E-cycling

Houston small business introduces state-of-the-art technology for electronics recycling

Houston-based CompuCycle has acquired a new shredder that can automatically sort and dismantle electronics. Courtesy of CompuCycle

Currently, there are more than 135 million cell phones, 23 million televisions, and 31 million computers in landfills in the United States that don't have to be.

"Eighty percent of electronics are still landfilled in the United States," says Kelly Hess, CEO of CompuCycle, citing Consumer Take Back Coalition and EPA 2014 data. "We really want to advocate to change that number, because it's not necessary."

CompuCycle — a Houston company that has been around for over 20 years — has taken a big step toward that goal by adding an electronics shredder to its services. The shredder can dismantle 40,000 pounds a day of electronic material down to just about the finest it can get. It's the only of its kind in Houston — and one of only a few in Texas.

"It's a game changer," Kelly says. "When it comes to electronics recycling, if there's anything that can be sexy about it, this is sexy. It's as good as you can get."

As a R2 certified company, CompuCycle works with large corporations — local and worldwide — to safely wipe data from old electronics, refurbish them, and recycle what can't be refurbished. While most of the company's business is this B2B model, Harris County residents can drop off electronics to be disposed of responsibly free of charge.

While CompuCycle has focused on responsible electronics disposal since Kelly's father-in-law, John Hess, founded the company in 1996, certain recent events have increased the need to recycle more efficiently.

"China is no longer accepting scrap, which is where a lot of materials would go after it was dismantled," Kelly says. "That's why we've created this solution to be able to responsibly handle it here in the U.S."

The new Chinese law shifts the responsibility of electronics recycling back to the U.S., resulting in a rising need for more education and legislation surrounding recycling, says Clive Hess, executive vice president at CompuCycle and husband to Kelly.

"Texas has pretty weak electronic recycling laws — they do have some laws, and something is better than nothing," Clive says. "But, in a perfect world they wouldn't allow the landfilling of electronics."

At the end of the day, CompuCycle's new shredder is moving the needle on electronics recycling, but there's much more to be done, especially since recyclers still bear the brunt of the costs associated with recycling.

"We need to educate the manufacturers, the retail outlets, and the recyclers," Clive says. "We need to work together to provide recycling programs for people to take advantage of. There's a lot more work that needs to take place in order for recycling to be more effective."


CompuCycle's new shredder can dismantle 40,000 pounds of electronics materials a day. Courtesy of CompuCycle

Wyzerr, a member of Station Houston's Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, has a way to better collect information from citizens. Photo courtesy of Wyzerr

In a 2019 report card handed out by Cincinnati-based startup Wyzerr, Houston didn't do too well — It got a C, a 2.5 out of 4. Houston is passing, but just barely.

Wyzerr didn't give the city a bad rating; Houstonians did. In July, Wyzerr sent two researchers downtown to hang out near public places — bus stops, street corners, etc. Overall, respondents said they are satisfied with dining options, shopping, and the airports but were really struggling to embrace long commutes, poor local transit, and even public services: the police department, local government, schools and parking all got grades of C minus.

Wyzerr, which has ventured to Houston to partake in the ongoing Ion Smart Cities Accelerator out of Station Houston, is focused on creating surveys that make it easier for companies — and, increasingly, cities and airports — to collect useful information to improve their offerings.

"You can't build perfect cities," says Natasia Malaihollo, founder of Wyzerr. "But if you make small, incremental improvements, you can start to see a difference in communities (through Wyzerr's smart surveys)."

Wyzerr began in June 2014 and focused on designing smart survey for retailers. Now, the company works with more than 2,100 small and large businesses, including Kroger, Walmart, Facebook, Unilever — a lot of consumer packaged goods, Malaihollo says.

Wyzerr is focused on creating engaging surveys to better collect information. Photo courtesy of Wyzerr

Consumers interact with many of these brands on a near-daily basis, and Malaihollo estimates a person might get his with 7 surveys in a day — some of which require dialing in, or going online, or filling out responses on a sheet of receipt paper.

But Wyzerr makes surveys fun — they're interactive and game-like. Most importantly, though, they're short. Nearly every survey is designed to wind a customer through 25 questions about their experience with a certain retailer, product or service in 30 to 60 seconds. There's a science to it — shorter word counts on survey questions, for example, and making the final questions as engaging as possible, because people usually start answering more quickly, and maybe less thoughtfully, toward the end of a survey form.

Malaihollo calls this a design-focused approach to market research, and it has gotten results. In some surveys, Wyzerr was able to gather data on up to 20 percent of total consumers. Unlike most survey engagement, which usually falls lower, Wyzerr's data meets the threshold for statistical analysis — a valid sample size, in mathematics, is 10 percent of the population.

Two years ago, the Cincinnati Airport approached them. Amid a stream of reports that airports would develop into great hubs for the future of retail, the Cincinnati Airport team wanted a way to track shoppers' satisfaction as they trafficked through the terminals. Wyzerr created a survey that connected to the airport's Wi-Fi system — if users wanted to log on, they had to take a brief survey first.

"That ended up being our most successful campaign," Malaihollo says.

Wyzer, which has a team of 12, has raised $2 million and is getting ready to raise more. Upon completion of the accelerator program, the company will work with a Houston neighborhood for a pilot program, and the team hopes to get their survey system on the Wi-Fi system in Houston airports early next year.

Now, Wyzerr focuses on gathering data for smart cities — urban spaces that offer higher-tech solutions to regular city activities, like parking, and use electronic sensors to collect data that helps monitor the public. For example, cities across the U.S. have adapted free Wi-Fi on public transit, parking lot trackers, smart traffic lights to reduce congestion, automated bike-sharing programs and pedestrian detectors at intersections.