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Giving E-Waste and Ex-Inmates a Second Chance

When he was 16, Aaron Malloy was arrested for robbery and sentenced to eight years in prison. After being released, he managed to get both an economics degree and an MBA—but he still had trouble finding a job because of his past. Eventually, we worked together to found Isidore Recycling, where he served as our first COO, and where his background was actually an asset.

We train and employ previously incarcerated people to help tackle the growing challenge of e-waste. At first glance, job training for former inmates and recycling electronics might seem unrelated, but they have a lot in common: our prisons are overflowing, and our landfills are overflowing. Society throws things away—both people and products—though in the end, there isn't really any "away."

Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. Technological advances, planned obsolescence, the need to have the newest thing—all of this contributes to this growing stream. Unfortunately, in the United States, less than 20 percent of e-waste is recycled, and here in Southern California, where I write, very little of it is recycled locally. That means if you're recycling electronics in a city like Los Angeles, chances are that those gadgets are being shipped across the state, across the country, or, most likely, overseas to potentially dubious ends.


At Isidore we're asking, “Why do we continue to ship this waste away?” Because when we do that, not only are we adding to the carbon footprint of our waste (a dumb idea), we are literally shipping jobs out of our community (really dumb). And at Isidore, we know a community that will take those jobs: the growing community of the previously incarcerated.

The United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country on earth—at any given point, one percent of our country is behind bars. Black males age 20-34 are most likely to be incarcerated, with a rate of one in nine. In California, this crisis is particularly severe, as seven out of 10 people who leave a California correctional facility return within three years. Because of a severe lack of emphasis on rehabilitation of inmates, the people who leave California facilities are most often dramatically unprepared to re-enter society successfully—in no small part because very few companies will take a chance and hire them.

At Isidore, we are taking that chance.

We are taking a chance on people like Stephen. Stephen came to us after being incarcerated 12 separate times. He is now sober, lives in a halfway house, and is one of our best employees, working in our de-manufacturing department (the department where we take things apart, mining for what’s precious). One day, he was taking apart some cash registers and he started finding cash—some ones, fives, one twenty. He gave them to us and we said, “whatever you find, we will give you a cut at the end of the day.” He continued on, found another five, and then found a $100 bill. He handed it over, and at the end of the day went to our office manager to get his cut. She gave it to him and he looked at her and said, “You know, I think that’s the first time in my life that I have actually been honest.”

That’s what we are doing at Isidore Recycling. Not only are we recovering value from these things that we are discarding from our society, but we are offering the people who are discarded from society the chance to feel valued, perhaps for the first time in their adult lives.

Images courtesy of Isidore Electronics Recycling

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