A Closer Look E-mail the author

Ecovery, LLC
Joe Szany • 251-272-3630

Ecovery, in business for less than two years, may be a newcomer in the recycling industry, but its roots run deep. Joe Szany, the director of sales and marketing, has been with the company from its start.

Szany said that he started in the recycling industry in the 1960s and was already retired when he starting doing consulting work for the fledgling Ecovery. It wasn’t long before he was officially working for the company. “I didn’t like being retired,” he said.

His introduction to the recycling industry was his first job after high school, when he started working for a baler manufacturer because it was close enough to walk to work. Over the years, he moved several times, worked for a few different companies, and had his own business for about 10 years, but he was “always in the sales and marketing department.”

While at his last employer, he saw an opportunity when working on a project for a customer who wanted to destroy computer hard drives so they would never again be readable. He did some research and presented the idea to his employers, but they had no interest in moving into that field.

However, others were interested, including Ecovery’s founder and some investors. Szany said they saw “the opportunity to take recycling of electronic scrap to a new level,” and that was the beginning of the company.

Ecovery took advantage of tax incentives available for businesses that moved into hurricane-devastated areas, and started building in January of 2009. Equipment was purchased and installed, and by April, the first electronic scrap was processed.

Ecovery takes “anything that ever had a plug or a battery in it, excluding white goods,” according to Szany. That includes toys, home electronics and computer equipment. Some of the material isn’t worth much, but the company would rather take it all than to make it complicated for customers.

The company doesn’t buy from small peddlers or street traffic, but purchases from scrap dealers who collect the material and send it to Ecovery. Szany said that many of those same scrap dealers had been consulted when Ecovery was forming, and those dealers didn’t think there were sufficient markets for pulverized and chopped materials, but now those same dealers are regular customers.

Helping the business along is the fact that there are laws in place that restrict the export of electronic scrap and ban the landfilling of electronics. “Demand has been created almost automatically,” Szany said.

The processing, in short, is to “grind everything up,” but it’s a little more complicated than that, with the material being ground into very small pieces and sorted several times to separate each material “into its own commodity,” including plastics and a wide range of metals.

Since Szany has always been the “equipment guy” he was very interested in the $6 million dollars of equipment that Ecovery uses to process the material that comes in, and the company has become a reseller and distributor of that equipment.

Unlike some businesses that keep their processes hidden from competitors, Ecovery shows off their equipment and has sold everything from small equipment for auto wreckers to large machines used by the military to destroy old weapons. They’re also their own customer, since they recently bought equipment that is so new that it wasn’t available when they were setting up the business.

Although the company is young, it’s already looking at growth. “We have a 30-acre plant site, and right now we’ve cleared 10 acres,” Szany said. When the company was founded, they expected to be regional, but they are now bringing in material from all over the county.

Future expansion will focus on new materials, as well as new markets. “We now know that we can separate any two materials,” Szany said. “It doesn’t have to be electronics.” An interesting idea is the possibility of re-processing shredder fluff to recover the fines. Szany said that there may be as much as 4 percent metal in the fluff, and most of it would be copper, which would make reprocessing worthwhile.

But the real fun, according to Szany is “the whole phenomenon of looking people in the eye and saying there’s an alternative to disposal and a way to make money.” He said that he’s happy he decided to come out of retirement. “It’s a fun place to work for to make a living, and it’s good for society, too.”