A kid collecting cans and bottles for cash is as ubiquitous as the “lemonade stand” for first business ventures, but Mesa’s 27-year-old Blake King and his mother Rose King have tapped into the real moneymaking potential of recycling.
Blake has done his homework on the subject; when you talk to him, he lays down numbers. For example, he cited that the United States throws away 25 million plastic water bottles every hour, plastic is valued at 2 cents a pound, and 18 bottles makes a pound. “I mean, do the math,” Blake said, “You’re throwing away thousands and thousands of dollars every hour.”
Blake and Rose are the forerunners of their company GlassKing Recovery and Recycling, which is comprised of only a few other family members, and through their glass pickup service and interactive recycling programs for schools and businesses, they hope to cover their three Ps: People, Planet and Profit.
Blake first started thinking about recycling when he was 21 and worked booking tables for a nightclub. The number of glass bottles thrown away each night troubled him and compelled him to start collecting glass from his apartment complex. When he wasn’t able to find a local facility that performed the right service, he began to devise the business model that became GlassKing.
GlassKing performed its first official glass collection in January 2015 with six recycling partners, a pickup truck, and a bunch of milk crates. Blake and Rose’s goal for the year was to recycle 201,500 bottles. “We crushed that in six months,” said Blake. In fact, GlassKing diverted 100 tons of glass in that first year. Current recycling partners include La Bocca in Tempe, The Raven Café in Prescott, Sheraton Crescent Hotel in Phoenix, among a growing list of many others.
After their own recycling epiphany, the business quickly became about more than just diverting recyclables from the landfill and moving that valuable material into their pockets – it became an educational campaign. “We want to send a really strong message: If you’re not separating, you’re not recycling,” says Rose King. “We need to make some serious moves, starting with our kids.”
Inspiration for GlassKing’s interactive recycling program came when Blake attended a basketball game at his high school alma mater and noticed that the trash was comprised solely of recyclable water and sports drink bottles. At the time, GlassKing was looking into a reverse vending machine in which people can deposit plastic, glass and aluminum and receive a coupon in return. Blake, a former high school basketball player, and Rose, a former active booster mom, knew well the difficulties of fundraising in schools. The resulting project was a “no-brainer,” said Blake.
Sponsor the Kids, Sponsor the Future is a collaborative fundraising program that utilizes the “King Machine,” the recycling reverse vending machine. Instead of students selling popcorn or cookie dough, they collect plastic, glass and aluminum from their neighbors and deposit the materials into the King Machine. As they do, the interactive touch screen on the machine gives sponsored messages from local businesses. At the end of the fundraising drive, GlassKing sells the materials and donates the rebate back to the school.
Blake and Rose use the word “relevance” a lot when talking about the program. “It’s a whole new outlook on recycling than just the blue bin,” said Blake. “That’s what we’re trying to change – what happens to [the material]. Is there value behind it? Could you direct it somewhere else?” That is, could you turn trash into new jerseys for the team? “Let’s take those recyclables that do have value, let’s redirect them, and let’s do something together,” said Rose.
The program is also more beneficial for local business sponsors, whose alternative is to hang a banner in the school gym. After all, “It’s the digital age,” says Blake, and businesses want to deliver targeted, digital messages. “If they can do it through recycling, it’s a sustainable wheel all together.”
Last year gave GlassKing plenty of opportunities to prove that the program works, including a stint at the Phoenix Zoo. The company is also collaborating with the Arizona State University chapter of Enactus, an organization that connects students with businesses and encourages sustainable entrepreneurship. The goal is to get at least one King Machine on one of the college campuses this year.
Blake and Rose have more big plans for 2016. They hope to begin recycling auto windshields (which happens to be an enormous problem in Arizona with no current outlet, said Blake). They also hope to work with waste providers and expand their glass recovery service to residentials as well as more small businesses and grocery stores. Said Rose, “It’s going to be a really exciting year.”
GlassKing knows it’s possible to make money from trash, but the Kings’ goals are centered on making recycling relevant and lucrative for everyone. “We have to do our part, and it’s only a small part. It’s going to take a village,” said Rose. After all, said Blake, “There’s enough trash to go around.”