March 1, 2021

12 Min Read

[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.


[00:00:11] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell with Waste360 and I'm thrilled to have Ryan Hickman who's CEO of Ryan's Recycling with us today. Hi, Ryan.
[00:00:22] Ryan Hickman: Hi.
[00:00:24] Liz: Ryan, I'm talking with you today because you're one of our 40 Under 40 award winners, our youngest, but also you're our first Changemaker Award. That's so exciting because you've done such great stuff already at such a young age. We really wanted to talk to you and see how you're doing, and how you're doing it.
[00:00:47] Ryan: Yes, I'm excited.
[00:00:50] Liz: Me too. Can you tell me about how you got started with Ryan's Recycling?
[00:00:55] Ryan: My dad just took me to the local recycling center for the first time. I loved it. I saw the recycling was helping the environment, and I just wanted to keep recycling.
[00:01:04] Liz: How old were you?
[00:01:05] Ryan: I was three and a half.
[00:01:07] Liz: That's crazy.
[00:01:10] Ryan: Now I'm 11 and a half actually.
[00:01:13] Liz: I think you've been in this industry as long as I have now. [laughs] Tell me how it all started, he took you to the recycling center and you realized how good it was for the environment, and then did you say, "Hey, dad, I want to keep doing this"? How did it keeps going?
[00:01:31] Ryan: Yes, pretty much.
[00:01:33] Liz: That's awesome. I know you've been doing such great things with your Mammal Center and all of that, but before we get into that, I know you keep track of how many cans and bottles you've collected, tell me.
[00:01:46] Ryan: I recycled about one million, maybe about 300,000.
[00:01:52] Liz: Oh my goodness. Last time we spoke to, I think it was half a million. You've been so busy, Ryan. [laughs] Has COVID changed anything with the way you and your dad are collecting now?
[00:02:06] Ryan: Yes, we're collecting a lot more because everybody's staying home, they're drinking more. Let's say an average customer calls me about every month and a half for white kitchen bags. Now the calling is every three weeks with like 10 white kitchen bags. We have to wear masks at every customers'. If they're outside, if they're not outside and they just need those stuff out, we'll just hop out, go to the truck.
[00:02:35] Liz: That's great. You're really seeing a difference because in the industry, we heard it was up by 25% or something, but you're seeing it firsthand. That's amazing. Ryan, now that we're almost a year into this, it's still a lot of bottles and cans more so than last year?
[00:02:54] Ryan: Yes.
[00:02:57] Liz: Are you and your dad making more trips?
[00:03:00] Ryan: Yes, definitely. Usually, before COVID, we would probably take one to two trips to the recycling center. A couple of weekends ago, we almost had to take four trips in a day.
[00:03:13] Liz: In a day?
[00:03:14] Ryan: Yes. The next day we took two more trips.
[00:03:20] Liz: [laughs] That was a busy day and weekend.
[00:03:24] Ryan: Yes, I know. I think we recycle probably like 20,000 cans.
[00:03:33] Liz: That is a lot for a weekend. That's crazy.
[00:03:36] Ryan: [inaudible 00:03:36] bottles.
[00:03:38] Liz: Still, that's a lot. Sorry, that's my dog, Zeus. I might show them to you so it stopped barking. Zeus, come here, bud. Do you want to meet Ryan? Come here.
[00:03:52] Ryan: I don't think he approves of you talking to me. What type of dog is he?
[00:03:59] Liz: A French bulldog.
[00:04:01] Ryan: We want one so bad, a French bulldog.
[00:04:04] Liz: I'll send you pictures after. Because I have another one named Apollo, too.
[00:04:10] Ryan: I feel like we have a customer that has two dogs named Zeus and Apollo.
[00:04:18] Liz: Really?
[00:04:19] Ryan: Yes. I don't exactly remember which one, but I do remember that we have a customer with two dogs, Zeus and Apollo, too.
[00:04:27] Liz: That's awesome. That's the first I've heard of that. If you get pictures, send them my way. I love to hear that. How's school going for you?
[00:04:36] Ryan: Good.
[00:04:37] Liz: Are your teachers just so impressed by what you're doing?
[00:04:40] Ryan: Since I'm at a new school, they don't really know what I'm doing really, because I just went into sixth grade.
[00:04:46] Liz: You are in sixth grade now?
[00:04:48] Ryan: Yes. Only about two out of the six, five teachers I have, know what I'm doing.
[00:04:55] Liz: They'll figure it out fast. I'm sure.
[00:04:56] Ryan: Yes, they'll figure it out by next year.
[00:04:58] Liz: Definitely. [laughs] I bet they're going to have you talk to your classmates and other people about the good that you're doing for the planet.
[00:05:06] Ryan: Yes.
[00:05:07] Liz: I think so too. Are you still doing your beach cleanups?
[00:05:11] Ryan: Yes. We used to do it once a month. Now we're trying to do it every weekend because of COVID we're bored at home. There's nothing to do. We go to beach cleanups. It was quarrying for like a week here and right after storms, the beach is usually really messy.
[00:05:33] Liz: I bet.
[00:05:35] Ryan: Yes. Sunday we went. Our friend from Carlsbad, California went that morning and she filled up about two buckets and when we went that evening, we filled up two buckets too.
[00:05:47] Liz: That's a lot.
[00:05:40] Ryan: Yes, it's not as much as we usually get, but I think she cleaned up most of it.
[00:05:54] Liz: That was good. It's good you recruiting friends too. That's so great.
[00:05:59] Ryan: Thanks.
[00:06:00] Liz: [laughs] There's always going to be beach garbage, right?
[00:06:04] Ryan: Yes. There will always be a messy beach.
[00:06:07] Liz: Yes and great people like you to help. Tell me about the Mammal Center, have you been there?
[00:06:14] Ryan: They are not really accepting visitors, but we go there probably about once a month to collect cans and drop off some money to donate for my t-shirts.
[00:06:24] Liz: I know what you do with the money, can you tell everybody a little bit about your relationship with the Mammal Center?
[00:06:30] Ryan: I'm not wearing one of my Ryan's Recycling shirts but all the money from my Ryan's Recycling shirts-- actually this shirt too. It's called OCTOBOTTLE. All money from the shirt and my Ryan's Recycling shirts gets donated to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. All the money that I donate goes for fish, medicine, cleaning supplies, PBL light. If it goes towards fish, one dollar equals one pound of fish.
[00:07:00] Liz: That's awesome. See how much good you're doing beyond keeping that plastic out of the oceans and landfills? That's fantastic.
[00:07:11] Ryan: Thanks.
[00:07:12] Liz: I know it's COVID but have they set anybody free lately? Were you able to go see any seals or [inaudible 00:07:21]?
[00:07:21] Ryan: No, not really. I think the last release we went to was probably January last year.
[00:07:31] Liz: Okay. That makes sense with the time.
[00:07:32] Ryan: They do it all the time but I don't think they're accepting people watching. Of course, if you at the beach you could stand back and watch, but I don't think they're like posting and saying, "Hey, we're doing the seal release. Come down to Doheny Beach."
[00:07:47] Liz: Yes, they're trying to avoid the crowds. I'm sure.
[00:07:50] Ryan: Yes.
[00:07:52] Liz: Is your family still helping? I know your dad is, but I think before your mom was helping with your business.
[00:07:58] Ryan: Yes. My grandma's definitely helping too. She texted me the other day saying that she has 10 bags ready for pickup. We're going to her house tomorrow to pick up.
[00:08:09] Liz: That's great.
[00:08:11] Ryan: Yes, she's definitely helping.
[00:08:13] Liz: Such a family business [laughs].
[00:08:16] Ryan: She can't really come down here anymore. Every Tuesday she would come down, but because of COVID, she can't. Surprisingly, today she's coming down to visit, but we're going up to her house tomorrow to collect the recycling, I guess it won't all fit into her car.
[00:08:31] Liz: That's a good point. You guys have a truck, right?
[00:08:34] Ryan: Yes.
[00:08:35] Liz: That's awesome. Good for you. Tell me, are you still planning on doing this when you grow up?
[00:08:42] Ryan: Most likely, yes.
[00:08:47] Liz: [laughs] What else are you thinking about?
[00:08:52] Ryan: I just started a new non-profit called Project 3R.
[00:08:56] Liz: Tell me about that.
[00:08:58] Ryan: It's a nonprofit, of course. Tons of people wanted to donate money to me, but I'm not a nonprofit, so we had to turn it down. Now, the people who want to donate money, we can finally accept it and the money is going to go for-- let's say we want to go to Kenya and teach people about recycling and building recycling center. We'll pay for us to go there and teach them. Or if we're doing humongous beach cleanup and we need more buckets and grabber arms, we'll take like a hundred bucks from that and buy that for the beach cleanup.
[00:09:30] Liz: That's so smart. What a great way to do that.
[00:09:34] Ryan: Thanks.
[00:09:35] Liz: That's really smart. Good for you. Are you still getting a ton of letters from people all over the world?
[00:09:42] Ryan: Yes, I am. Especially with COVID.
[00:09:45] Liz: What are you hearing most now from kids or classrooms?
[00:09:49] Ryan: I'm not really hearing a lot in classrooms because of COVID because they're all staying home.
[00:09:55] Liz: Sure.
[00:09:56] Ryan: Probably a month ago I did an online Zoom call with a couple of classes in Utah.
[00:10:08] Liz: Really? What did you talk about?
[00:10:11] Ryan: Just recycling, they asked me a bunch of questions, I answer them for them.
[00:10:15] Liz: That's so great. I'm sure they've learned a lot.
[00:10:19] Ryan: I bet they did. I could say I learned a lot, but I already knew all the info.
[00:10:25] Liz: [laughs] That's why they had you on, because you're the recycling expert.
[00:10:28] Ryan: Yes.
[00:10:29] Liz: [laughs] Speaking of that, what advice would you have for kids or even adults around recycling?
[00:10:37] Ryan: If an 11 years old kid like me can recycle, anybody can. I started when I was two and a half.
[00:10:45] Liz: I'm with you, I think that's great. Look how long you've been doing it and how much you've done, right?  
[00:10:51] Ryan: Yes.
[00:10:52] Liz: You're a prove one person can make a difference.
[00:10:54] Ryan: Yes. If you do a little bit, it makes a big difference.
[00:11:02] Liz: It really does. This has been awesome, Ryan, I'm so glad we got a chance to talk. Did you want to share anything else before I let you go off to school?
[00:11:11] Ryan: Maybe just that I started a new project Holy site from home in the city of Irvine, California.
[00:11:20] Liz: Tell me about that.
[00:11:21] Ryan: I don't know if you've heard, but all the main recyclers here, we plan it, it's all through California, they went out of business a couple of years ago. The state of California is trying to find people who's going to help start recycling stuff. We partnered with the local recycling center here, and we're making a mobile service to collect recycling.
[00:11:43] Liz: Really?
[00:11:44] Ryan: That's probably is going to start end of February.
[00:11:47] Liz: That's great.
[00:11:49] Ryan: Yes. We have two vans, and we're hiring some people, and we want to go around in the van collecting recycling. Maybe even me and my dad will too.
[00:12:03] Liz: That's fantastic.
[00:12:05] Ryan: You know how you pay a trash company to come pick up your recycling?
[00:12:09] Liz: Yes.
[00:12:10] Ryan: It's like that, but you don't pay us, we pay you. Instead of having to load it all in your car, bring it to the recycling center, go out to the app and say, "Hey, I need a pick up", take a picture of the bags, scan a barcode on it. Say, "I have five bags." "What time would you like? 2:00 PM on Wednesday, 5:00 PM on Thursday, or 9:00 AM on Sunday?" "I want 9:00 AM on Sunday." Then, we'll come by in your area that time, collect it, scan the barcode there. Then when it gets to the recycling center, we'll scan it, make sure it's not contaminated, there's no filters in it or carb parts. If you're recycling right, we'll transfer your money, give you a check, PayPal you, Venmo you, whatever you want. Send it straight to your bank account.
[00:13:06] Liz: What an incentive for people to actually recycle, you're making it really easy for them, Ryan.
[00:13:13] Liz: You mentioned an app. Is this all run through an app?
[00:13:18] Ryan: Yes, app. It will be. It's not run through it yet because it hasn't been launched, but it will be.
[00:13:27] Liz: Well, you have to tell your dad, both of you, please, share that once you guys get going with that, I'd love to hear more about that.
[00:13:35] Ryan: All right, we'll sure do.
[00:13:37] Liz: Okay. That's awesome. Look at you, you're a busy guy.
[00:13:42] Ryan: Thanks.
[00:13:43] Liz: [laughs] When you can travel again, where are you hoping to go?
[00:13:49] Ryan: We were supposed to go to Louisiana, we were supposed to go to Virginia, Taipei, Budapest, but it all got canceled, sadly.
[00:14:05] Liz: Sadly. As soon as you can travel again, we want to have you at WasteExpo too, okay?
[00:14:11] Ryan: Alright.
[00:14:11] Liz: Then, we'll meet in person and we'll have some fun.
[00:14:13] Ryan: Alright.
[00:14:14] Liz: It'll be cool, you'll love it. You'll see all the big trucks, and it's right up your alley [laughs].
[00:14:20] Ryan: Alright.
[00:14:21] Liz: Awesome. Thanks, Ryan, this has been amazing, keep up the great work. Thanks for inspiring so many people.
[00:14:28] Ryan: Thanks, [chuckles] thanks for having me on.
[00:14:30] Liz: Fantastic, let's do it again soon.
[00:14:33] Ryan: Okay.

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