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Good Riddance

The Metzger family’s efforts to cut down on household waste became a multicity recycling operation.

Ridwell founders Ryan Metzger, Aliya Marder, Justin Gough and David Dawson stand outside holding a variety of recyclable items and a Ridwell recycling container.
Ridwell founders, from left, Ryan Metzger, Aliya Marder, Justin Gough and David DawsonImage: Courtesy of Ridwell Inc.

By Kara Elder
Spring 2024

In late 2017 Ryan Metzger and his then-6-year-old son, Owen, filled a room in their basement with plastic bags, Styrofoam, batteries, lightbulbs and clothes — things they knew could not easily be recycled by local public works services in the Seattle area. One weekend, Metzger ’01, ’09 MBA started calling around to see how he could recycle old batteries.   

Eventually, the Metzgers shared their recycling plans with neighbors and began collecting their hard-to-recycle items too. Soon 4,500 Seattle households wanted in on the service.  

The father and son dubbed their operation Owen’s List.  

“It was a big ‘aha!’ moment to see that people have an unmet need that we may be able to solve,” says Metzger.  

That “aha!” moment led him to create Ridwell with co-founders David Dawson, Justin Gough  and Aliya Marder ’11. Since 2018, Ridwell has helped divert more than 21 million pounds of plastic and other hard-to-recycle materials from the waste stream. For a monthly fee, the Seattle-based company provides a biweekly, doorstep pickup of such items and responsibly recycles or reuses them through partnerships with over 200 local and national businesses and nonprofits.  

Plastic bags, for example, are used to make composite decking. Old blankets become nestling material for animal shelters. Styrofoam is reused in picture frames or as packing peanuts.  

The company is intentional about transparency. “A lot of recycling works through brokers, and that has created a lack of trust between consumers and recycling companies. We flip that,” says Metzger. Now with a team of more than 200, Ridwell has expanded operations to Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Denver; Los Angeles; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.; Portland, Ore., and the San Francisco Bay Area.  

“And we’d love to go to the Chicagoland area,” adds Metzger. “It’s on the shortlist.” 

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