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

The Rice Management Company has broken ground on the renovation of the historic Midtown Sears building, which will become The Ion. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The Ion — a to-be entrepreneurial hub for startups, universities, tech companies, and more — is, in a way, the lemonade created from the lemons dealt to the city by a snub from Amazon.

In 2018, Amazon narrowed its options for a second headquarters to 20 cities, and Houston didn't make the shortlist.

"That disappointment lead to a sense of urgency, commitment, and imagination and out of that has come something better than we ever could have imagined," David Leebron, president of Rice University, says to a crowd gathered for The Ion's groundbreaking on July 19.

However disappointing the snub from Amazon was, it was a wake-up call for so many of the Houston innovation ecosystem players. The Ion, which is being constructed within the bones of the historic Midtown Sears building, is a part of a new era for the city.

"Houston's on a new course to a new destination," says Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Here are some other overheard quotes from the groundbreaking ceremony. The 270,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in 18 months.


The historic Sears building in Midtown will transform into The Ion, a Rice University-backed hub for innovation. Courtesy of Rice University


The Sears opened in 1939. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

“We have the capacity — if we work together — not only to make this a great innovation hub, but to do something that truly represents the Houston can-do, collaborative spirit.”

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. Leebron stressed the unique accomplishment the Ion has made to bring all the universities of Houston together for this project. "When we tell people the collaboration that has been brought together around this project, they are amazed," he says.

“The nation is seeing what we already know in the city of Houston. That this city has the greatest and most creative minds. We are a model for inclusion among people and cultures from everywhere. We are a city that taps the potential of every resident, dares them to dream big, and we provide the tools to make those dreams come true.”

— Mayor Sylvester Turner, who says he remembers shopping in the former Sears building as a kid, but notes how Houston's goals have changed, as has the world.

“When this store opened in 1939, it showcased a couple of innovations even back then: The first escalator in Texas, the first air conditioned department store in Houston, the first windowless department store in the country.”

— Senator Rodney Ellis, who adds the request that The Ion have windows.

“Many people ask us, ‘why not just tear down the old building and start new?’ We actually see this as a very unique opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs to be located within a historic building, while benefiting from an enhanced structure, state-of-the-art technology, and Class A tenant comforts.”

— Allison Thacker, president of the Rice Management Company. She describes the environment of being a beehive of activity.

“[As program partner for The Ion,] our mission is to build the innovation economy of Houston one entrepreneur at a time.”

— Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston. Rowe describes Station's role as a connector between startups, venture capital firms, major corporations, and more.