete electronics are keeping one West Michigan electronics recycling facility in growth mode.

The 42-year-old Valley City Electronic Recycling traded in its Market Street location in Grand Rapids in September 2013 for a much larger space at 2929 32nd St. SE in Kentwood.

The company’s new location, in the former Keeler Brass Building, offers more than 30,000 square feet for electronic processing as opposed to its previous location, which was a 19,000-square-foot facility.

“It’s a much larger facility,” said Jason Kehr, partner and sales rep at VCER. “It’s created more efficiency. The space we had on Market was a little more chopped up. This is much more open, at least in the plant area. We were able to lay out the plant in a way to maximize efficiency.”

The new building also has allowed the company to create a nicer retail space, where it sells repurposed electronics and parts.

“It’s a nicer space. It’s much more presentable,” Kehr said.

Since the move, Valley City Electronic Recycling has seen an increase of approximately 50 percent in the materials it takes in.

“There are various reasons,” Kehr said. “I don’t know how much the move itself factored into that. A lot of it has been the result of the concentrated sales effort, more marketing, getting the word out and networking. We are starting to reap some of the fruits of that labor.”

The company also has entered into a business partnership with Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, a contract the company was excited to get and hopes to build on.

“We are handling the e-waste they take in at their location,” Kehr said.

He said Valley City picks up materials from Goodwill twice a week.

Goodwill recycles a combined 2 million pounds of computer electronics every year, including computers, monitors, printers and televisions.

“Over the past several years, there has been a significant shift in technologies as it comes to consumer electronics,” said Nick Carlson, vice president of donated goods operations at Goodwill.

“As a result, Goodwill has been flooded with obsolete cathode ray tube televisions, monitors and obsolescent computers and peripheral. Valley City Electronic Recycling is not only a local business competitive on value, but is also a great resource for Goodwill’s complicated logistics needs. They have been able to provide much needed services that others have been unable to provide in the past.”

Valley City also has formed a partnership with Recycled Concepts, a paper, cardboard and plastics recycling business also housed in the Keeler Brass Building.

“It’s pretty cool. It’s a like-minded company so we are able to work with them,” Kehr said.

While electronics recycling is a growing industry, Kehr said a big part of what the company does is education and outreach to businesses that don’t know what do with their old electronics. Many companies tend to stash old equipment in an empty cubicle or a storage closet rather than send it to a recycling center.

“We are still focusing on marketing and getting the word out that we are here,” he said. “We pay for a lot of this material if it is still good. That is a huge incentive for companies. They can get some money back.”

Attracting business customers is important to the future of the company, particularly due to the volatility of commodity pricing. Kehr said commodity prices have decreased during the past six months to some of the lowest rates he has seen.

“It’s terrible. It continues to go down,” he said. “It makes this industry very hard to do. Everybody in the industry is facing it. We’ve got to continue to look for other ways to grow our bottom line other than processing and trying to sell the commodities.”

Electronics coming from corporate clients are often more valuable than those coming from residential clients.

“Repurposing is better than recycling,” he said. “That’s why we want to grow the corporate side of the business, because you get more corporate material coming in that generally has more value.”

Valley City also offers data destruction services, which is a great source of revenue for the business and is particularly important as concern over digital privacy grows.

“It’s so important right now,” he said. “Their hard drives are being destroyed so their sensitive data is not getting out.”

Finally, the company is just plain committed to helping companies keep hazardous materials out of landfills.

Valley City Electronic Recycling currently employs 27 people, several of whom are part of prisoner re-entry programs. Kehr said the more material the company can bring in, the more workers it can hire.

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