Appliance retailer plugged into saving environment

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Mike Abt, co-president of appliance retailer Abt, stands in front of the Glenview firm’s rooftop solar array. The company has been a leader in green initiatives for 35 years. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

What impact would 22 million more pounds of appliances have on the environment? 

Mike Abt is glad we don’t have to know. 

Abt has championed environmental practices throughout his family’s appliance store, including keeping 22 million pounds of appliances and 1.4 million pounds of electronics from going to landfills. 

The nation’s largest independent retailer of electronics, appliances, and home goods, Abt, based in Glenview, has also been at the forefront of green initiatives. 

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Abt, who is a co-president of the business with his three brothers. “I think as a human you have to think about what it is going to be like three or four generations down (from you) if we use all of our resources up and don’t recycle. They just go away. So that’s the main thing. 

“Then, it is profitable. If you get to a good scale (of recycling) and you’re smart about it, you’ll be able to save money. You save money from not putting it into the garbage, and then you can make money if you really separate (appliances and electronics) like we do. You have to be willing to put the money into the people but it’s well worth it.” 

Juan Corona breaks down a compressor in the Abt Recycling Center. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Abt’s onsite Recycling Center has also allowed the company to save 4.6 million pounds of cardboard and paper, and 600,000 pounds of Styrofoam. 

Mike Abt said he would love to see more companies get as detailed in recycling as his Glenview company has. 

“I want everyone else to copy us,” Mike Abt said. “… We all compete, but we all should be on the same page when it comes to recycling and earthy stuff.” 

He said it is commonplace for companies from around the world to visit the Abt Recycling Center to see how the firm reduces its waste. 

When the company first got into the recycling business in 1989, it was just doing paper and cardboard. Now, it even compacts stripped-down appliances in an onsite car crusher. Mike Abt believes he and his brothers own the only appliance store in the world with a car crusher. 

It is not a coincidence that Abt’s recycling efforts began in earnest in 1989 when Mike Abt came on board full time. Before working at Abt, Mike was an instructor at the Colorado Outward Bound School, a nonprofit that serves people of all ages and backgrounds through learning experiences that focus on environmental stewardship, as well as character development, leadership, and service to others. 

Mike Abt stands in front of a car crusher in the Glenview business’ Recycling Center. The crusher is used to compact stripped appliances. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

“I went to school in Boulder. Then, I went to grad school/medical school in Vermont, and these places are earthy,” Mike said. “I just incorporated the earthy part of what I’ve seen in Boulder and Vermont to here.” 

Mike Abt said to throw appliance boxes and packing Styrofoam in the garbage is a waste. 

“You pay to take it away and it ends up just being in the landfill instead of reused,” he said. 

At the end of delivery drivers’ day, the Abt Recycling Center is jumping with as many as 550 trucks dropping off their appliance boxes and Styrofoam for the day, Mike Abt said. 

“We try not to have any garbage. We try to reuse everything,” the third-generation company owner said. 

Mike Abt said the company also recycles mattresses, reuses appliances when possible, and breaks down appliances, electronics, compressors, and radiators to the most basic elements. 

A brick of crushed appliances awaits salvaging at the Abt Recycling Center. Seventeen appliances can be compacted into a large brick with the center’s car crusher. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

“There’s a market for all these things if someone’s willing to invest in separating them,” Mike Abt said. 

Abt fuels its delivery trucks, end loaders, Bobcats, and dump trucks with biodiesel fuel. Mike Abt said the company’s next green step is to go electric with its delivery trucks as soon as the trucks’ mileage range on a single charge increases. 

The company also has a rooftop solar array and a 10,000-gallon rain barrel that collects rainwater from the store’s roof to supply its irrigation system.