Ryan Smith is the founder and CEO of Utah-based Recyclops, a subscription-based recycling services that caters to rural and remote communities as well as urban apartment complexes. The company currently operates in Pinetop-Lakeside and the greater Phoenix area, but it is expanding. Smith said Recyclops will soon be in Globe and Payson, and he hopes to continue growing his business in Arizona. “We specialize in recycling where others can’t,” he said. “When you look at places that typically struggle to recycle, rural [communities] are on the top of the list.”
Recycling is a challenge for rural areas primarily because the traditional waste management model in the United States relies on population density to afford the trucks and material processing, Smith said. “When you’re in an area that’s kind of off the beaten path, and there aren’t that many homes — they aren’t that close together — suddenly, it just doesn’t work,” he said. With Recyclops, Smith created a new model for modern customers. “Rather than using garbage trucks, we hire local, independent contractors so we can support the local economy while also providing this service,” he said.
Recyclops uses traditional advertising methods such as Craigslist, Facebook and other job sites to find drivers with pickup trucks or other large vehicles in the communities it serves. Hired as independent contractors, drivers travel around on a designated day and pick up specially-marked bags of recycling that customers place in front of their homes. Once the truck bed or trailer is full, the driver offloads the bags at a drop site where material is aggregated before being shipped to a processing facility by another Recyclops driver in a larger vehicle.
Smith said Recyclops drivers are paid about $25 per hour on average, but they are paying for their own vehicles so the real number is closer to $20 per hour. “That’s huge and can have a profound impact,” he said. Recyclops is open to hiring any type of person, as long as they can drive. Smith said he is excited to bring more job opportunities to rural communities. “It’s a system that can work anywhere,” Smith said. “You definitely need some amount of critical mass to make it functional, but it doesn’t take a lot.”
Recyclops only needs to capture a small percentage of households in a community to be effective — the company usually shoots for 10 percent within the first couple of years, but it can get started with just 2 or 3 percent. “You have the people who live in the most beautiful parts of our country, who care about the environment, care about where they live, and… they’re unable to recycle,” Smith said. “It just seemed backwards to me.” There are 34 million rural households and 16 to 20 million apartment households in the U.S., he said. That means rural receives a lot of attention from Recyclops.