Recycling with Heart: Colorado Springs Nonprofit Creates Unique Employment Opportunities
When Bill Morris left his corporate telecommunications job during the recession, he knew it was time for a change of pace. With a tight job market and struggling economy, Morris decided to pursue work in the nonprofit sector, helping Colorado Springs residents who were living with disabilities.
“My oldest brother was diagnosed with a developmental disability,” explains Morris, “He was my initial inspiration to work with adults who have disabilities.”
After taking a job as a disabilities service program manager at a local organization, something quickly caught Morris’ attention. Several of the center’s clients were taking apart old electronics in the back of the building every day, and it turned out that the young men were all on the autism spectrum and enjoyed—and were strikingly good at– the repetitive, detail-oriented work. Recognizing their unique and valuable skill sets, Morris set out to create a new opportunity for them. After securing a local warehouse and creating a small recycling business plan, Morris co-founded Blue Star Recyclers in 2009 – an electronics recycling center that employs local adults with disabilities.
In the U.S. alone, more than 80 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed and less than 20 percent of electronics are properly recycled. Blue Star Recyclers is working to change both statistics. Almost ten years after being founded, the nonprofit employs more than 40 adults with disabilities and has expanded to three locations – in Colorado Springs, Denver and Boulder. Blue Star Recyclers has created more than $8 million in new local revenue, $2 million in taxpayer savings, and has recycled more than 16 million pounds of electronics to date. They have even created an internship program in partnership with several Colorado school districts to train high school students following graduation so that they can go straight into the workforce with Blue Star.
At the end of 2017, the nonprofit received a large grant from Mitsubishi Electric American Foundation to help spread their mission beyond Colorado. According to Morris, Blue Star is working with similar local organizations in Nashville and Omaha to help fine-tune their business plans and structure themselves in the same way as Blue Star. Ultimately, they hope to expand their efforts across the nation and create more employment for adults living with disabilities.
“Our intentionality behind Blue Star is that our workers with disabilities are a superior workforce for the type of work we’re doing,” says Morris. “We seek them out because we have found that they are better workers than their traditional counterparts.”
Morris has also found that Colorado Springs has been a perfect place to grow the business. Commending the community for its strong support in the social sector, Morris noted how residents and other companies in Colorado Springs have been eager to recycle their electronics and support the employees of Blue Star.