Tackling Sustainability Challenges One Irrigation Controller at a Time

Thursday, July 1, 2021

From residential landscapes to agricultural zones to sports fields, a well-managed watering plan is a must for maintaining usable green spaces, growing food, and connecting people with the outdoors. Smart irrigation plays a vital role in achieving new levels of sustainability for the environment and the communities where we live, work, and play. Yet one often overlooked aspect of smart irrigation is the practice of upgrading outdated or broken irrigation controllers to current, more efficient models — and disposing of old products in an environmentally conscious way.

Generally, irrigation products are meant to go unnoticed. They’re installed underground or in hard-to-reach places and are designed to blend in with the surrounding environment. When all parts of an irrigation system are working as intended, it’s easy to forget that these products are all around us. By the same token, we forget they must be replaced periodically and responsibly disposed of.

This is where Blue Star Recyclers comes in. The award-winning 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization creates jobs for people with autism and other disabilities by recycling electronics and other e-waste. Blue Star Recyclers is tackling sustainability challenges in the irrigation industry one controller at a time by ethically recycling old controllers and creating jobs in the process. Diverting waste from landfills directly benefits the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated during transportation and processing. Additionally, recycling the components allows them to be reused in new ways, which conserves natural resources. Finally, when these old controllers are removed, current-generation controllers can be installed in their place, saving significant amounts of water and energy.

How the Hunter-Blue Star Recyclers Partnership Began

As part of our broader Corporate Social Responsibility goals, Hunter Industries established a target to achieve a zero-net-waste certification by 2030. This means at least 90% of our waste must be diverted from landfills. In 2019, we launched a program with national distributor Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply and Blue Star Recyclers to keep expired irrigation controllers out of landfills. So far, we’ve recycled more than six tons of discarded irrigation controllers and helped pay for six days of employment for one Blue Star Recyclers team member.

Becoming a Model for Success: Doing Good by Doing Good

Blue Star Recyclers has become a model nonprofit organization by demonstrating how to pay the bills while providing a return on social investment. First, the organization ethically recycles electronics and computers. Second, it hires autistic workers and other disabled people, who often struggle to find employment, to dismantle and process the electronics. Third, it partners with companies and organizations that prioritize social responsibility goals. As a result, Blue Star Recyclers has become the go-to recycling organization for the irrigation industry.

Founded in 2009, Blue Star Recycler’s origin story is as unique as its innovative business model. At that time, founder Bill Morris was looking for a fresh start in his career. Bill’s brother, Paul, has developmental difficulties, and Bill witnessed firsthand how tough it was for Paul to find a job. Bill began volunteering with four autistic men who were tasked with disassembling old electronics and immediately noticed their talent for the work. After securing a truck, warehouse space, and cash, Bill set up shop and immediately began marketing his services in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Since launching, Blue Star Recyclers has experienced breakout success and reached full sustainability. Over time, Blue Star Recyclers has increased its e-waste processing capacity from 250,000 pounds to 21 million pounds, making the organization the largest electronics recycler in Colorado. The team has grown as well, from six to over 50 employees across four facilities in two states.

Elevating the Irrigation Industry

Blue Star Recyclers helps the irrigation industry achieve sustainability goals by making it easy to upgrade less efficient controllers to the current generation of smart controllers. These new internet-connected controllers automatically fine-tune irrigation schedules based on real-time conditions, saving significant amounts of water. Smart controllers offer two major benefits for the environment: conserving energy by updating irrigation schedules to prevent watering when it’s not needed, and saving water, the source of life for our communities. Additionally, Blue Star Recyclers has inspired industry organizations to put competition aside for the greater good — establishing industry-wide best practices for sustainability in the process.

“We take our responsibility to the planet very seriously at Hunter Industries,” said Warren Gorowitz, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Hunter Industries. “By partnering with Blue Star Recyclers, we accelerate our ability to make positive social and environmental impacts that benefit local communities while safeguarding our world for future generations.”

At Hunter, we’re striving to advance our sustainability goals by developing new water-saving technologies, products, and services that will have an impact far beyond our industry. During the month of July — recognized annually within the irrigation industry as Smart Irrigation Month — we salute the unsung heroes of the industry, like Blue Star Recyclers, for their commendable environmental and social achievements. To learn more about Blue Star Recyclers and the organization’s mission, visit http://www.bluestarrecyclers.org/.

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