At the end of their sophomore year of college, Duke students Shelly Li and Arun Karottumade an observation that would change the course of their lives. As the semester came to a close, they noticed their friends throwing away end-of-life electronics in the dumpster. Among piles of empty ramen noodle containers and stacks of discarded class notes laid cell phones, laptops, cameras, and speakers that, too, were destined for the landfill.

This moment was just a glimpse for Li and Karottu into the larger problem of electronic waste recycling in the United States. Out of the roughly 384 million electronic devices disposed nationwide in 2014, only 19% were recycled.

Environmentalists at heart, Li and Karottu were determined to intervene.

Over the past couple of years, the pair have gone from being friends to co-founders of a multi-million dollar company, Smart Metals Recycling. By collecting reusable metals and plastics from undesired electronics and sourcing them back to producers, Li and Karottu are becoming important figures in e-waste recycling, a global industry set to cross $40 billion by the end of 2019.

They’ve been recognized nationally for their efforts too. Business Insider named them among “18 Incredibly Impressive Students at Duke” last spring, and they received the Borchardt Prize for best undergraduate startup at Duke for 2015.

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