Game Changer: John Shegerian (United States)

In Climate, environment, Game Changers 16, Planet by Mary Kurek

John Shegerian is a serial social entrepreneur who focuses on solving global problems through game-changing innovation to build successful, socially responsible impact companies.  As co-founder and Executive Chairman of ERI, he has played a significant role in paving the way for the electronic recycling and ITAD industries as a whole. Building ERI from the ground up, Shegerian has helped lead ERI to its current standing as the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States. Under his stewardship, ERI now has the capacity to process more than a billion pounds of electronic waste annually at its eight certified locations, serving every zip code in the United States.

Shegerian is also a sought-after speaker, panelist, and electronic recycling and ITAD industry authority, presenting “state of the industry” analyses at events all over the world, including Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. He has also authored articles on the industry for Recycling Today, E-Scrap News and various business journals and regularly provides his expert knowledge to news media, including The Wall Street Journal, TIME, Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo, and Wired, among others.

No stranger to “recycling lives” and serving up second chances, in 1993 Shegerian co-founded Homeboy Tortillas and Homeboy Industries, which continues to serve as a paradigm for urban renewal in America. Shegerian is also the creator of the popular Bulldog Root Beer brand, which he launched in 1997. Shegerian then co-founded, filling the financial aid gap for higher education and generating one of the most successful student loan companies in the country.

Shegerian is currently a member of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of BusinessInitiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) Advisory Board and was named the Clean Tech Entrepreneur of the Year for Northern California by Ernst & Young.

Q & A with John:

Q:  As a serial entrepreneur, John, you have an incredibly diverse portfolio of businesses – most, if not all, creating some form of social impact.  What, particularly, caused you to co-found ERI?

A:  With Homeboy Industries, we helped solve gang-relation issues locally in Los Angeles. With we helped solve the student lending crisis nationwide. Having tackled major societal issues on a regional and national level, I wanted to next make an impact on a global level.  The glut of e-waste entering the waste stream has been a global problem that dramatically threatens the health of our planet. So in forming ERI, I was very excited to take on a new problematic mountain to climb on an international level and harness innovation to offer the best solutions possible. And, we are doing that! Each year, hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic e-waste are kept out of landfills all around our planet as a direct result of our work.

Q:  ERI company materials state that ERI is “the largest electronics recycler in North America, recycling more than 250 million pounds of e-waste annually.”  What happens to that waste?  And, how do you service contracts internationally?

ERI’s robot, Ernie

I’m proud that we are a 100% zero waste and zero landfill company. All e-waste that comes to ERI goes through a state-of-the-art process that protects both the environment and our customers’ data privacy.

ERI has eight certified facilities in the United States, servicing every zip code in the US and with an annual capacity to shred up to a billion pounds of electronics per year making ERI highest capacity in the industry by far. With over a million square feet of indoor-secured facility space and football field-length shredders, ERI is unmatched in its ability to responsibly recycle electronics scrap (e-scrap).

ERI’s proprietary A.I.-driven robotics systems, state-of-the-art e-scrap shredding, CRT glass cleaning systems, and flat-panel video display device (LCD, LED, Plasma) processing technologies allow ERI to transform each device into a commodity that is recycled.

Batteries and ink cartridges are removed from any applicable devices and recycled by ERI’s audited service providers.

All materials, other than video display devices, are processed in ERI’s e-scrap shredding system – the largest and most efficient electronic shredding system in North America.

This process allows ERI to bring materials down to the separated commodity level such as plastic, metal, and glass. Resulting commodities are sent to downstream processors, all of which are audited and pre-approved through ERI’s rigorous Downstream Vendor Management Program.

ERI’s fully integrated operations with advanced proprietary technologies allow ERI to have the smallest downstream footprint in the industry – that means reduced chain-of-custody issues and guarantees that no electronics will end up in a landfill or that inoperable electronics will be exported to developing countries.

ERI’s shredder

Nothing goes to landfill and nothing goes to waste!

We are also the first company in the world to hold NAID AAA, R2, and e-Stewards certifications. What that means to you is that we are certified at the highest level possible for data destruction, sanitization, and environmentally responsible recycling. It also means that we are subject to periodic and unannounced audits by third parties and clients totaling over 60 audits per year across our eight facilities – an audit per week on average!

Because of our US reputation, we have been able to establish global partnerships with leading recyclers all over the world, who are each audited and vetted at the top level prior to our affiliations with them.

Q:  Can you share any impact numbers to date?

A:  ERI has now recycled approximately 1.5 billion pounds of e-waste to date. That’s something we are very proud of… that we have prevented 1.5 billion pounds of e-waste and the toxins that come with it from ending up in landfills around the world.

Q:  What’s next for ERI and what other problems does the social entrepreneur in you itch to solve?

A:  ERI will continue to grow domestically and internationally over the next decade as we work toward becoming not only the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in North America (as we are now) but also the largest brand for responsible e-waste recycling in the world.

ERI’s robot, Sam

One of the reasons we are able to take the lead is our longstanding willingness to embrace innovation. Cobots, robots, A.I., and circular economy principles are all things we have already pioneered but plan to expand upon and do much more with in the coming years.

It’s exciting to be a great example of how effectively harnessed technology can help us solve the very problems that technology creates.

As for outside of ERI, I’m currently in the process of writing a book that will hopefully inspire others to take the next step in doing something to make our planet a better place.

John’s Networking Interests:

  • Leaders of companies who wish to become part of the circular economy
  • Leaders of companies who want to take the data protection in their hardware to the highest standard possible
  • Leaders of companies looking to best navigate their way through the 4G to 5G switchover