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Turning a profit while protecting the environment may sound like a conflict of interests to some. But for him, it's a job that blends the best of both worlds.

For Kevin DiMartino, turning trash into cash isn’t only good for the environment. It’s good for nonprofit organizations, too.

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A born entrepreneur, DiMartino became a fund-raising “coach” for an Internet-based company that brokers used ink-jet and laser printer cartridges for recycling and resale.

Almost 13 cartridges are discarded every second in the United States, according to the website. Made of nonbiodegradable material, these cartridges — numbering nearly 400 million — can fill a landfill the size of a small city each year. DiMartino’s company collects cartridges for EnviroSmart, a leading ink-jet and laser cartridge recycling company.

DiMartino liked the idea of a company that could help the environment and put a little cash in the pockets of nonprofit organizations as well.

“I hate waste, for one thing,” he explains. “Finding out that we could keep hundreds of tons of materials from filling landfills appealed to me.”

He knew about nonprofits from his experience as a SkillsUSA chapter officer at Western Monroe County BOCES 2 in Spencerport, N.Y. Still, DiMartino has been acting on his entrepreneurial spirit since he was 16.

With an innate propensity for math, DiMartino learned how mortgage companies calculate interest and finance charges to make money. So at a time when other teens were learning to drive, he started his own financial management company and started helping people consolidate debt and make sound financial decisions.

He also worked at an amusement park, where a colleague recognized his talent for business and approached him to get in on a cartridge recycling business.

At first, they sold the cartridges, but their supply ran short, DiMartino says.

"A lot of people will tell you that you can't do something, and people said that to me when I first started, but I learned to believe in myself." —Kevin DiMartino

“When we sold a cartridge, we needed an empty one back. To keep up with demand, we decided to start a program to pay people to collect empty cartridges so we’d have them for our retail customers.”

His first instinct was to approach SkillsUSA chapters in New York. That’s worked out well. Typically, SkillsUSA chapters bring in about $100 a month. Now, they have numerous groups collecting cartridges in return for cash.

During the current school year, his company matched a portion of the proceeds raised by chapters and donated it to the SkillsUSA Alumni and Friends Association. DiMartino says he wanted to give back to the organization.

“In high school, I had never really been involved in anything, and being in a new school with a bunch of people from different districts, it was a chance to start out new. My teacher asked me to run for office, and I thought, ‘Sure, why not?’”

At first he was skeptical about being in SkillsUSA, he adds, but his tune changed: “I had no idea that I was a member of such a large organization.”

He soon became a state officer, then served as a delegate to the national convention. Now he realizes that he wouldn’t be where he is without having been in SkillsUSA. His experiences have taught him that no one can limit what an individual can do.

“A lot of people will tell you that you can’t do something, and people said that to me when I first started, but I learned to believe in myself.”

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SkillsUSA Champions | Summer 2005 | Volume 39, No. 4
Copyright ©2005 SkillsUSA. All rights reserved.