Young man with business plan: Help Earth one bucket at a time
James Harris has a business plan that is simple, like the best business plans.
"My plan from the beginning has been to take away things people can't put curbside and other things that people just throw away. A lot of people want that service," he said.
What's not always simple is knowing what your hauler doesn't want to deal with, so that Harris can have it for JHS Recycling, his licensed plastics recycling business.
Business is good. Harris, who is in the spectrum of Asperger's Syndrome, is servicing more than 200 customers in Southwest Portland, has another 200 on a waiting list and is looking for a 1,200-square-foot warehouse so he can expand.
"I didn't think it would get this big. This is amazing. I think this is a good thing to help the Earth," Harris said.
His customers clean and sort their otherwise-unwanted plastic trash and pay Harris $12 per month to haul it away.
"We go around to houses and pick up their bucket. We empty it in our van and return their buckets. Then we come back and empty the stuff from the van into our garage," he explained.
From there, the cleaned and sorted plastics are taken to Denton Plastics in Northeast Portland where the discards are transformed into pellets, which are the raw material for the manufacture of benches and decks and other "Is-that-really-plastic?" products.
"Working with (Denton Plastics) has been really good. They're helping us out. If we didn't have them, I'm not sure what we would do," Harris said. "They've helped us since Far West Fibers stopped taking our plastics. They're really helping us out."
Harris, who turned 22 on Aug. 19, started his business in 2016 out of his mom's home in Bridlemile. Virtually all his neighbors are customers.
"We wanted to teach him about business," said Kathi Goldman, who is in charge of transport for JHS Recycling. "'This is what you do if you like recycling,' we said. 'Why don't you turn it into a business? Let's set it up so you give them a bucket, they put their stuff in it, you sort it and they pay you. That's your job.'"
Goldman and Harris's long-time aide, Mardi Gotesman, have been instrumental in getting the business off the ground and into an expansion mode.
As word has spread of what she's doing, Goldman has heard from other parents of children with autism.
"We've heard from people who would like to have their kids work with us. There have been so many emails from people who know somebody with autism who just can't find jobs.
"If they have jobs" she said, "sometimes they can't work quite fast enough or they can't make themselves understood so their hours are cut down and then they don't have anything," she said.
"So this is a model for them. Even if it's not recycling they can take what we've done and make it their own. It's working."
Gotesman, who has worked with Harris since he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, has seen the change in James since he started his small business.
"He's come so far because of the job. He has huge confidence and really feels good about himself. Independence. Responsibility. I mean he came from a guy who really struggled behaviorally and socially to a guy who is now in charge," Grotesman said.
"He knows all his customers and their dogs."
Customers who choose to can pay Harris himself with cash or check as he makes his rounds four days per week with his mom behind the wheel of the firm's 2017 Dodge Ram Promaster Van.
He's also happy to conduct curbside consultations on the acceptability of what they're throwing away.
"Well, if it's something we can't take we let them know and they'll have to throw it away," he said.
JHS Recycling is licensed by the city of Portland and the state of Oregon so there's no chance some bureaucrat will ever challenge its existence. With the support of Denton Plastics, which buys what he collects and Parr Lumber, which provides the big buckets he collects it in, the future looks bright.
"When we have a warehouse we can take a lot more recycling. We'll have a bigger shredder and bigger recycling equipment," he said.
He'd also like to hire a crew and pay them more than minimum wage.
Asked how his success in business has changed him, Harris says, "I've got a lot more customers now. I'm making a lot more money. I've come far. When I was 16 I couldn't handle something like this. I had some hard times then. That's not the case now."
For more details, go online to JHSrecycling.com
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