United Electronic Recycling was founded in 2011 to fill the needs of electronic recycling in the Dallas/ Fort Worth metroplex. While working within the industry, the founders had a simple vision of serving customers large and small to recycle more; all while striving towards greater sustainability goals that they could teach to their fellow Texans. United Electronic Recycling opened and began working with residential and commercial customers as well as municipal customers like the City of Plano. Nine turbulent recycling years later, that goal still serves to guide United Electronic Recycling towards new heights. Contributing to the forward momentum of the great recycling years, with healthy markets and high community buy-in, UER achieved expansion after expansion. Then, the challenging years came and that is where the true heart of the company prevailed.
In 2019 a full scale triple bottom line strategy was created. At this point, the DFW recycling landscape had changed dramatically, with many e-waste companies out of business, environmental professionals becoming fewer, and the cost of recycling challenging previous pricing structures. It was apparent that planning for a long term recycling downturn was necessary to the survival of the company. It was certainly a different time for the recycling industry, but UER decided to plan a positive, proactive approach that its employees and customers could strive towards. The triple bottom line strategy was created to address UER’s goals towards sustainable practices of its people, impact to the plant as well as its economical and social profit.
To address the PEOPLE – who UER defined as employees, customers, North Texas communities, and ultimately the state of Texas; firstly the plan needed to protect its employees. Sustaining jobs in the recycling industry was a top priority, with a goal to employ at least 30 full-time employees. This meant a huge focus on retaining and expanding the UER customer base to cover the rising costs of labor. Additionally, the recycling industry was changing. Recycling advocate positions were becoming fewer and UER wanted to address this aspect as well. UER committed to dedicating an employee to serve on the local North Texas Corporate Recycling Association as well as the STAR board. Currently, Jason Keller, the company CEO serves as the president of the NTCRA and Vice-Chair of STAR. After his terms with these organizations expire, this commitment will be passed to another employee who will continue to dedicate work time towards benefiting these organizations.
PLANET- Obviously recycling is a good thing for our planet, but striving for the highest ethical and responsible practices continues to be a top priority. Electronic recycling has practices that have a negative effect on our environment, especially when toxic materials are transported to countries that have less environmental oversight than the US. While no company that recycles for the greater good of the plant intends on creating negative consequences, these outcomes are typically a result of cost savings. An active decision was made to maintain the R2 certification guidelines that verify downstream markets and have the best environmental outcome. Additionally, the internal recycling program was reenergized with the addition of two cardboard balers, a single stream recycling program as well as drop off recycling for clothing and shoes. Employee electronics recycling was readily available as well! An ongoing partnership with Champion Waste was implemented for not only UER material but also wood and furniture from their office furniture division. Throughout 2019 UER’s 42-yard compactor was hauled twice to four times per week. An enormous amount of mixed plastics, furniture, and wood was diverted from the landfill because of this.
PROFIT was addressed with not only with financial goals, but also with social goals of serving additional customers, even at break-even prices, reducing transportation footprints, and dedicating time to train and teach municipal and commercial customers. These goals create a solid foundation of sustainability, quality material, and partnerships that may not increase profit today, but will benefit the company in the future. At times difficult decisions were made-when processing prices increased without passing additional costs to customers, or continuing collection events at a financial loss- but UER was prepared to cover these losses for the greater benefit of the company as well as the recycling industry.
Innovative ideas from UER include a 2019 startup plan of expanding municipal recycling access by partnering with the NTCOG to offer electronic recycling knowledge, sample collection models, and universal pricing (regardless of participation and distance)to all NTCOG cities. This partnership was forged to encourage first-time electronic recycling in municipalities with low population, locations further from city centers, minimal or no city staff to organize programs, and other barriers preventing them from developing recycling programs. The hope is to build electronic recycling programs that may operate at losses at inception, but when UER earns the business of these new municipal customers then financial profits can be achieved with growth over time.
The first-year results of the 2019 strategic plan have been positive. Interestingly, the approach to dealing with a new setback, COVID 19, has fallen in line with the goals and outline set forth earlier. As STAR lobbied for the designation of ‘essential business’ for recycling UER set new health standards to protect its employees. As the workload slowed new shifts were created with varied days and hours to reduce the number of people working at one time. Bonuses were given to acknowledge the sacrifice of hours made by the entire staff so that the number of employees did not need to be reduced. Currently, UER is proud to have over 35 full-time employees. Keeping this number above the goal of 30, especially after an unprecedented global pandemic, was both a major accomplishment as well as a success story for the families that UER touches each day.
In total, over 5.5 million pounds were recycled at UER in 2019. This achievement is the equivalent of 211,046,000 hours of electricity, 45,050 trees saved, one million gallons of oil saved, 8000 cubic yards of landfill space, 18.5 million gallons of water saved, and the equivalent of 10.6 million kilowatt-hours. This was all achieved using the highest, most responsible standards of the recycling industry. UER is underway with certifying the business under the new, higher R2 standards, which will now also include ISO 9001. Anything to bring attention to recycling is posted frequently, including employee profiles, collection events, highlighting unique recycled items found, even photos of recycling while traveling! A new program was unrolled recently to provide online chat to interface with the UER website so the needs of each individual can be met. The goal of reaching customers and increasing the reach of recycling education is being addressed daily. One key opportunity that UER has to engage the public is through its collection events. Offering education and guidance in this setting has been very effective and has often resulted in later educational facility tours and new customers. In 2019 UER added four new municipality customers increasing collection event recycled tonnage by 14%. Typically UER has at least four monthly Saturday residential collection events as well as commercial collection events.
Economic impact includes a local 66,000 square foot warehouse with 35 full-time employees. The landfill diversion of 2,750 tons of electronics was achieved in 2019, an increase of 1.9 million pounds over the year prior. UER is also responsible for approximately 100,970 pounds of furniture diverted from landfill in 2019 as well. In the current recycling economy, UER’s main focus is on continuing to stay open and economically viable as well as partnering with other businesses to create new innovative ways of offering customers new services. This includes the addition of a paper shredding truck for additional recycling at collection events. UER included the local non-profit Soles for Souls to participate in collection events throughout 2019 which led to an additional diversion of shoes from landfills. Working with over 25 local municipalities every day to advance recycling in North Texas is an economic impact that UER is very proud to have achieved.
With the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 UER is confident in its path towards greater sustainability. The local structure of advocacy groups such as Star North Texas and STAR have help UER forge long term sustainable goals. From new ideas to new partnerships and customers UER could not have better mentorship, support, and friends. This is the foundation for success and UER is proud to be a part of such a strong movement of sustainability heading into the future.