His day job keeps him busy enough, and now Franklin resident Neil Whitney has found that his spare hours are getting shorter and shorter since he started his side gig about 18 months ago.
In a sense, his Honeybee glass recycling company began one bottle at a time has now expanded to include some 110 of his neighbors in Westhaven, who have signed up as customers to have their glass bottles hauled away to the main Williamson County recycling facility on Century Court in Franklin.
“The company started from me just collecting our own wine bottles and jars and stashing them in our garage for a couple of weeks, and then I would go and run them to the recycling center,” said Whitney, who works full time running a software company centered on health and fitness. “Then I started doing it for my friends and neighbors here, and then that turned into me saying, ‘like any good entrepreneur, if you’re doing something of value, figure out a way to turn it into a business.’
“So I built a simple web page and created a payment process, and then it was off to the races.”
Whitney found his niche after moving to Nashville and later to Franklin from San Francisco, where all recycling, including glass, is mandatory.
“I was surprised to find bottle recycling wasn’t available here when we moved to Tennessee,” Whitney said.
That includes Franklin, of course, which has a robust bin recycling program that accepts paper, plastic, cans and cardboard, but not glass. Residents can either throw glass out with their trash or take it themselves to one of 11 county-run recycling centers in Williamson.
And that’s where Honeybee comes in. Using his Jeep to pull a trailer and providing his customers with black and yellow bins from Home Depot, Whitney hauls away the various bottles either on a monthly or a twice-monthly basis.
His immediate plan is to continue expanding in the Westhaven neighborhood, where he has about 5 percent of the households as customers with a goal to reach 33 percent by the end of 2022. He is also looking to grow by going to other subdivisions in Franklin, naming places like Berry Farms, Founder’s Pointe and Fieldstone Farms as possible places.
And though it’s barely in the discussion phase, Whitney has met a couple of times with Mike Cassity, a member of the Franklin sustainability commission, about a possible partnership with the city. Cassity gave a brief report on Honeybee at the commission's April meeting, and recommended the formation of a subcommittee to further study the idea.
“I think I’s important that we just acknowledge this is an issue that we need to solve one city and one municipality at a time,” Whitney said. “I realize the complexity that comes with recycling glass. It’s heavy and it’s difficult to manage.
“We’re going to get better at it. We’re turning bio-waste into energy, and there are so many other cool things happening as we’re trying to control our carbon footprint. We’re just doing one little thing to try to move this thing along.”
As it moves along, Whitney is adamant about donating any profits to veteran-related charities and involving military veterans in helping to run the operation.
“We’re on track to donate a pretty sizable amount to a veteran charity this upcoming year,” said Whitney, who served in the Army from 2005-08 and worked another five years in the U.S. government’s intelligence community before moving to San Francisco to work for Apple Inc. “And in order to operationalize, I’m going to be looking to folks in my military community to help me take it throughout the city. There’s no better person to help me grow a company like this than a logistics or transportation staff sergeant in the Army.
“If the city of Franklin decides to take this on as a citywide project, and it helps us and gives us the capability to expand, then we’ll be hiring military veterans. And I can approach that with a lot of just knowing they’re going to be able to help me build this thing.”
Click here for more information on Honeybee.