Nine-year-old Ryan Hickman is an entrepreneur with a passion for the environment.
Ryan Hickman’s career as a recycling prodigy began with a crunch. A bunch of them, actually.
It was the crunching sound of aluminum cans and plastic bottles being compacted at the re-Planet facility near his San Juan Capistrano home that caught his attention.
“I don’t remember that much about going, but I liked putting my hand through the holes. And I liked the sound of the crunching,” Ryan says as he enthusiastically makes crunching sounds.
He was hooked. Ryan was three years old at the time, still small enough for his dad to be carrying him in one arm while he popped cans and bottles into the receptacle. Now at nine years of age, he has his own recycling business that has raised thousands of dollars for charity and has become somewhat of a national celebrity.
He announced to his parents a few days after that first visit that recycling would be his new business, then promptly told all the neighbors on his cul-de-sac the same. They quickly responded, and just like that a new path opened for the young entrepreneur.
“I just wanted to get more cans and bottles,” Ryan says. His mom, Andrea, says collecting the bags was a great way for him to get to know the people in his neighborhood.
A steady supply of recyclables began to flow from the neighbors. And the neighbors’ friends. And his parents’ coworkers.
“In the beginning we all thought it was going to be a phase,” Andrea says. “We were just happy that he was having so much fun. But whatever he was passionate about, we were going to do whatever we need to do to help him.”
Andrea laughs, “I didn’t think [Ryan’s dad] Damion and I would spend our weekends sorting out bottles and cans.”
At least three days a week—and after he’s done his homework—he’s out sorting plastic, aluminum and glass. The side yard of their house is filled with 16 recycling bins that Andrea says are “sorted out per his instructions.”
His business, Ryan’s Recycling, has recycled an estimated 412,000 bottles and cans, or about 83,000 pounds of what otherwise would be garbage at a landfill. His customers now include clients as far away as Westminster and businesses like the El Niguel Country Club, where the maintenance staff keep a collection for him.
The T-shirts he sells on his site have raised more than $8,200 for Laguna Beach’s Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and is used for food and medicine for injured seals and sea lions.
He’s appeared on “Ellen” and other shows, and in publications around the country for his good work. Kids from as far as Dubai have contacted him about starting their own efforts.
It’s affected his parents as well. They now have solar panels on the roof and a worm farm in the back yard.
“I’m doing it just because I’m having fun and it helps everybody,” Ryan says. “Animals will get sick and die if it goes in the ocean. I don’t want garbage patches four times the size of Texas.”
By Shawn Price
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