Ecycling gives new life to old technology

by Clay Neely -


Photo by Clay Neely

Jeff Shenning, Bill May, and John Shenning of Ecycle Atlanta.

On the surface, old technologies would seem to be at cross purposes with renewable resources.

With more than 90 percent of Americans now owning either a cell phone, a computer, a game console, an e-book reader or a tablet, chances are you’ve noticed just how quickly many of these devices will become outdated or even obsolete.

So what happens when your go-to electronic device or hardware gets usurped by the latest and greatest system?

It’s not just an American dilemma. The rapidly growing issue of e-waste is particularly alarming in countries like China, where a recent United Nations report cited the country as the world’s largest e-waste dumping site in the world.

However, for Newnan resident Jeff Shenning, this dilemma serves as an indicator of a burgeoning market that only seems to accelerate when each new electronic product hits the market.

As founder of Ecycle Atlanta, Shenning hopes to help alleviate the concerns of those who are hesitant to simply throw away a piece of technology when it no longer serves a purpose in their daily life.

“I think people are a lot more aware of what they’re disposing of and what it’s doing to the environment,” Shenning said.

Prior to founding Ecycle Atlanta, Shenning worked at an insurance company that dealt in the losses of equipment. After the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the company went to help clean more than 10,000 computers. The company handled technology-based losses, anything from lightning strikes to fires and floods.

“I would handle a lot of the salvage,” Shenning said. “As an insurance company, we have to replace the broken equipment after a disaster. But then once we own it, we have to determine just how much we can get out of it. Part of my job was finding resources to sell this equipment.”

Using his background, Shenning saw an opportunity on the horizon and took a chance.

“It felt like a natural segue,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t know what to do with old technology and it’s definitely a growing problem.”

Shenning partnered up with Bill May, a retired public information officer for the Atlanta Fire Department, and in January 2013, Ecycle Atlanta was incorporated.

Like many startup companies, Ecycle Atlanta began in the family garage. Before long, the operation moved into a large storage unit but then quickly outgrew that space as well.

For the last five months, the company has been occupying a small warehouse on Millard Farmer Industrial Boulevard. Inside of the small warehouse, computer towers are stacked like bricks.

Multiple plastic containers are neatly organized – containing cell phones, hard drives, wires, metal, motherboards and practically anything else that could be salvaged from an otherwise unwanted piece of outdated technology.

“The popularity of the ecycling movement is overwhelming,” Shenning said. “I think now that people know there is a place to safely and responsibly dispose of their technology, they’re really jumping at the chance.”

For many individuals, the issue of personal privacy is a primary concern when disposing of a computer or cell phone. Even when a hard drive is “wiped” by reformatting the hard drive, certain recovering software can be used to retrieve old data. Throwing it in a dumpster isn’t a safe bet either.

However, Shenning and Ewaste understand the apprehension and maintain that their method of deleting personal information is unbeatable.

“We’re very adamant about data security,” said Shenning. When the company recently acquired a slew of computers from the City of Lawrenceville, the hard drives were removed and wiped to the Department of Defense standard.

Ecycle also solicits technology from individuals to large corporations. Anything that is technology based, Shenning will accept it.

“Our philosophy is ‘zero landfill’ and we strive for that,” Shenning said. “We’re not 100 percent there yet, but we are very, very close. For us, the best way of recycling technology is simply finding a way to reuse it.”

For example, Ecycle will take an obsolete computer and strip it down to the bare components. “The metal, the plastic, and the wiring – we have buyers for those,” Shenning said. “We’re not a center or a scrap yard but we break everything down so that we can distribute the materials to the right person.”

Repurposing plays a very large role in their business. According to Shenning, the average business or consumer does not generally find that extracting the parts from their older machines is a worthwhile endeavor.

“Once people and businesses have their new systems in place, they’re focused on keeping things running, not reselling old equipment,” he said.

However, there is definitely a market for “old equipment.”

Quite often, many of the pieces of outdated technology are actually in high demand from those attempting to run “legacy” systems.

A legacy system often runs on obsolete hardware and antiquated software. In some instances, the cost of maintaining an obsolete system outweighs the cost of replacing the technology.

Many other pieces of obsolete technology are actually sought out by collectors. Hardcore Apple enthusiasts often want a tangible piece of history and will pay handsomely for a 25- to 30-year-old MacIntosh or Apple computer.

Shenning pointed to a box containing a computer from 1982 with an 8-inch floppy drive in the original packaging.

“People just love that old stuff,” he said. “We can always find a home for something like that, believe it or not.”

In the back of the warehouse, a well-built, homemade workbench is filled with tools and a soldering iron is illuminated. Shennings father, John, is working on disassembling an older computer.

“I don’t mind the work – it keeps me off the street,” the elder Shenning joked.

“We’re definitely a family business,” Shenning said. “Plus he’s cheap labor.”

With both Earth Day and Arbor Day fast approaching, Shenning had the idea to create “Earth Week” in order to help raise awareness of what Ecycle Atlanta has to offer the community.

During the week of April 21–26, Ecycle Atlanta will be holding a technology-based recycling drive. Partnering with the Arbor Day Foundation, the company will provide the means to plant five trees to each person who brings in a piece of unwanted technology.

“Working with the Arbor Day Foundation seemed like a natural conclusion,” Shenning said. “It all comes down to renewable resources and the reduction of waste.”

Already hinting that the company is outgrowing the current location, Shenning feels that the demand for ecycling services will only increase.

“Once people know there is a responsible and safe way to dispose of technology they no longer need, it’s a great thing,” Shenning said.

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