Addressing the Forgotten Recyclable with SpinGreen’s Elliot Groman

November 25, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. We’re so excited to have with us today Elliot Groman. He’s the President of SpinGreen. Welcome to Green is Good, Elliot. ELLIOT GROMAN: Hey, John. How are you guys? JOHN SHEGERIAN: We are great today and I just want to say thanks for coming on the show. I want our listeners to jump on your great website before we get going here. It’s www.spingreen.com. Elliot, before we talk about SpinGreen, which I’m on the site right now on my iPad, I love your site and I love what you’re doing, before we get into that, tell a little bit about your journey, your journey leading up to SpinGreen. How did you get here? Why are you here today? And share your story a little bit. ELLIOT GROMAN: All right, thank you. I hope it’s interesting enough. The thing is I came here from Russia and it’s tough growing up a foreigner in New York and in the United States and I guess I got first interested in recycling when I went to the army. I went to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, which is the Army Corps of Engineers and really the only jobs that they allowed Russians to do at that point because it was 1989, still in the Cold War, and they allowed me some engineering stuff, help not build bridges but carry the stuff that builds bridges, maybe a laundry and I think cooking so I decided, obviously, to get involved in engineering. I thought maybe afterwards I could get a decent job. By the way kids, don’t do this at home but I never finished high school so I thought this would be my only chance to get a decent civil job so then all of a sudden, we had Desert Shield, which really wasn’t the war yet but we were supposed to just go out there and watch things that didn’t escalate and then we went out to Bahrain and the Kuwait and things did escalate and Desert Shield became Desert Storm and obviously, there wasn’t a lot of bridges to be built out there but when I came back after the war, because actually, thank God, it was a 12-day war, I went back to Fort Drum, New York, and I worked on some sort of engineering projects, building dams and things of that nature and I guess I got grinding my teeth or cut my teeth, I don’t know what the saying is correctly, about preserving things, the environment, because you know, building dams and the Army Corps was very cognizant of not hurting the environment at the time and then I guess afterwards, because I spent at least two years in the war training and then you have to go six to eight years to really get a full time job in something afterwards, I kind of just bounced around so that part wasn’t really that interesting. I was a stockbroker and a mortgage broker and then I met my lovely wife and we were together for eight years and knew each other for another two so that’s 10 and now we’re fast forwarded to the early 2000s and there was this big thing going on in America where the farmer growers of America were sewing the ethanol users of America and saying that the ethanol guys were using too much corn for feedstock, biomass, renewable fuels and then the farmers were saying that listen, you know, you’re raising up the price of corn and so the supermarket of America, people said you know, it’s hurting people because corn is a staple of American life so what my wife came up with at the time was she said, you know, one of the feedstocks for making biomass or biodiesel is cooking oil and instead of using new cooking oil, why don’t we use the cooking oil that was already allocated for consumption and then afterwards, we can source it, collect it, clean it and then sell it to biodiesel makers? That way, we don’t take away from the people who use it for consumption. We don’t raise the prices. We just basically renew, reuse, recycle. We recycle a product that’s already been allocated for something else so we got into that and at the time, we saw that people were charging, restaurants were charging people to pick up the oil and mainly, we would get the oil because a lot of people who fry was restaurants, schools, hotels, what have you, wherever there was a cooking facility, so we came in and said, ‘You know what? Why should people pay? We’re going to make money anyway so why don’t we do it for free?’ so we started doing it for free and we became wildly successful. Then everybody thought that this business model isn’t going to work but then lo and behold, we were like the number one in New York independent oil collection company in biodiesel and then other people jumped on board and said you know what, we’ll do it for free too and so we said you know what, if you’ll do it for free, now we’re going to make everyone our partners and so we started doing profit sharing and so what we decided to do was now going from free, we decided to pay people $20 to get the stuff and now basically, we completely changed the industry. Where restaurants and other food service industries are now getting paid for that product because now everybody knows it’s a commodity but then everybody started getting into it and again, we were again, knock on wood, but we were wildly successful and so we sold the company and then my wife got pregnant and again, it was the best thing that ever happened but it got me even more interested in saying listen, you know what, how do I preserve the planet for my son? How do I help America be less pollutant? And another industry that was, in my opinion, almost the same thing was textile recycling. I felt it was the forgotten recyclable and if you look at the EPA, they tell America throws out 21 billion pounds of clothes a year. Just in New York alone, it represents about 12 to 13% of every landfill and the sick part about it, John, is that 95 to 100% of those textiles can be recycled, especially if it’s in the single stream form, not mixed in with anything, so we said you know what? Why don’t we get into it? Why don’t we put out special touch on it? Like I told you before we got on the phone, my wife’s the source and I’m the force so she puts her love into it and I put my hammer skills into it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s perfect so now the company’s called SpinGreen. For our listeners out there, it’s www.spingreen.com. I’m on the site now. It’s gorgeous. Now we know why you went into the field. Explain to our listeners what you do and what makes your company different with you and your wife’s great different skill sets. What do you do and what makes it different? ELLIOT GROMAN: First of all, the industry itself is about 100 years old. I don’t know if you are a movie lover, but if you ever read Kirk Douglas’s book, Son of a Ragman, it’ll tell you this has been around for a long time so people have been recycling textiles, using the fabric, using the material, sort of like scrap cotton, so to speak, but what we basically do is we collect, we sort, we donate, we distribute and source textiles for commercial companies as well as charities. What I feel makes us different is our motto is that we educate, we donate, we innovate, and we’re totally transparent. The last couple of years, the industry has morphed into this situation where there’s these boxes all over the place and they’re sometimes obtrusive, sometimes not, and you might see them. They say clothing drop on them and stuff like that so what my wife and I decided to do was look, we’re in the win-win-win business and the way we look at it, we want to be able to make everybody happy. Just like New York, for instance, gives five cents, they incentivize people to recycle plastic and stuff like that, we do the same thing so one of the main things we started to do like with oil, we started to incentivize people in a financial way to help kickstart the recycling aspect. The second thing that we do is we actually do donate. If you looked at our website, we work with American Red Cross, Boys and Girls Club, Police Athletic League, Gay Men’s Health Crisis. We work with Habat, which is a global Jewish organization. We work with Urban Strategies, Urban League and so we try to give a large portion away of what we do to benefit the communities, to benefit the charities, and to do the right thing but not everything, as you know, is wearable so the stuff that’s not wearable, we sell and a lot of people shy away from that but we’re being totally transparent. We sell. Who do we sell to? We sell it to companies. They source the fabric into car seat stuffing. One of the biggest companies we work with is Lehigh out of North Carolina. They make house installation, denim installation. They make roof installation and they make it from the ripped jeans, the stained shirts, the dirty pillowcases. They take it all together like a giant cooking pot. They sanitize it. They shred the material. They color it and then it become something new, something wearable and then the stuff that even they don’t take, then we take it even further. Then we make that into wipes for the car industry or the mechanic shop industry and somewhere in between, we do sell the clothes as well to non-commercial use where again, to people who might not- America is a very rich country. I wouldn’t say specifically we sell to Africa or Central America but we do sell some of the clothes, again, the ones that are not the best quality but not the worst quality and the quality that I guess you can’t use for industrial use. We sell it locally but with the money, that’s also very important. It doesn’t just go into our pockets. Some of it does because God said it’s not noble being poor but we do educate and so far, we incorporated the company in November but we started going full force in February. We had to get some infrastructure, hire some people, all this stuff. We’ve taught 422 kids environmental studies. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. ELLIOT GROMAN: I don’t know if you know, John, but New York has been trying to mandate environmental studies since 2011 and because of budget crisis and things of that nature, they haven’t been able to fit it into the curriculum and all the tenure teachers, let’s be fair, 20 years ago, other than Al Gore, nobody was really interested or learning about global warming and the environment so what we want to do is we want to fill in the void and we’ve taught schools like Intermediate School 59, Boys and Girls Club, The PAL, Hugo Preparatory School, just to name a few. We have a curriculum that has been approved. We teach six lessons once a week, 45 to an hour and 15 minutes per class where we start teaching them recycling and the benefits of recycling. Then obviously, we go into recycling textiles and why that’s good and why that’s important and we talk about the environment and sustainability. Then we move on to composting and the benefits of that and then we go into global warming and finish up with renewable energy and then in the end, so we catch their attention, we give them out a little kindle because you know, kids – JOHN SHEGERIAN: Elliot, we’re down to the last 45 seconds or so. Where is SpinGreen going to go in the future? ELLIOT GROMAN: Well, number one, I hope to be like you someday. That’s the main thing. I want to be respected in my industry but we really want to be in every state. We want to spread the word our because again, 21 to 24 billion pounds of clothing is thrown out a year and this is in the EPA numbers and so listen, we’re right now maybe just tip of the iceberg and we’re maybe doing 5% of that, 2% of that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s the tip of the iceberg and we’re going to have you back to talk about your great story. For our listeners out there, go to www.spingreen.com. Elliot Groman, you’re an impactful sustainability leader. ELLIOT GROMAN: Thank you, John. Appreciate it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, truly living proof that green is good.