Local Recycling Business Ensures Many Happy Returns
Above: Drew Choma sports his Team Drew T-shirt.
Drew Choma is helping save the planet, one bottle or can at a time. Some days, he's helping by the hundreds, picking up returnables that would otherwise stack up or find their way to landfills.
As the leader of Team Drew Bottle Service, the 24-year-old East Lansing resident collects hundreds of returnable cans and bottles from area businesses and homes each week and turns them in for deposit. His fee is half what he collects through the exchange of bottles and cans at local return centers.
"It's a fantastic service," says Justin Savage, owner of The Savage Agency Allstate Insurance in Haslett. "Drew saves us a bunch of time by picking up the dozens of bottles and cans that can pile up in our office. His service takes something off our plate and lets us focus on our business. Also, anything we can do to help out local businesses like his, we're happy to do."
Savage is among a half dozen businesses and nonprofits in Greater Lansing that are ensured many happy returns through Team Drew. Most split the return on deposits 50-50. Some allow Drew and his team to keep 100 percent. In other cases, Team Drew donates the entire proceeds from a resulting bottle slip to the non-profit that amassed the paid-deposit returnables.
"One day when we were leaving the Sparrow Professional Building on a pickup, we saw a bin outside the Ronald McDonald House," says Janelle Choma, Drew's mother and business supporter. "We found out that people donated cans, so we arranged to start taking them back and giving all the deposit money collected back to them."
That spirit of community is typical of Drew and his devotion to cause.
"He's an incredibly hard worker, takes pride in a job well-done, and enjoys what he does," says Janelle. "He enjoys seeing and interacting with people, and he's happy and knows what he wants."
And, says Janelle, it's Drew's way to lead a self-determined life filled with purpose, dignity and happiness, as he faces the daily challenges of autism.
Above: Picking up bags of returnable bottles and cans is all in a day's work for Drew Choma.
The power of one, the strength of team
Drew attended Haslett High School, and focused on preparing for a job that would leverage his acumen for sorting, organizing and keeping things picked up and tidy. While he was preparing to graduate in 2013, a teacher on his support team recommended the idea of recycling.
"His teacher told him about a young man up north they had met who had a can and bottle recycling business," says Janelle. "We got in touch, and he gave us some tips on how to get started."
Drew tested his hand at recycling and found he liked the process of collecting, sorting and returning cans and bottles. Over time, he steadily built the idea for a business, and with the help of friends, formed Team Drew Bottle Service.
"I like to recycle," says Drew. "We load up the car with bottles and go."
His team consists of four to five friends, some he has known since high school. Theresa Whaley is among them. She says she met Drew through her older sister who was a support person for Drew. They hung out for a while and became friends.
"He really gets into the zone when he's working," says Whaley. "You know he's happy and likes what he's doing."
Whaley says she or another team member provides transportation, and is there each step of the way to help Drew serve his customer. Many customers, she says, have regular pick-up times, others are more flexible depending on need. Arrangements are made through a simple website portal, email, or text or phone call. Facebook is also an option.
"We service a lot of businesses who have large loads," says Janelle. "We go to Lansing, Holt, East Lansing and Okemos. We mostly do businesses, but residences are an option, too. Sometimes people don't have time to take back bottles and cans, or maybe they just had a party or special event with a lot of returnables. We're here to help."
Janelle says it's nice to look back and see how Drew and his business have progressed in the last couple years. At first, all he wanted to do was put cans in the machines. Now, she says, he has a system for doing pickups, working with clerks at stores, and tracking and distributing the funds he generates through his service.
"He's even started looking at expanding the business a bit, maybe exploring doing things with recyclables that aren't just returnable bottles and cans," she says. "He's really using the characteristics of his autism as his strength."
Team Drew is guided by the belief that every person deserves to be known, understood and valued, no matter what challenges they face. To learn more about Team Drew Bottle Service, visit teamdrewbottleservice.com, email TeamDrewRecycling@gmail.com or call or text 517-202-5397.