That sort of revolutionary change is occurring in American business again, as a new green consciousness slowly takes hold, and as more entrepreneurs — including Stuart Arrington and Elise Warren of Technical Knockout (TKO), a small firm in Birmingham — attempt to build profitable enterprises while doing something good for the environment.
In fact, Arrington and Warren take the idea of creative destruction quite literally. They make it their business to dismantle and recycle computer components, as well as other electronic devices, including copiers, scanners, printers, printer cartridges, fax machines and cell phones. They also crush and recycle hard drives.
They destroy these old gizmos and salvage the usable glass, metal and plastic inside so manufacturers can take those materials and make something new – usually more electronic components -- without consuming precious natural resources. “We break down the computers into all the separate components, and everything is recycled, from the metal cases to the wires, the boards, the memory and the hard drives,” Arrington says.
The actual breaking down of the devices, which occurs in the TKO warehouse in Homewood, is very labor intensive, especially since Arrington and Warren, who started their firm in 2007, at present have only one other part-time employee. “It's a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Arrington says.
Arrington spends his days making pick-ups while Warren works the phone, calling businesses and locating more recyclables. “Then about 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon we put on our old clothes and go in the warehouse, and break this stuff down,” Arrington says. “And we're there until seven, eight, nine o'clock at night.” According to Warren, “It’s a lot of screwdrivers and a lot of hammers.” By the way, delicacy is not required. “You don't have to worry about hurting a computer when you're taking it apart,” Arrington says. “If it doesn't pull apart, you can just drop it on the floor, or hit it with a hammer.
According to Arrington and Warren, electronics recycling involves four steps: picking up items, dismantling them, shredding the usable parts of the items and then reusing the materials that are generated. TKO does only the first two steps. “I don't shred any of the actual components here in my operation,” Arrington says. He and Warren pass the parts they salvage on to other recyclers.
“Every computer has a green circuit board for the brain,” Warren says. “All that circuitry we ship in tractor trailer loads to computer companies, or first to companies that can shred that.” According to Arrington, “The mother and green boards are shredded, the ferrous and non-ferrous metals are taken out, and you end up with this shredded green plastic board which can be used to make new green boards.”
Virtually nothing in a computer or in any other electronic device needs to go to waste, Warren says. “All the wire is melted down and the copper and rubber are separated, so of course the copper is used again,” she says, “The glass, the plastics, the green boards, the metal, the cast aluminum -- it's all recycled.”
TKO also destroys and recycles the materials contained in computer hard drives. “We have a machine that is made for the destruction of hard drives and not for paper and the neat part is that at the end, those pieces are recycled instead of thrown away, or mixed in with paper, which make the paper non-pure as far as their recycling,” Warren says.
Proper destruction of hard drives protects computer users from having their personal information fall into the wrong hands, according to Warren, since the stuff they think they've deleted from their computers can still be recovered from their hard drives by identity thieves. “The hard drives are completely crushed with a hydraulic press, because there are little platters inside a hard drive, and that's where the information is,” she says. “And all that crushed material we can put into a box with circuit boards and that goes to the next recycler for even further crushing and shredding, and then everything is reused.”
All this activity by TKO and other recyclers is good for the environment. “It's mainly keeping all of the electronics out of the landfills,” according to Arrington. Dumping these components in landfills can allow harmful substances, such as arsenic and cadmium, to leach down into the water table, Warren says. “This is because of the toxins that are in any computer,” she says. “Even one cell phone will contaminate 150,000 gallons of water.”
Arrington stresses that TKO is careful to sell the materials the salvage only to reputable domestic recyclers who will handle the materials properly, unlike some recyclers overseas, who have been accused.of dumping stuff in landfills. “You can make more money if you send the stuff overseas,” he says, “but Elise and I can't live with ourselves doing that, so we're dealing with recyclers here in the states. Our object is to keep it out of the landfills here, but also to keep it out of the landfills all over the world.”
TKO accept all electronic components, with the exception of televisions. They also accept virtually any metal, including old shelving and file cabinets. To reach Technical Knockout, call (205) 451-0180 or (205) 585-7835 or go to www.technicalko.net