The Silicon Review
Electronic devices are being discarded and replaced at the fastest pace in history. At the rapid rate that technology is improving, businesses, government agencies, and individuals are all upgrading to the latest and greatest faster than ever before. This has produced a tremendous glut of e-waste unwanted electronics containing toxic elements that historically end up in landfills.
It’s not a hard decision to make for environmentally responsible and sustainability-minded organizations to have their e-waste recycled. But what about the sensitive data those devices contain? Hardware hacking has become an epidemic and companies, individuals even government agencies, have become vulnerable to attacks.
Three unstoppable business and societal trends are causing, and will continue to cause, spiking numbers in electronics turnover:
These factors mean that the tsunami of e-waste has no end in sight.
Fortunately, ERI, a Fresno-based company with a unique history of innovation, sustainability and cybercrime prevention has emerged at the forefront of protecting organizations, people and the environment. And they are doing it like nobody else on the planet. This is their story.
The inception of ERI
In 2002, Aaron Blum launched a small electronics recycling company. After two years, he turned to a friend for advice. Having just sold FinancialAid.com, John Shegerian loved the idea of recycling electronics, but he agreed with Blum that they needed to find a way to make it a profitable venture. The first step Shegerian took was bringing his wife, Tammy, and business colleague Kevin J. Dillon into the fold. The four of them would become the founders of ERI.
The four entrepreneurs moved the company to Fresno, where they could utilize produce trucks that were returning empty to area farms. Having empty trucks return filled with recycled electronics saved everyone money.
They also got out of the innovation gate early – setting new standards for a growing industry with barcodes for tracking electric components, overhead cameras, totally green facilities with electric forklifts and recycled furniture. From the beginning, the team wanted to do everything the right way.
Within three years, business was thriving. The founders saw the benefit of expanding to different areas in the U.S. Massachusetts become home to the second ERI facility in 2007. In 2008, four more facilities opened in Colorado, Indiana, Texas, and Washington. Another change took place that same year.
While ERI currently focused on end-of-life electronics recycling, the facilities added IT asset disposition (ITAD) to their services. This would help businesses recover asset value from obsolete electronics, and help provide a second life for many of these working devices.
ERI recycles everything from phones and televisions to computers and printers. If it is an electronic device, the workers at the facilities will break them down into the different components and send it to shredders or another facility that will recycle it correctly.
Perhaps most importantly, ERI is the only recycler of electronics on the planet to be certified at the highest level by all leading environmental and data security oversight organizations to de-manufacture, recycle, and refurbish every type of electronic device in an environmentally responsible manner. On the sustainability side, ERI was the first recycler to be dual certified by both R2 and as a Basel Action Network e-steward. On the digital destruction side, ERI has achieved the highest rating from NAID at all of its facilities.
Bringing e-waste solutions to major metropolitan areas
New York City’s sanitation department teamed with ERI to start a first-of-its-kind, city-wide e-waste residential collection program called ecycleNYC. More than 20 million pounds of electronics have been properly recycled thanks to this program, which continues to grow and thrive, empowering residents can request curbside appointments for electronics recycling.
Los Angeles followed suit. Teaming with ERI, the Electronics Recycling Mail Back Program started in 2017. Los Angeles residents can mail obsolete electronics to the city by ordering the appropriate ERI Mail Back box online for a small fee. They can also drop them off at one of the city’s electronics recycling centers.
In come the robots
ERI is growing at a rate of 10 to 15 percent per year. To help increase its sorting accuracy as its processing volume increases and to free up its employees to perform ITAD and data wiping services, ERI’s latest innovation is its employment of two robots, SAM and ERNIE. The first-in-industry, A.I.-driven robots are tasked with separating out commodities after ERI’s proprietary shred process. By doing this, it enhances ERI’s already industry-leading sorting efficiencies and the overall quality of its commodities. The new robot technology has the potential to reach more than 95 percent purity of the material it sorts!
ERI’s robot tech also separates shredded material such as aluminum, printed circuit boards, yellow brass, capacitors, and copper products into a clean stream, based off a vision system to identify the target material that then sends it to the A.I. (brain) that then determines what action the robot should pick. The picking is done via a vacuum system. The robotic system at ERI can achieve about 70 picks per minute in its current configuration. Plus, it processes 10 different streams of shredded material!
ERI sees an expanded role for AI at its facilities beyond robotic sorting and is working to integrate it into other areas of the Fresno location. Later this year, the company will have added robotics and AI to its other facilities across the country.
“We strive to exhibit the most radical transparency of any recycling company in the world,” said Shegerian. “We host over 100 in-person audits a year at our facilities by our clients and certifying bodies. And our downstream is the most collapsed and transparent that has ever been achieved in our industry because two of our minority strategic investors (LS-Nikko Copper and Alcoa) take much of our shredded commodities for beneficial reuse. This allows us to be right in the middle of the Circular Economy while transparently accounting where all our commodities go.”
ERI has also developed its own online asset tracking system, MyTrackTech, which enables its clients to track the entire lifecycle of each device, from initial shipment down to the individual part, unit, and commodity levels. MyTrackTech is the customer-facing component of TrackTech, ERI’s internal asset tracking system.
The roadmap ahead
The sky is truly the limit for ERI – a company that refuses to rest on its laurels after setting industry standards in sustainability, data destruction, and innovation. Expect more problems solved and new innovations pioneered in the coming months and years for this company that is dedicated to protecting organizations, people and the environment—one electronic device at a time.
Belaud the brilliance
John Shegerian, Co-founder and Executive Chairman:
John Shegerian is a serial social entrepreneur who focuses on solving global problems through game-changing innovation to build successful, socially responsible impact companies. No stranger to “recycling lives” and serving up second chances, in 1993 Shegerian co-founded Homeboy Tortillas and Homeboy Industries, which continues to serve as a paradigm for urban renewal in America.