An award-winning US business that employs dozens of autistic people to recycle computers is coming to Cumbria.
A conference in Carlisle this week – which was supported by the US Embassy – heard from Bill Morris who set up Blue Star Recyclers in Colorado in 2009 and made it into a multi-million dollar business with five centres dismantling and recycling tech equipment.
The successful model has spawned 13 similar companies in North America and is now coming to the UK with its first base in Cumbria.
Speaking to the event via a Zoom video Link Mr Morris said people with autism had proved to have innate skills suited to the repetitive tasks of recycling electronics.
“Our project took on two big problems – the wasted talent of autistic people who could not find meaningful work and the wasted resources in the 80 per cent of computers that aren’t normally recycled.
“We found the talent was there and that autistic people were not just a safe workforce, but an incredibly superior workforce,” he said.
Blue Star was involved in electronic recycling, data destruction, bulb recycling, recycling management and training, Mr Morris said, adding: “There is a huge social return on investment in providing meaningful employment. The people working there have changed too – It gives them a purpose – and you could see them light up like a Christmas tree.”
The event also heard from Dr Laurie Sperry, former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University, who said that unemployment among autistic people was 83 per cent in the UK.
She highlighted research that showed that turnover of staff, absenteeism and workplace accidents were far lower among autistic workers.
People with autism were also proven to be engaged with their tasks at work 95 per cent of the time, compared to 49 per cent for other workers.
“There is not a lack of ability, but a lack of opportunity,” she said.
The conference was organised by Cumbrian charity Triple A who will be bringing Mr Morris and Dr Sperry to a larger scale event in Carlisle in April next year.
CEO Helen Storey hopes that by then a Cumbrian version of the Blue Star model will be well on the way to being established.
“I have been blown away by the powerful presentations today. It is clear that there is an under-used and extremely talented workforce out there and we need to do things differently for those who think differently,” she told the event at the People First Conference Centre.
The charity is looking for support from Cumbrian businesses including warehouse space and equipment to help get the project started.
Dr David Wheatrcoft, a clinical psychologist at the Carleton Clinic and trustee of the Triple A charity, said: “I am sure we can do this and make a real difference to the people that matter.”