Maryland firm that recycles equipment expands globally

  • ** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS OF DEC. 31-JAN. 1** A fork lift carries a load of electronic equipment into a room filled with boxes of electronics that are waiting for refurbishing, recyling or shredding at the Molam International e-cycling wharehouse in Marietta, Ga., Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005. Each month one million pounds of electronics are recycled in the facility. (AP Photo/Ric Feld) RIC FELD

Washington Post
Published: 12/31/2017 7:28:44 PM

A Maryland-based company that goes by the name Data Killers and uses a fleet of shredder trucks to chop up discarded computer equipment has embarked on a national expansion that more than doubles its U.S. employee count and creates a new partnership with interests as far away as Thailand.

The 85-person company recently bought a majority stake in the U.S. assets of Wisetek Solutions, an equipment-disposal company based out of County Cork, Ireland.

The decision to expand is the latest evolution for the business, which has managed to keep growing through periods of technological change and industry upheaval.

Co-owner Zack Boorstein is a Detroit native whose family handled scrap metal disposal for the automotive industry for decades. He wants to be the go-to recycler for the technology industry’s electronic waste (e-waste) gear such as solar panels, old computers, computer chips and televisions that often end up in landfills.

It’s a growing market: the International Solid Waste Association, a trade group, estimates that businesses generated roughly 60 million tons of e-waste globally last year, an 8 percent increase from 2014. Most of that waste is not recycled even though old electronics sometimes contain valuable minerals like gold, copper and platinum.

Data Killers makes much of its money by reselling the recycled byproduct as scrap metal.

“We have a zero-landfill policy when it comes to electronics, metal, paper and plastic,” Boorstein said.

A handful of tech firms including Google have recycled their own e-waste. But companies like Data Killers are looking to provide high-tech recycling as a service to companies that don’t want to take on the chore.

Boorstein and his business partner, chief executive Chris Scott, acquired what was then called Capitol Asset Recovery in 2012 after the company’s founder died. They began acquiring other rivals, steadily expanding the company’s reach across the United States, opening two new offices in Sacramento and Omaha. They managed to grow the firm’s revenue from about $3.5 million in 2014 to a projected $10 million in 2017. Boorstein says the company is profitable.

Much of Data Killers’ early growth was fueled by an increased need for disposal of classified material among the company’s government customers.

But lately, the firm is now sidling up to larger, private industrial corporations that want a single data-disposal option they can turn to in multiple states and countries. This latest deal gives it a majority stake in the U.S. assets of Wisetek, adding $4 million in annual revenue and giving it new offices in Austin and Boston. The company’s headquarters will stay in Hyattsville, Md. The deal groups Data Killers in with Wisetek’s business in Asia.

Boorstein says he’s trying to tackle a broader problem for the technology industry by offering a “one-stop-shop” business that can destroy any equipment a customer wants, anywhere on the globe. He said Wisetek contacted him about a potential partnership a little over a year ago.

It took 12 months to arrive at the right deal because Boorstein needed Data Killers to remain a U.S.-based entity so it could continue to service contracts with U.S. military and intelligence agencies. (Foreign firms are barred from providing certain services to federal agencies like the National Security Agency.)

Lately his business is driven by work at large data centers in the Washington area and elsewhere. The cloud computing boom in recent years has led to an explosion in data center growth in places like Northern Virginia. For Data Killers, that means a lot of new business in recycling old hardware that is being replaced with newer equipment.

“This is a big data center play for us and Wisetek,” Boorstein said. “We used to be focused on laptops and desktops; now we’re getting truckloads of server racks.”

In a 2015 acquisition, Data Killers wound up with four mobile equipment-shredding trucks, outfitted with NSA-approved degaussers designed to strip computer chips of their functionality. Boorstein has since grown that fleet to a dozen trucks globally, each of which can be outfitted with NSA-approved degaussers, disintegrators and equipment shredders.

The deal with Wisetek gives Data Killers yet another technology update. Technology assets already in use by Wisetek will let Boorstein’s customers remotely monitor equipment destruction through a video feed. If an equipment manager in Silicon Valley is reworking a data center in another part of the country, managers can watch the technology being fed into the shredder.

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