TECH TURNOVER: Electronic recycling group eyes new Aurora location, growth in gadget disposal biz

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AURORA | Sooner or later, that cell phone in your pocket will be a decent paper weight and little else.

But the high-tech components that allow you to connect with the world are also pretty nasty when they seep into the earth, so pitching that phone or any other electronic device into a garbage heap is a bad idea.

That’s where companies like Electronic Recyclers International come in. The company de-manufactures consumer electronics, separates the glass, plastics and precious metals, and sends the useful pieces off to be re-used.

In early July, ERI announced plans to open a massive 81,000-square-foot facility in north Aurora and adding as many as 50 new jobs to the metro area. The facility at 3250 Abilene St. is set to open in September.

John Shegerian, chairman and CEO of ERI, said the new facility is more than twice the size of ERI’s Denver facility, which has about 50 employees. When operations move to Aurora, Shegerian said the company will likely have between 85 and 100 employees within a few months. At seven locations around the country, the company has a total of about 800 employees.

Shegerian said he sees business like ERI as part of a trend that sees the country’s economy moving from traditional manufacturing toward de-manufacturing and environmentally focused business.

“Now we are going to become in many ways the invention economy, the service economy, this is really part of the new green economy,” he said.

The new Aurora location near Interstate 225 and Interstate 70 is an ideal spot because it makes getting products to the recycling center easy, and getting them out easy, too.

Todd Witty, who is the leasing agent for Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, landlords of the new location, said the company was a good fit for the property.

“ERI is a fast-paced, innovative and constantly growing company and we feel this state-of-the-art, highway-adjacent location really complements ERI’s entrepreneurial energy. We’re excited to be working with them and to have such an admirable organization as a tenant,” he said in a statement announcing the deal.

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said companies like ERI are especially important to Aurora’s economy.

“The ever-improving electronics industry and its constant replacement of older products, combined with state recycling laws, underscore the need for companies like ERI,” he said in the statement.

Shegerian said the company has grown substantially since he started it in the extra bedroom of his home in 2005. In April 2005, the company’s first month of business, they recycled 10,000 pounds of waste. In June 2013, they did about 21 million pounds of electronic waste.

When ERI started, the focus of the company and its customers was keeping electronic devices — and the toxic materials they often contain — out of landfills.

“When we first got into the business it was all about environmental protection,” he said.

At the time, just three states had laws regarding dumping electronics in landfills. Now, 25 states have similar laws, Shegerian said.

The focus has also shifted to include keeping toxic old electronics out of developing nations, where they can do serious harm to people there, he said.

And again in recent years, the focus has shifted, this time toward helping American companies protect the private data stored on their old electronics using techniques that make sure that data is destroyed so nobody has access to it.

“This is a huge, huge issue for people, it’s not only environmental anymore, and not only human rights anymore and not only lets be good neighbors to other countries,” he said. “This is also about protecting our private data.”