Round2 Technologies Inc. sees its share of bizarre items – ninja swords, boxes of Legos, several tons of Gummi Bears – but none of the strange stuff shows up in the 4-foot-high Plexiglas box sitting in the lobby of the company’s South Austin offices.
The box is loaded with a mix of old circuit boards, DVD drives and cell phone shells. It’s a little more mundane than a ninja sword, sure, but it’s still plenty interesting for Round2 and the growing number of recycling companies popping up in Austin and around the country.
New recycling laws and heightened concerns about the proper disposal of computers, phones and other electronics are generating a wave of consolidation and investment among the thousands of small firms that recover those used gadgets. Although the electronics-recycling industry still has a hodgepodge of smaller outfits, larger companies with nationwide operations are starting to grow. Many of them are starting to find a way to make money without cutting environmental corners.
“There’s a problem out there, and we can solve it,” Round2 chief executive Ian Bagnall said. “And we can make money doing that. And the side effect is that it’s good for the environment.”
The emerging breed of electronics recycler leans as much toward money-grubber as tree-hugger. They care about the environment, but their first priority is running a business – one that at times brings them into confrontation with environmental groups. Electronics recycling covers a wide range of activities, and the dozens of Austin firms in the business run the gamut.
Dell Inc. takes back consumer PCs free and offers a full suite of recovery services for corporate customers. Goodwill Industries of Central Texas collects computers, refurbishes them and then resells them to fund its work force training programs. TechTurn resells equipment, too, but it focuses primarily on larger volumes from corporate customers, often in partnership with Dell and other computer makers.
There are dozens of other smaller operations that overlap each of those. It all makes for a rat’s nest at times, with the same companies competing tooth and nail on one hand while cooperating on the other.