Decreasing E-Waste Through Education and Socially Responsible Recycling Programs with Joan Olivero

October 5, 2021

Long Island high school senior Joan Olivero created an electronic cord recycling and e-waste information program called Cord Clutter Connection.

For her Girl Scout Gold Award project, she launched the program with a stand at her local Oyster Bay Farmers Market (which she managed all summer) and an informational website. Olivero was able to get the attention of Best Buy’s CEO Corie Barry and Director of Environmental Affairs Tim Dunn by reaching out to request support for her community project. Moved by her efforts, Best Buy, along with ERI, helped Olivero set up a Cord Clutter Connection’s corporate retail program, providing industry insight as well as providing donations of boxes, pallets and recycling services for the collected cords.

While she is active in school events, clubs, crew and honor societies, Olivero explained that she has always placed a prioritization on her Girl Scouting. A Girl Scout since kindergarten, she has grown up learning what it means to be a scout, to give back to her community and to have an interest in helping solve the issues that are faced in society. This is where her passion for environmental science began. She has made it a personal mission to help protect the planet and educate people about the dangers of electronic waste.

John Shegerian: This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe, even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of the impact podcast. I’m John Shegerian. This edition takes us back to my hometown of Long Island New York. I’m so excited to have with us today, Joan Olivero. Welcome to the impact podcast, Joan.

Joan Olivero: Hi John. How are you doing?

John: I am great today. This is so fun. I think you are sitting in Oyster Bay, New York today?

Joan: Yes, I am.

John: As I shared with you earlier before we started the show, I grew up very close to you. I grew up in Little Neck, New York. I had a lot of friends from Oyster Bay. It’s a lovely, lovely part of this country. And I think you’re a lucky person to be having grown up over there. Do you agree?

Joan: I definitely am lucky. I love living in Oyster Bay. I think it’s one of the best places ever.

John: That’s so nice. Before we get talking about all the great impacts you’re making and what you’ve been doing with the Girl Scouts and Best Buy, and Cord Clutter Connection, which all of our viewers, listeners, and readers should go to cordclutterconnection.com and check out Joan’s great work.

Before we get talking about that, tell us a little bit about your back story. Where were you born, where you grew up, and how you even got interested in the environment. And making an impact and making your community a better place?

Joan: I’ve been a New York resident my entire life. I was born in the city at NYU. We moved out to Oyster Bay when I was about 2 or 3. I’ve lived in an area that has every type of environmental thing that you could ask for. Because I live in a suburb and we have the urban area right so close to us. And I also have the bay right there. I grew up around the bay around a lot of trees because we lived in a little foresty area. I grew up surrounded by a lot of environments. I’ve grown up being on the water. I’ve sailed, I do crew. I did a lot of things with the environment and with this land around us. I’ve also been a Girl Scout my whole life, since about kindergarten. So, I’ve done this all the way through my high school and my entire school journey. Throughout this whole Girl Scouts journey, my troop leaders have focused on an environmental lens and taped everything. Because they wanted us, Girl Scouts, to see the world around us in a greater light and having to create a goal of a positive impact on our world. They’ve also brought us up with having an appreciation for nature and allowing us to have our own voice. And help us create change and helping us develop our own choices and actions. That allowed me to push forward towards where I wanted to go.

John: I’m always interested in what’s going on with your generation. Given that I’m 58 now and my kids are older, so I’m always fascinated. You’re saying you had the blessing of growing up very close to New York City.

Joan: Yes.

John: As you said, one of the greatest urban areas on this planet. You also had the blessing of the beautiful bay area, the water, and the ocean there. Crew is one of the toughest sports on the planet, as I’ve come to know it. So, you’re a crew member, but you’re also a Girl Scout.

Joan: Yes.

John: And I want to go more into the Girl Scout issue. First of all, are you the oldest child, the youngest child, or an only child?

Joan: I am the oldest child out of 2. I have a 14-year-old brother. He was a Boy Scout. He now does travel sports so he is not able to do Boy Scouting now. So, I have that oldest sibling:

“I want to do a whole bunch of stuff and I want to do it right, and show him.”

John: Right. You’re the leader. You’re the leading sibling. As I’ve learned is, because my daughter is the older one, out of my two children as well. As the older one goes, the younger one will follow for better or for worse. So you’re setting the example. Mom and Dad, I’m sure have told you that. It’s fun to learn about the inspiration the Girl Scouts gave you. We’re going to get more to the Girl Scouts in a second. But were mom and dad also part of this? Were they environmentalist? Were they concerned about the environment? Was that part of the household ecosystem? Let’s recycle, let’s compost or was it mostly learned from Girl Scouts and other areas?

Joan: It’s kind of a mix of both. I’ve grown up we would always take all the bottles that we get from wherever and we would go one weekend and go recycle all of them. Where we get like $24 and that was the biggest thing that I’ve ever seen, however old I was! We always went camping. My parents always pushed for ”Enjoy the environment, the place you live. You have so much here. Enjoy what’s around you.” So, I had that environmental-, just enjoy it. This is such an amazing thing, enjoy it and kind of take your opportunity to just be surrounded by it.

John: Got it. And how about the former school? When I was growing up in elementary school, and then junior high school on Long Island, then I went to high school in Manhattan. Environmental studies weren’t a thing and remember, I’m many generations older than you. Three, four generations older than you. Was it a thing in your elementary and high school? Or again, was this from home life and Girl Scout life that you really got inspired? Or was formal education also part of the inspiration as well?

Joan: There was some formal education involvement because every year our curriculum has us talk about Earth Day and do little activities on that, and I took a living environment course that’s mandatory in my high school. We spoke about the biology behind the environment and all that, but besides that, we never really focused on or up until a certain point leading up to high school. There was never really a true focus on environmental issues and studies. As of late, these last two years, my high school, me, and a few friends have worked towards creating an environmental club instead. My two friends are the president. I’m currently the treasurer of the environment club. [crosstalk] We’re focusing, we’re bringing that lack of environmental studies and issues into our high school and creating some programs to get some environmental movement in our schools.

John: That’s just truly wonderful. And you are a senior at Oyster Bay High School and you’re 17 years old currently, is that it?

Joan: Yes I am.

John: Wow, I’m beyond impressed. Now, let’s talk a little bit about Joan, where you’re at now? What was the project you chose? How do you choose it? And how do we even get here today? Talk a little bit about that.

Joan: Like I had said, my Girl Scout leaders had always focused on allowing us to have a voice and make our own choices, but also that love for nature and involving environmental topics all the time. We’ve done things with the environment throughout my Girl Scout journey in my troop. For our Bronze award, which is a group-wide award, we focused on creating a rock garden and planting trees in our area and also out east in the Hamptons. For my silver award, I worked with three other of my Girl Scout friends. We created an initiative to keep crayons out of landfills. Which we worked with a program in California that does crayon recycling. We held a school-wide collection so we could take these old and used crayons and repackage them and recycle them into new, freshly made crayons that were donated to Children’s Hospitals. Through that, I’ve had that environmental path, in that way. But I didn’t really know what to do with my Gold Award because this is such a big award. It’s such a big deal. There’s only about 5% of Girl Scouts that actually earn it. I wanted to do something that was important to me and I saw that environmental flow throughout my Girl Scout project. I took that opportunity to work towards recycling. Initially, I chose to do glass recycling because there is some program in my town that focuses on glass recycling. But in the past few years, since glass recycling has kind of halted in the U.S.; it was really hard to create a startup program. That’s what turned me towards E-Waste.

John: That’s wonderful. Did you understand-? First of all, I want to go back to the Girl Scouts. Before you matriculate and go to college? Is this a Gold Award project, is that your pinnacle, and your final project in the life history of being a Girl Scout?

Joan: Yes. [crosstalk] The Gold Award is the highest honor you can receive as a Girl Scout because it has to be done before your senior year ends. It’s equivalent to an Eagle Scout award as a Boy Scout and that also has to be done end of your Senior year. So this is kind of like the last hurrah of my girl scouting before I go off to college.

John: So wonderful. I’m so happy you chose E-Waste. I want to ask you this though because I’m always fascinated by what people in the world know since I’m in that industry. But I’m in a box, in a little cocoon. I lose touch sometimes with what other people really know. I know plastic and glass. Plastic especially gets tremendous publicity for being the boogeyman of the environment. Gets in the ocean, harm our turtles and stuff, but did you know even going into this project that E-Waste is the fastest-growing solid waste stream in the world?

Joan: Initially, I didn’t. Since I had to make that change from glass recycling to E-Waste. I had spoken with my local town government and they had pointed me in the direction saying this is an issue we have in our town. My time has a landfill that does collection for E-waste. But it’s not that widely known in my town, so no one really knows that it’s going on. I took the initiative to ”Oh, this is an issue in my town let’s take that opportunity.” I did some research and the more I researched, the more Best Buy kept coming up. Corey Barry kept coming up. And saying how they would be the leading recyclers or retail recyclers for E-waste. I was like, ”This is incredible”. I reached out to her and sent her an email. She put me in touch with the head of environmental sustainability. This is where I went on from there. This is how I got in touch with you guys.

John: No. Wait a second. We gotta unpack this a little bit. Okay, you found out E-waste is the fastest-growing solid waste stream, and it’s truly a problem?

Joan: Yes,

John: Then you learned about Corey Barry and Best Buy. Which you went bullseye on, not only one of the greatest CEOs in America currently. In the world currently, frankly speaking. She’s been a guest on this show. She’s just an amazing human being, an amazing leader. [crosstalk] But Best Buy is one of the greatest brands on this planet and is the leading brand in selling electronics obviously. Let’s step back and go through this step by step. How did you even get in touch with Corey Barry? Because there’s a whole generation of young entrepreneurs, Joan. That comes to me for advice, and they are always like, ”Well, I want to be like this person or I want to raise money, or I have this idea,” and they don’t even know how to get going or start, and you just made a plan and took action. How did you even navigate that process to reaching Corey Barry?

Joan: Since I had seen her and Best Buy come up, so frequently as I was doing my research; I just decided to take that leap for it, and just take that risk. I just sent her an email. I’m so inspired by her because she’s a woman entrepreneur. She’s the CEO and she’s a woman and I think that’s amazing. I wanted to reach out to her and she has a whole panel of Women Representatives on her board. I just reached out to her and said ”This is my project. I’m really excited. Is there anything that you can put me in touch with?” And so she put me in touch with the head of environmental sustainability. I just took the leap for it because the only thing that she could have said was, ”Oh, we don’t really know”, but it led me to here.

Joan: Let’s step back, Joan. She could have never even responded to you. That’s very common by many CEO, right? Never even respond. So she responded to you. Not only responded, which again speaks volumes about Corey Barry. So she put you in touch with, I believe a good friend of mine, Tim Dunn?

Joan: Yes. Tim Dunn.

John: One of the best and greatest environmental directors of any corporation or any organization I know. I’ve known Tim, I want to say 14 years, might be a little longer, just another great human being. And also just loves what he does and is great at it. So far, you’ve hit two great people and two of my favorite people in my business career. How do you interact with Tim?

Joan: I had a zoom call with him and his team just to explain my project again and say this is what I want to do. Because everything was just an idea at that point. I think I had a zoom call in March or April of this year. So it was just an idea. I just tried out what I want to say and he kind of led me in a direction of just focus on cords, wires, and cables. That’s why my name is cord clutter connection because of that data privacy issue with laptops and phones and printers and things like that. He helped me hone in on one idea. So it was more accessible and helped me shape my project.

John: He had some members of his team on with them? Teresa was on the call and some others? Teresa is another one of my favorite people. These are just great people who just not only great at what they do, but they love what they do. You made your way, then they recommended you or something to David Herschler, our company?

Joan: Yes. Mr. Dunn had said, we work with ERI. This is what they do. I think you would fit perfectly. Let’s have a zoom call. I talked to David Herschler and that team and explained what my project was. How I wanted to take that next step forward. Now, I had the whole idea and I just had to put it into motion. I had no way of really recycling these cords after I collected them. So I had the, ”I want to collect cords. What do I do with them?” You guys at ERI allowed me to move forward with this and actually do something with my collection.

John: Okay. David Herschler is another really [crosstalk] right? You’ve hit a whole lineup of just really great people, right? Great people. And David, he’s so humble. I don’t know if he ever shared this with you. Not only Tim and Teresa manage the greatest and biggest consumer take-back program in America besides other job titles at Best Buy. They’re the most educated people on the planet when it comes to this stuff. But David was the one before he joined our company. He was one under Mayor Bloomberg that helped launch the recycling program in the city of New York, which has become the most successful consumer recycling program in a city, in the world. That’s David.

Joan: I didn’t know that. That’s amazing.

John: Yeah. He’s one of them. You’ve talked to four of my most favorite people on the planet. So now, you’ve talked with them. They’ve given you guidance. How did we get to, I’m on your website now, cordclutterconnection.com? For our listeners and viewers out there, cordclutterconnection.com. When did you build a website? How did you build it? How did you even know how to build it? And when did you start your collection of Benson? How did it all go?

Joan: I first began to kind of put together my website around June, as I was starting the collection. Because I knew I needed some way for people to access me if I was doing collections and people wanted to reach out. So it was a lot of trial and error. I had my mom helped me with a bunch of the websites, just putting everything together because I don’t know how to put together a website. I’ve never done it before. I just went online. Looked it up and just went from there. There was a lot of processing.

John: Wait a sec, had you or your mom ever done this before?

Joan: No.

John: I don’t know how to do it. I’m 58 years old. I have no idea. I’m so impressed. It’s a very good-looking, very informational, and Easy-to-Read website. How long did it take you to learn how to build a website and then building it?

Joan: The actual ‘learning how to build’ took a few weeks because I was telling everyone that was my website was under construction. While I was doing this collection. I was in the process. I was constantly updating it. I’m still constantly updating it. I make little changes here and there every few days. So it’s not something that’s completely done and it’s going to be completely done. It’s just an ongoing process.

John: Website’s, really living and they have to be iterated and updated and evolve all the time.

Joan: Yes. definitely.

John: You started building it in June. When did it launch actually? When did under construction take that down and put the website itself up?

Joan: I want to say, it was up around late July, I believe. That was when everything was fully up and going and I was already about a month and a half into the collection.

John: So talk about collections. How did the collection process work?

Joan: Yes. In the collection process, I had no way of really collecting by myself. So, I talked to a few people in the town. I spoke with one of the women in the town who also happens to be one of my Girl Scout leaders who runs a farmers market. [crosstalk] I went up to her and I was like, ”I have this idea. This is obviously for my Gold Award. Is there any way you can help me with it?” So, I have now had a booth at her farmers market, where I go every two weeks. I just have a free informational table where I have all the information and education of my project and all of the accessible resources needed. I also collect there.

John: That’s every two weeks on Saturdays or Sundays? When does that work?

Joan: Sunday mornings.

John: Sunday mornings?

Joan: Yes.

John: Got it. Talk a little bit about the response. How’s the response been?

Joan: It’s been amazing. The first few weeks. I was just telling everyone what I was doing, what the actual harms of E-waste were, and how we should be able to help and make a difference. I didn’t get much collection that first few weeks because there’s more of ”here’s what I’m doing” but once those first few weeks started happening, I was getting major responses from everyone in my town. I was meeting people that I’ve never seen before in this town and I’ve lived here my entire life. Coming out and saying, ”This is amazing. This is just such an amazing idea. It’s such a needed idea,” and they were bringing in pounds and pounds of cords every week that it would barely fit in the back of my car.

John: Okay. Let me just tell you the truth. First of all, it’s fascinating because literally, this is what our model is at ERI. We got to go out and educate first and then the response is typically tremendous. That’s what Best Buy does as well. That’s what other people, other leading brands do as well. When they’re coming up and dropping off their cords and then they’re coming to you for advice, ”But wait a second. I also have cell phones and laptops and a dishwasher.” Are they asking you for other advice as well? Where to responsibly dispose of other electronics?

Joan: Yes. As I said, I can’t. I’m only taking cords, cables wires.[crosstalk] They’ve been asking, ”Can I give you batteries? Can I get you a phone? Can I give you the toaster that I have?” I’ve been sending everyone to either, the local landfill that’s doing the E-Waste collection or to Best Buy because they have the collection program. I’ve been getting a bunch of responses. I start to see the same faces or similar faces that come back to the farmer’s market every two weeks. And they’re saying, “Oh, I just dropped off my stuff at Best Buy last week” or “Oh, I went to landfill,” and I think that’s just amazing.

John: That’s so wonderful. And there’s a Best Buy locally in your town, I take it?

Joan: Yes. There’s a Best Buy the next town over in Huntington.

John: Perfect. What was the goal of the project? Was there a weight goal or what was the overall goal for you to earn your Gold Award?

Joan: For the Gold Award, there’s no official goal of what you need to reach or what you need to do. My own goal was to collect about 300 pounds of cords, which I thought was when I first said that goal. I was like, ”I’m never going to reach it. That’s kind of this. That’s just insane. I’m never going to get it,” And now that I still have two or three farmers markets before it closes, and I’m doing a collection in my town in the next two weeks. And at my school, in the next two weeks. I already have about 600 pounds of cords, and I’m still collecting, which I think is insane.

John: Wow, that is insane. When are you given, your Gold Award? When do you matriculate from the Girl Scouts? And then earn that official Gold Award?

Joan: I am finishing up all the paperwork this week to become a Gold Award recipient. In June, I will officially get that award and be finished with my project. But since, one of the necessities of the Gold Award is to create a sustainable project. I’m continuing with my collection and updating my website frequently and continuing, in a way that it doesn’t end after I graduate high school. It doesn’t end after I get the award.

John: Wow, that’s so wonderful. You’re creating a sustainable model for others to follow in your footsteps and to continue to make your community and the world a better place.

Joan: Yes.

John: It’s truly remarkable. Just such a great story and I’m so inspired by it, and you could probably run and win to be the youngest mayor in Oyster Bay, New York at this point. Tell me where should people go to learn more about what you’re doing? And to get the exact times, dates, and places that they can do drop-offs or collection events with you. Where do you want to… Was all that information on cordclutterconnection.com or is there another way to interact with you as well?

Joan: Yes, I have everything on the website, cordclutterconnection.com. I have all of the links to the townland-filled dates, to the farmers market states, to the Oyster Bay Town collection dates, as well as my high school and school-wide district collection dates. I also have links to ERI, Best Buy, and my local town government. I have everything that I have talked about and anything that I’ve talked to anyone about; at the market, through the town, here in this podcast. Everything is up on my website.

John: Perfect, for those who just tuned in. We’re so honored to have with us today, Joan Olivero. She’s a senior at Oyster Bay High School. We’re talking about her great Girl Scout Gold Award project, which you can learn more about at cordclutterconnection.com.

Joan, lessons learned? What did you learn going in? What did you expect? How did it turn out in terms of lessons learned on you? Because basically, you are launching a little mini business here. There was a goal, there was a success. There was a sequence here of making the right connections along the way. What are some of the lessons you learn that you could share with some others out there that want to follow in your footsteps and not only earn awards and do good things for the community; but ultimately make the world a better place and make an impact?

Joan: Throughout this entire project, in this kind of Journey, I’ve figured out that you have to just keep going for it. Even if you don’t get responses, or if someone says no, the worst they can say is no. [crosstalk] You just keep going for it. Just keep pushing ahead. It got really difficult because now, I’m in school again. Because I was doing a lot of this up in the summer, but now I’m in school again. There’s a ton of work. So it’s just delegating the time that I need to focus on it and just pushing towards it.

John: What are your goals? What’s next in the Joan Olivero story? It’s really exciting to be a Senior. Even though I’m 58. I can remember 41 years ago as a senior at my high school. It’s an exciting time in life. Where do you want to go to college? What do you want to study? What’s at the forefront for you? What are you thinking you want to really do with your life or do you know yet?

Joan: Throughout this project, it helped push my idea of what I wanted to do towards more in environmental science, but with a business economics aspect of it. Just because I see what you’re doing and I see what everyone at Best Buy is doing. I had such an excitement seeing how everyone worked and I was like, ”that’s something I’m interested in.” Because growing up, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I was like, ”Oh, I kind of like this. Oh, I kind of like that.” I don’t like anything enough to pursue it. I don’t want to do this, the rest of my life, or I don’t want to learn all about this and then end up being, ”Oh, I don’t like it.” I had been struggling even up until when I started this project with what do I want to do after I graduate high school. This helped me, push me in a direction where it was like, ”Actually you enjoy this. I want to do this as a career.” I want to focus on environmental science, but with a business compliance aspect of it.

John: Where do you want to go to college? Do you have a dream college yet or is it too early to tell?

Joan: My dream college would be Columbia. Because they just recently in the past year to open the Columbia climate school, which focuses on environmental science. Everything pertaining to the environment and climate. I think that’s something that would be amazing to push for.

John: It’s right in your hometown and it’s one of the greatest universities in this great country and probably in the world. I mean, that would be wonderful.

Joan: It will be amazing.

John: That’s just wonderful. Joan, is there anything else you want to say? Before we have to sign off for today? Your story is so inspiring. I’m just so honored to have you on today and honored to be able to help along in your way for you, earning your Girl Scout award. Anything else you want to leave our listeners with before we have to say, goodbye?

Joan: All I would say, was that we need to create a more unified push towards creating more change and sustainable change in our environment. We need to all commit because if it’s me one person doing it. It’s amazing. But there’s no global change being made. I’m making it on a local level. So if there is a bunch of people that commit to helping lessen E-waste. I think that would be an amazing step towards helping our environment. I think that would be one way to push to that is invasion, creating new policies, and taking action.

John: I started this company 17 or 18 years ago. The real truth of the matter Joan is that only 17% of all electronics are being used on the planet today. According to the United Nations, are being responsibly recycled. That means, it’s 83% left out there and I’ve been doing this for 18 years with over a thousand employees in eight locations across the United States. The real goal for me and what brings me joy and happiness and why I wanted to interview you today, is knowing there’s a generation of people like Joan Olivero that are going to get educated. They’re going to take the torch and baton from me and even do bigger and better things, to make the world a better place. I feel really good and I feel at peace that there are just great people like you because that’s where we’re at. Your generation is going to take us from a linear to a circular economy. And if we’re going to go from a linear or circular economy, we have to first, take on the challenge of the fastest-growing solid waste stream. What I didn’t tell you was when I got in the business, E-waste was the fastest-growing solid waste stream in the world. Unfortunately, because of the ubiquity of electronics now, the wearables, the fact that Teslas and other great EV brands are computers on wheels; the fact that now we have Echo, Nest, and the Rings, and all these other ‘Internets of Things’ type things. It’s now the fastest-growing solid waste stream in the world by an order of magnitude of five times. So to have, your generation helping to tackle and responsibly recycle electronic waste is just really promising to me. So I just want to say thank you for your time today. I want to send all of our listeners and viewers again back to cordclutterconnection.com. Support Joan and what she’s doing in Oyster Bay. Bring your cords to our last couple of events. Bring your electronics to wherever she tells you to go. Take it in the Oyster Bay Area. Support her, winning her Girl Scout award project. Thank you, Joan, you’re so inspiring. I wish the world had millions more like you. I hope they get inspired by you, from listening to you today, and thank you for joining us on The Impact Podcast.

Joan: Thank you so much, John.

John: This episode of the impact podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States, with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity. Bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners please go to www.closedlooppartners.com