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When we think of recycling, we generally think of the plastic bottles and aluminum cans thrown into plastic bins and set out to be collected. There is a feeling of accomplishment in sending in eighteen wine bottles  – even if those bottles will just be purchased again in the following months.  However, there is an entire world of recycling that exists beyond milk jugs and aluminum cans. At April’s EcoHour, the EcoWomen were lucky enough to learn about some of them.

In honor of Earth day, DC EcoWomen’s April’s EcoHour focused on a few unconventional forms of recycling.  We had two great (and not to mention hilarious!) speakers from two very different but equally great causes giving us a glimpse at recycling from for-profit and non-profit sectors.

Elizabeth Wilmot, founder and president of e-recycling company TurtleWings/Data Killers shared her entrepreneurial story.  Jessica Weiss, founder and executive director J of the non-profit growingSOUL, shared her story: how a woman with a truck and a vision can change the way a community sees food waste.

Jessica Weiss – growingSOUL

Jessica, a California transplant, is a small woman with an enviable amount of energy.  The passion she has for her work radiates throughout the room, inspiring even the most eco-challenged individuals. With degrees in English Literature and Education, her interest and work in food recycling may seem a bit unconventional. Her journey into food waste and composting began with her experience reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle A Year of Food Life.  She started to see food differently and wanted to work towards finding ways for everyone to have access to food – good, real food (no Cheetos and Diet Coke here).

Jessica explained how she began to act on her goal by jumping in her pickup truck and visiting restaurants, asking if they were interested in composting. While this may seem like a bold approach, it’s right in line with one of Jessica’s best pieces of advice for success: Do not be afraid of looking like an idiot.

She also believes, “A rind is a terrible thing to waste,” which is why she takes extra food from food banks and delivers it to farmers to use as animal feed.  One of Jessica’s greatest successes is working with Chipotle restaurants on composting its waste and taking Chipotle’s used vegetable oil to power the Veggie Mobile, a truck that runs almost exclusively on used vegetable oil.

Elizabeth Wilmot – TurtleWings

The road to following your dreams is not always easy or clear.  As Elizabeth Wilmot says, there is never a good time to start a business, you just have to do it.  The TurtleWings founder and president may look quiet and demure, but inside is an inspiring, determined woman with an incredible sense of humor.

Elizabeth was inspired to create her electronics recycling business while she was trying to get rid of an old laptop and found there weren’t many options for recycling electronics.  She left her cushy marketing job at Citigroup to start TurtleWings with little more than the determination that this was a problem that needed a solution.

The Duke grad created a business plan for TurtleWings, outlining her vision and the exact road she would take to being profitable in the first year.  She quickly realized that the shiny business plan she created was great in theory, but more useful as a coaster than a playbook for success.  When she began her business she admitted that she didn’t even know what a hard drive was, other than it existed.  It was a series of trial and error and a lot of learning experiences for the single parent.

Her goal of being profitable by the first year didn’t happen, nor by the second. She finally succeeded by the third, right about the time where her initial funding (supplied by herself) ran out.  The pride that she felt when TurtleWings made its first million could be felt by the entire room.

Through Elizabeth’s path to success she has also stood by her principles. She only recycles products in the United States – the electronics collected by TurtleWings will never be shipped overseas or discarded improperly.  Elizabeth knows exactly where parts are shipped and what happens to them once they get there.

Listening to Jess and Elizabeth about their respective recycling and entrepreneurial experiences was inspiring and educational.  The EcoWomen members in attendance were engaged and had a never-ending series of questions after the session.  Attendees also praised the different viewpoints and their presentation.  We hope Jess and Elizabeth never stop working for the planet – but if they do, I think they both have a career in comedy.

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This post was written by DC EcoWomen Board Member Lauren Rosco