Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
GreenCitizen’s assistant logistics manager Rudolph Salinda scans in laptops so they can be tracked before they are sent off to buyers for reuse. The Burlingame company has been in business for nine years.
With consumers going through phones, laptops, tablets and other devices more quickly than in the past, Burlingame’s GreenCitizen is working to divert millions of pounds of electronic waste that result from items being discarded into landfills.
On Earth Day, April 22, the company celebrated its ninth anniversary. Last year, it diverted 2.5 million pounds of e-waste from landfills. This year, it’s on track for 3.1 million and it’s opening more recycling centers. Its mission is to develop a sustainable metropolitan model that provides the most convenient and accountable ways for individuals and businesses to reuse and recycle electronics.
“We’re addressing the electronic recycling crisis,” said James Kao, founder and CEO of GreenCitizen. “What do we do with all these recyclable electronic items that have precious metals and toxins?”
By reusing glass, plastic, aluminum and heavy metals — such as lead, copper and mercury — recycling averts the energy used and pollution linked with mining and drilling for new materials, the company says.
Kao’s idea in 2002 was to create a hub to sort electronic waste by either having items recycled or putting them up for sale for reuse. While watching a PBS documentary on illegally dumped electronic waste he decided he wanted to find a solution and went on to spend two years researching. Previously, Kao started three software companies and worked at Hewlett Packard after receiving a bachelor’s degree and MBA from University of California at Los Angeles.
“There weren’t really any systems to deal with this problem,” he said.
The company does free pickups of e-waste items if a business has at least 10 of the following items: desktops, laptops, smartphones, monitors, servers and TVs. Otherwise, companies are charged $100 per pickup or other heavy item fees. Customers can drop off batteries, CDs, cellphones, cables, cords, desktops, computer accessories, fax machines, lightbulbs, printers, Styrofoam, stereo equipment and other items to the company’ eco-centers and eco-stations. These stations and centers run up and down the Peninsula from San Francisco to Santa Clara and also to Berkeley.
“Because I have a business background, I don’t want to treat this (the materials) as waste,” he said. “It’s evidence of recycling and we know how many HP brands come through.”
Items are given tracking numbers. About 70 percent of items that enter the 20,000-square-foot facility in Burlingame are brought to centers in Stockton and Sacramento where they are dismantled and crushed. Metals are separated and reused. The remaining 30 percent have photos taken of them and are posted on eBay or Amazon for sale. Customers can also sell their old electronics to the company.
“When someone buys a piece of equipment, we can locate it in five minutes,” he said.
Workers research the online market to see if customers are looking for particular types of keyboards, brands or devices. Staff wipes hard drives as well before putting them on the market.
“Our effort is to develop a holistic approach,” he said. “We’re quite unique in making it convenient for residents [to bring in e-waste].”
The company also has a museum of old electronics in the front room of the Burlingame office. Kao hopes to eventually start a larger museum with electronics of historical vintage value.
“I’m an entrepreneur interested in solving problems,” he said. “It’s almost criminal to think of electronics not being reused or recycled. It’s a work in progress to find a solution.”
To schedule a business pickup, email firstname.lastname@example.org and go to greencitizen.com for more information. The centers are open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. The Burlingame center is located at 1576 Rollins Road.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105