There’s gold in them thar discards!
In our age of quick obsolescence and non-biodegradable electronics, Falls Church-based eAsset Solutions has emerged as a scrappy player in the modern effort to reduce, reuse and recycle.
The 40-employee company with receiving docks in the industrial park at 427 N. Maple Ave. straddles the divide between for-profit business and green activism. And like most enterprises, it was temporarily stymied by the pandemic, though adapting is embedded in its skill set.
“The upgrading of technology is ongoing,” said president Jim McGovern, an Arlington native who founded eAsset Solutions in 2006 in a 2,000-square-foot brick shop, just across the street from his current location with 26,000 square feet in the warehouse formerly occupied by Quinn’s Auction Galleries. “Everyone’s got the problem of old electronics.”
The challenge is intensified because consumers and businesses are constantly replacing computer monitors, keyboards, laptops, CPU’s and telephones. To avoid dangerous pollution in landfills, responsible owners make arrangements for proper disposal.
With a fleet of four trucks and a van painted in friendly green, the company — now partnering with Falls Church City’s recycling program — can arrange fee-paying, high-volume pickups of obsolete electronics.
But it also receives drop-offs at any time, for free. That’s more convenient for consumers than the annual e-recycling events put on by area local governments. Falls Church residents can recycle monitors for a fee paid by the government.
“We made a profit every year before the pandemic, though not every month,” said business partner Bryan Tanis, who’s originally from Kensington, Maryland.
In past years, these e-recyclers could profit from a calendar with as many as 500 events put on by area offices planning mass recycling.
“But then it went down to zero, and we closed down in April 2020,” he added.
After laying off 10 staffers, the firm is returning to busyness. “We’re still standing and feel we’re in a good position to be hiring again.”
One bright spot — thanks to the emergence of Zoom — is that eAsset’s supply of some 500 second-hand webcams “flew off the shelves and sold out in 30 days,” Tanis said. Power cables, too.
eAsset Solutions exploits two basic revenue streams.
If a discarded laptop is not too old, they test it, restore it and sell it on eBay or Amazon. The second stream comprises service such as the data destruction essential to assuring customer privacy and complying with regulators’ audits.
“We try to make it effortless, while educating customers — even giving tours,” said Tanis. “We decide how the data destruction is done. But if the client wants a certain method, we charge for it, doing it on their site or doing it here.”
Small and mid-sized businesses are the primary customers, plus commercial real estate firms, whose property managers rely on eAsset Solutions to organize and advertise recycling events.
A tour of the plant in April meant walking the cavernous rooms where materials are sorted, tested, repaired and shipped. Staff and conveyor belts organize objects to extract valuable copper, for example, or aluminum.
Much of the extracting is contracted out to other certified recyclers. The warehouse rooms are lined with wheeled carts and metal shelves packed with old PCs, office phones, and boxes of cable wire and adapters. Filters keep the air clean for “what can be a dusty business,” McGovern noted.
Oddities displayed include a boom box, an old time-card puncher, and a Kitchen Aid mixer.
Tanis said he does a show-and-tell, with a two-foot-diameter, early-1980s hard drive platter that had capacity to store only about three photos. “It was the same technology, but it got better.”
A special “museum” in the lobby — which the team hopes soon to re-open to the public — exhibits a reel-to-reel tape recorder, a 1940s cinema projector, a rotary phone, an early MacIntosh computer, a VCR from early the 1970s (when they cost $5,000), and a Zenith console stereo in mid-century modern.
A stop at a “limited access” room reveals where the “degaussing” of data-packed computer hard drives is accomplished. The degausser’s conveyor belt can run between two passive magnetic blocks, 1,500 drives in an hour continuously. “It doesn’t heat up like the old ones did,” McGovern said.
A customer can bring 500 hard drives and have them erased in 20 minutes, and receive a certificate. (Movements of bar-coded products throughout the plant are computer-tracked.)
The degausser can also destroy data on other magnetic media such as backup tapes and floppy discs.
The process is safe and environmentally friendly, while giving the customer peace of mind that the data were destroyed.
“If I had to sum up, we’re in the data destruction business,” said Tanis.
More fun, said McGovern, is the nearby hard drive shredder.
In addition to hard drives, it destroys memory chips and solid state drives, resulting in fragments of aluminum, stainless steel, and circuit boards. Air filters trap dangerous particulate matter, although this shredding process uses a lot more energy than the degausser, said McGovern.
The company is happy to recycle (for free) printers, typewriters, smartphones, ink cartridges, routers, stereo receivers, ham radios, and cameras. For a fee by unit, it will recycle monitors, televisions, and CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes and floppy disks.
It will not accept batteries, lightbulbs, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators or dehumidifiers.
“Only about 20 percent [of what is dropped off] has practical value,” said Tanis, the remaining 80 percent being “at the end of their useful life.”
eAsset Solutions takes written recycling standards from SERI, the “world’s only” multi-stakeholder, collaborative nonprofit organization focused on minimizing environmental and health risks of discarded electronics.
The firm’s compliance is R2 certified according to the Recycling Industry Operating Standard as audited by Orion Registrar Inc. Also calibrated annually are its industrial scales.
eAsset Solutions has partnered with the City since 2016, and will soon again become its vendor for its “recycling extravaganza for electronics,” said Lonnie Marquetti, Falls Church’s solid waste manager. “The entire group is very helpful, knowledgeable and very customer service-oriented.”
Since 2018, Falls Church has diverted over 18,000 pounds of electronics from the landfill, she added.
The busy recycle drop off on Gordon Road now hauls its “bins twice a week, compared to before the pandemic, when we were servicing the bins only once a week.” eAsset recycles more than 4 million pounds per year.
For years, eAsset Solutions was open six days a week. But the pandemic forced it to close Saturdays, though the old schedule may resume by Memorial Day.
“America is wasteful; we don’t fix things like we used to,” McGovern said. “It would be better if we did, but instead we’re solving a problem.”
Are they environmentalists? “Yes, by getting the most use out of products,” McGovern said. “The longer they’re used, the better it is for the environment.”
Tanis preferred to say, “We’re a business that operates in the environmental space. But we feel good about it for the public, too.”