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PowerHouse Recycling finds new uses for old electronics

01/30/12 by Salisbury Post 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story by Emily Ford appeared in the January 29, 2012, issue of the Salisbury Post.

SALISBURY — Once constructed in near-sterile conditions with precision and care, old PCs meeting their end at PowerHouse Recycling are dismantled in a flurry of power tools and destruction.

“It’s a great job,” Kasey Thompson said as he tore down a computer with relish, tossing the parts into a dozen different bins with a satisfying crash.

Founded in 2008, PowerHouse has grown from a 2,300-square-foot facility in Kannapolis with three employees to a 50,000-square-foot building in Salisbury and 15 employees.

Revenue went from $600,000 in 2009 to $2.2 million last year.

Last January, PowerHouse picked up unwanted electronics from 30 businesses, which they do for free. This January, that’s more than doubled.

The facility recycles 100,000 tons of material per month, and owners are considering adding a second shift.

Business is so good in part because the state banned electronics in landfills, effective July 1. As word of the new law spreads, companies are searching for someplace other than a landfill to unload their old copiers, printers, computers and more.

“We recycle anything with a power cord,” co-owner Mike Kennedy said.

One of the few e-waste recyclers in North Carolina and the only outfit in Rowan County, PowerHouse travels across the Southeast to pick up electronics. The company offers free on-site hard-drive shredding, a perk for financial and health-care institutions that must witness the destruction of computer drives to ensure privacy and compliance with federal laws.

Companies that send items for recycling receive a certificate with the serial number of each item recycled. Turn around is seven days, and hard drives are shredded within 48 hours, co-owner Christin Heafner said.

Security is paramount at PowerHouse, where 16 cameras film the property. The $25,000 stationery shredder is kept under lock and key inside a chain-link cage, and three cameras record the destruction of hard drives.

A company can request the video of its hard drives being pulverized.

People who want to recycle household electronics can drop them off for free during business hours at 175 Lane Parkway, just off Peeler Road near Interstate-85.

The company works to recover bulk commodities that can be reused and keep toxic metals out of the landfill. Employees themselves have almost reached a zero-percent landfill goal with nearly all their paper, plastic and metal recycled, Heafner said.

PowerHouse makes money by selling electronic components — metals like copper, aluminum, silver and platinum — to refineries and smelters.

One PC yields about $10 worth of precious metals, but it also contains six to eight pounds of lead, Heafner said. An old computer monitor can take 2,000 years to disintegrate if not properly recycled, she said. Roughly 133,000 computers are retired every day in the United States.

PowerHouse is an R2-certified recycler and meets the ISO-14001 standard, which is geared toward environmental issues.

A former cosmetologist and nursing assistant, Heafner, 25, cut hair for five years before she met Kennedy and started PowerHouse. She owns 51 percent of the company.

It takes some people by surprise to encounter Heafner in an industry dominated by men.

“I guess a lot of people look at me funny because I am a woman, and I know the business,” she said.

Heafner said she took a hands-on approach to learning the industry, dismantling PCs herself with power tools.

“I just started studying every night, working 12 hours a day in the back of the warehouse, breaking down computers and learning the materials,” she said. “I love it. I would not trade it for the world.”

Heafner’s mother, Elaine, who serves as the Environmental Health and Safety compliance officer, and brother Josh, who drives a truck, both work for her.

Heafner grew up in Rockwell and graduated from South Rowan High School in 2004. Kennedy grew up in Florida. They met when Heafner rented a house in Kannapolis from Kennedy.

Kennedy earned notoriety in 2009 when he refused to sell the rental at 313 S. Juniper St. to the Cabarrus Health Alliance, which wanted to build a state-of-the-art public health department across from the N.C. Research Campus.

The Health Alliance planned to use the power of eminent domain to seize the property, and other homeowners agreed to sell. At one point, Kennedy’s home was the last structure on the block as grading began for the new health department.

Kennedy later convinced the Kannapolis City Council to rezone the property from residential to commercial so he would get a better price if the health department seized his land.

He eventually sold the property for more than double what he paid.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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