By Karen Ackerman Witter
BLH Computers, Inc. is the largest computer and electronics recycling facility in the area. Many individuals take their outdated electronics to BLH in Laketown Shopping Center on Stevenson Drive. BLH also has facilities in Taylorville and Jacksonville.
In 2021, BLH collected 3.1 million pounds of material, of which 2.4 million pounds came from residential collection, including 1.7 million pounds at the Springfield site. BLH collected over 250,000 pounds during spring 2022 collection events in central Illinois communities that don’t have ready access to electronics recycling.
Less obvious is the tremendous amount of material BLH recycles from businesses locally and throughout the country. Bunn, Memorial Health, HSHS St. John’s Hospital, Springfield Clinic and ADM are examples of local businesses that rely on BLH for their electronics recycling. BLH also has contracts with numerous national businesses. For example, BLH handles all of Mercedes-Benz’s recycling needs nationwide — from electronics to all types of vehicle parts.
Behind the front entrance of BLH is a 10,000-square-foot warehouse where much of the recycling occurs. On any given day the warehouse is filled with thousands of laptops, monitors, printers and computers. In 2015, BLH added a shipping and receiving depot on South 11th Street to handle full truckloads of materials.
From modest beginnings, BLH has grown into a highly sophisticated electronics recycling operation with 18 employees. In 1998, Brian Dickerson and his wife, Heather, founded Computer Resource Connection to provide a source for parts and used computers at competitive prices. BLH was formed in November 2000, named for Brian, his longtime friend and business partner Leo Hill, and Heather. BLH has been at 1832 Stevenson Drive since it was founded.
Electronics recycling is complex. Electronics are comprised of diverse materials, such as plastics, gold, copper, lead, silver, steel, alloys and more. BLH breaks the materials apart and ships components to companies that specialize in the next phase of the recycling process. There are many sensitive issues, including hazardous materials in the components, personal data stored in hard drives and tracking where materials go. Numerous state and federal laws must be followed. BLH holds various certifications which are key to its success and being able to handle electronics recycling on a large scale. Clients are assured all laws will be followed, personal data will be protected and environmental standards will be adhered to throughout the recycling process.
Universal Scrap Metals in Chicago acquired BLH in 2011 to expand its electronics recycling division. USM is one of the largest scrap metal wholesalers and processors in North America. After five years working in a USM Chicago plant, Dickerson moved the entire electronics operation, USMe, back to Springfield. Dickerson’s official title is general manager of USMe and president of BLH Computers.
In October 2021, USMe signed a contract to work with Western Digital on a national take-back program for residential hard drive data destruction and recycling. To date 7,500 hard drives have been recycled. Western Digital is a computer hard disk drive manufacturer and data storage company located in San Jose, California. USMe (dba BLH) is the sole provider in the U.S. for Western Digital’s Easy Recycle program. Any customer can complete a form and create a return label. Hard drives are then sent via UPS to BLH for serialization and shredding. Once completed the customer receives an email with a certificate of destruction, proving the data on the hard drive was destroyed.
“We are proud to partner with USMe, a global leader in IT asset disposition,” states Western Digital’s website. “USMe is certified by e-Stewards using some of the highest industry standards in e-waste recycling.” BLH crushes the hard drives to destroy data and sends the materials to a refinery in Rhode Island to grind and further separate the components. Plans are underway to include memory sticks and a neodymium magnet recovery operation. This will allow precious magnets to remain in the U.S. and be reused in future hard drives, helping to ease supply chain issues and reduce the carbon footprint. Currently, China is the world’s primary source for neodymium.
Computers aren’t the only things BLH recycles, and recycling is not the only thing the company does. BLH accepts all types of electronics for recycling, including almost anything that runs on a battery or plugs into a socket and is not found in the kitchen or bathroom. BLH services and repairs computers and cellphones, provides data backup services and sells refurbished computers and recycled electronics. BLH removes RAM hardware components where feasible for resale and reuse. By repairing, servicing and selling used electronics, BLH helps to extend the useful life of electronics which otherwise would enter the waste stream. The recycling operation continues to grow and now constitutes 70 % of BLH’s business, with sales and service each representing 15 %.
BLH has a partnership with the city of Springfield where residents pay a small monthly fee which helps pay for hazardous waste collection, branch pick-up, electronics recycling and other services. As a result of this arrangement, Springfield residents can drop off televisions and other used electronics at BLH at no charge. Individuals who live outside the city limits pay a fee to recycle TVs, due to the special handling they require.
Other businesses have sprung up locally as a result of BLH. For example, Tyrese Thomas formed Omega Capital tech recycling and, for a fee, will pick up large TVs and other electronics and transport them to BLH to be recycled.
Dickerson is firmly embedded in the community and regularly gives back to help area organizations. He has donated 3D printers and drones to Kidzeum for its STEAM education program, donated refurbished laptops to the Springfield Fire Department and provided laptops for all the students at St. Patrick’s school. Many of these opportunities came about through his involvement with the Springfield Sunrise Rotary Club.
From the outside, BLH Computers, Inc. looks like a small, nondescript storefront business. It’s fascinating to learn, however, what takes place behind the scenes at this unique local business.
Karen Ackerman Witter started freelance writing after retiring from a 35-year career in Illinois state government where she was extensively involved with recycling and environmental policy issues.