Blue Star Recyclers seeks donors for move

Blue Star Recyclers workers Frankie Shaw, Ryan Grade, and Ray Phillips work to dismantle computers that are being recycled.

Blue Star Recyclers, a nonprofit organization that focuses on recycling electronic waste and providing jobs to developmentally disabled adults, is looking for a new building — and the money to move into it.

Blue Star operates out of a 7,000-square-foot center on Elkton Drive, but President Bill Morris says that simply isn’t enough room for the volume of electronics they take in.

The company — which moved to a nonprofit status last year in order to take advantage of state grants and donations — now is recycling about 100,000 pounds of electronic equipment a month. That’s too much for a building without loading docks or real offices, he said.

“We’d like a space for a front office, a training room and room to unload electronics,” he said. “Right now, we are all working around a small conference table. It’s so crowded; it’s hard to get any work done.”

And this is where generous donors who believe in a “sustainable enterprise” come in. Blue Star hopes to raise between $40,000 and $80,000 to move into bigger digs.

“We really are a business that focuses on helping developmentally disabled adults find jobs — and to keep electronics out of the landfill,” he said. “We’re doing a great job too — we just need more room to do it.”

Right now, Blue Star has 16 employees, and 10 are disabled adults, most of whom fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum. They work hard, Morris said, but the unemployment rate for adults with disabilities is about 88 percent.

Part of the reason for the need to expand is the fact that last year, Blue Star received a state grant to expand its business models to rural areas. That’s because state law requires municipalities and county government to recycle electronic waste. It’s a rule that doesn’t extend to individual consumers, Morris said.

“So they asked us to expand and show other communities the program,’ he said. “We pick up the recycling there, and bring it back here. So each community — Pueblo, Canon City, La Junta — have one or two people employed there as well. And in rural areas, the unemployment rate for developmentally disabled adults is 100 percent.”

Morris hasn’t yet settled on a building to lease, but he said the commercial real estate market was open — and it was a good time to move.

“But our operating budget is really tight,” he said. “Our profits last year were $3,000. We just don’t have the money in reserve to make a big move. We want to have at least three months lease money in hand, and we would hope for six months.”

Morris said he figures the lease will be about $6,000 a month for a bigger warehouse building with loading docks for worker safety.

In order to raise the money, he sent a letter to people he thought would support his business operations. He’s been successful, he says, and he just wants to continue that success.

It seems he has been successful. Last year, when he turned Blue Star into a nonprofit, he was only covering about 75 percent of his operating costs. Now, he says, that number is 90 percent. He’s hired one additional person and expanded operations.

“We knew it would come,” he said. “Electronic recycling is a big deal — keeping that out of the landfill, so much of it has toxic waste once it falls apart there — that’s important. Hiring developmentally disabled adults is also important.”

Blue Star makes money two ways: it charges 27 cents a pound for recycling old televisions, VCRs, DVD players, computers and laptops. Some of that — televisions, for instance, actually cost him to recycle because the picture tubes and other toxic items must be completely broken down.

“That side is revenue neutral,” he said. “We pay a company to break down televisions because there are so many toxic parts inside.”

Computers are a different story. His employees break down the computers into individual parts and those are sold back to computer manufacturers. Blue Star gets between $1 and $5 for each part.

And that’s where most of his business comes from, he said.

“We are about sustainable practice,” he said. “And we’ll recycle anything electronic, even telephones.”

But Morris might have trouble getting enough donations — and certainly his expansion plans are bucking the trend for nonprofits in the turbulent economy. According to a survey by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, most nonprofits only have modest plans to increase operating budgets. And most are reporting declining philanthropic support — both from donors and from government sources.

“Nonprofit organizations already report being ‘cut to the bone’ in their budgets, and in general,

Fund raising results have not improved over the past year,” the report said. “The smaller organizations, those with expenditures below $3 million, are more likely than larger groups to be facing reductions in amounts raised and signs of fiscal stress, but they are just as likely to be facing increases in demand. “

Morris is optimistic, however. While demand for Blue Star’s service is certainly higher — he’s more than doubled the amount of e-waste he recycles — he believes that the nonprofit model is sustainable.

“We don’t really have a business model that relies on grants or donations,” he said. “But because we don’t, that means we have a slim margin. We just don’t have the money to move; but we have the money to operate month-to-month.”

To contribute to Blue Star’s new office space, send donations to P.O. Box 64435, Colorado Springs, Co. 80962-4435 or call Morris at 494-4435.