When you toss an old gadget, lead and mercury sometimes ends up in rivers and landfills.
Angered that old computers, televisions and other gadgets from U.S. consumers were ending up in landfills in China, Africa and other parts of the world, Kao decided to do something. He started Green Citizen, a company that collects and disposes old electronics in the San Francisco Bay area, tracking everything to ensure the gadgets are recycled back into raw material, or refurbished and resold.
The inspiration to start Green Citizen came while Kao was taking time off after selling Managize, a supply-chain management software company, in 2000. Up late one night watching television, he saw a documentary that showed dump sites in China, Africa and the Philippines overflowing with old computers, televisions and other electronics from the U.S. and Europe. Components containing toxic elements such as lead and mercury were cast into rivers and landfills.
“It was contaminating whole villages,” Kao said.
He spent two years educating himself, traveling to meet with companies and government officials. Limited awareness and lack of convenience keep the general public from doing more, Kao said, while poor accountability and oversight make it difficult to ensure enterprises do their part.