crushed pop cans
Thomas Nelson
Thomas Nelson
July 13, 2023 ·  4 min read

At 11, This Boy Runs a Successful Recycling Company

At 11 years old, I definitely knew about the three Rs: recycle, reduce, and reuse. I was taught to recycle everything I could, reduce how much waste I produce, and reuse everything that I can before discarding it. But one 11 year old boy has taken it a step further by starting his own recycling company.

Passion hits different people in different ways at different times. For Ryan Hickman, an interest in recycling started when he was very young. At the age of three, his dad took him to a recycling center to drop off some cans for recycling. Ryan was so enamored with the process and had such a good time that he told his parents that he’d like to help his neighbors recycle too.

I bet you can guess where this is headed.

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A kid with a recycling company

His big idea was to provide his neighbors with bags to place their recyclables in and then later collect those recyclables for his neighbohood. It didn’t take very long for his idea to catch fire. So in 2012, Ryan started his recycling company, called Ryan’s Recycling Company. Fitting name for his business, right?

Some kids lose interest in their hobbies over time, but Ryan seems to have doubled down and become even more passionate about recycling.

It takes 90 years for a can to break down,” Hickman told In The Know in an interview. “It takes 600 years for a plastic bottle to break down. And it takes one million years for a glass bottle to break down.”

His company has steadily grown, now with customers all over Orange County, California. Every week, he spends a little bit of time sorting through all of the recycling that he collects from his customers to prepare them for the recycling center. To date, he’s recycled more than one million cans.

“I have recycled over 1 million cans and bottles, and I started recycling when I was 3.5 years old. Now I’m 11, so that was 8 years of recycling,” Ryan said.

What keeps me motivated to keep recycling is just getting letters and emails from all over the world telling me thanks and keep up the recycling,” Ryan says.

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Benefits of recycling

Recycling has almost countless benefits. On top of simply being better for the planet, there are tons of perks to the act of recycling. Here are some fast facts on recycling:

  1. Recycling an aluminum can uses only 5% of the energy that it would take to make a can out of virgin material
  2. Recycling 1 glass bottle saves enough energy to power a 100-watt lightbulb for 4 hours
  3. Recycling 1 aluminum can saves enough energy to power a computer for 3 hours
  4. Recycling glass uses 25-30% less energy than making a glass bottle from virgin material
  5. Americans toss 1.5 million plastic bottles every hour
  6. 17 trees are saved for every ton of paper that gets recycled
  7. Today, more than one third of all paper fiber is from recycled paper

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A viral story

The story of Ryan’s Recycling Company first went viral in 2016 and continues to capture the attention of people around the world. To date, he’s been on the Ellen DeGeneres show as well as Ryan Seacrest’s podcast in addition to appearances on ABC World News, Fox, CNN, NBC, and other network news programs.

Ryan has also been featured in written publications, like National Geographic, TIME Magazine for Kids, and OC Family Magazine. He was recognized as one of the most influencial people of 2017 by the Orange County Register and made MSN’s list of “top 15 kids changing the world” in 2018. More recently, he made the Reader’s DIgest 2020 List of Kids Changing The World.

Ryan’s business is based in Orange County, but if you’d like to support his work, you can visit his website and purchase merchandise from his store.

To all of his customers and fans, Ryan is thankful. From his website:

“Thank you to everyone who have sent Ryan inspiring emails and supporting his passion. Ryan is hoping to raise as much awareness to saving the planet through recycling and saving for his future college education (or saving for a full size trash truck) and he is a Youth Ambassador at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. All proceeds from his company logo t-shirts go to help support their volunteer efforts. Ryan is also a proud brand ambassador for the recycling and sustainability efforts of Sand Cloud, Busch Systems, Recycle Across America and Valet Living.”

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  1. Recycling facts.” The Green Team. Accessed December 29, 2020.