Joys of junk: Veteran salvages job collecting, recycling electronics in Aurora

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AURORA | After almost a decade in the United States Air Force, a friend approached Nidal Aliss with an idea.

What if, the friend asked him, Aliss jumped into the soon-to-be booming electronics recycling business?

Let’s just say the former staff sergeant in the Air Force and Overland High School alum wasn’t especially enthused about the prospect of recycling people’s dusty desktops and antiquated VCRs.

“At first, I said ‘no,’” Allis said. “I just got out of the military, I have a top-secret security clearance, I’m educated, why am I going to recycle electronics?”

What a difference a decade makes.

Today, Allis is the owner of Techno Rescue, an electronics recycling and IT company with a sprawling 14,000-square-foot headquarters at East Sixth Avenue and Peoria Street. The warehouse and showroom at 779 Peoria St. has 21 employees, and Allis said he hopes to grow in the coming years to an around-the-clock operation.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Allis is one of more than 400,000 veterans who will own their own business this Veteran’s Day. Vets account for about 7.5 percent of the nation’s 5.4 million employer businesses, according to Census data.

Allis’ time in the Air Force saw him stationed in Hawaii and Turkey. He spent his last few years stationed at the Pentagon, where he worked with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and crossed paths with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Now, his crews at Techno Rescue tear apart old stereos or tinker with used computers to get them ready for re-sale.

It’s different, to be sure.

“It was definitely a little bit of a culture shock for me when I started this,” he said.

While the specific skills might be different, Allis said the military taught important lessons that he can apply everyday to his work at Techno Rescue.

First and foremost, Allis said, the military taught him the importance of integrity. He said that carries over when he guarantees someone that nothing from their old device will end up in a landfill, or that their data will be wiped clean so nobody can ever see it.

“If my name is on something I have to go all the way with it,” he said.

Allis said that commitment has served him well as Techno Rescue weathered some of the challenges every small business faces — including downsizing from multiple locations to one and coping with family illnesses.

“I was just too stubborn to quit,” he said.

Looking ahead, Allis sees substantial growth for his industry, and the data seems to agree with him. According to the United Nations, people around the globe produced about 33 million mega tons of electronic waste in 2010. That figure will jump to almost 50 million mega tons in 2018.

And it’s not just because the population will grow. The amount of waste per person will also climb, from 5 kilograms per person in 2010 to almost 7 kilograms per person in 2018.

Allis said he sees that growth locally. Techno rescue participates in an annual electronics recycling event with a Denver television station, and this year’s saw almost 400,000 pounds of waste, he said.

“We were very sore the next day,” he said with a grin. “And that’s going to get bigger and bigger.”