At Capitol Asset Recovery, an afterlife for office equipment

When the founder of Capitol Asset Recovery began buying used office equipment 22 years ago, old mainframe computers and typewriters were the lifeblood of the Beltsville company.

Today, the technology has a more modern look. About 2.6 million pounds of old office equipment pass through the company’s warehouses on an annual basis, including BlackBerrys, laptops and printers.

The result is a $5.5 million-a-year business of buying, and then refurbishing or destroying, electronics that have been cast off by their owner in favor of a faster, sleeker model.

“Our market has gone from government [auctions] to purchasing surplus IT assets from everyone from Fortune 500 companies to the federal government to government contractors,” said Zack Boorstein, the vice president for scrap metal and electronics recycling.

That business may soon get bigger. Starting in December, federal agencies must send their old equipment to vendors with an “R2,” or “responsible recycling,” certification. Capitol Asset Recovery was approved in April.


The equipment can follow any number of paths depending on whether it contains sensitive data or is too old to be salvaged. Some of it is destroyed by industrial-strength shredders that chew the metal into indistinguishable bits. The most dated or broken electronics become scrap metal, while those with remaining shelf life are rented or sold at one of the firm’s five stores.

In many ways, Capitol Asset Recovery acts as an undertaker for the gadgets your office no longer needs. But there is still life after death for many of the devices — well, except those that meet the shredder.

“Once somebody is done with it, it doesn’t mean that computer is done,” Boorstein said. “We’re in the business to give computers second lives and second homes.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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