Tennessee man with autism starts successful recycling business, cherishes ‘interacting with customers’

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A young Tennessee entrepreneur is making a major difference in his community and the environment through his cardboard box business.

Twenty-one-year-old Ashton Gilbert, who has autism, started his own cardboard recycling business, UnBoxed, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with Fox News Digital, both Gilbert and his mom, Ashley York, explained that they realized there was a whole lot of cardboard to be picked up around the neighborhood as online shopping became a necessity — and not just a nice thing to do — beginning in early 2020.

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Since Gilbert’s employment and activity services were on hold, York said her son “really needed something to do” with his time.

Ashton Gilbert is pictured hard at work as he loads boxes into his UnBoxed van in Tennessee.
(Robin Rayne)

“I have a small business and I was always yelling at my husband about taking my cardboard boxes to recycling,” said York. 

“And he was like, ‘Hey, this is something Ashton could do.’”

“We thought it’d be a pretty simple little job for him to do, but it’s a little bit bigger than that now.”

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Gilbert officially founded UnBoxed in March 2021. To date, he’s recycled 40 tons of cardboard.

The small business owner said that although launching his business has been “a little stressful at times,” it’s also felt “pretty good.”

Ashton Gilbert of Tennessee sits in the back of the UnBoxed van.

Ashton Gilbert of Tennessee sits in the back of the UnBoxed van.
(Robin Rayne)

What Gilbert loves most about the job is “interacting with customers,” he said, plus helping the environment and giving back to his community.

Some of the collected cardboard gets donated to community gardens and emergency moving needs.

“He has come such a very long way.”

— Ashley York about her son, Ashton

York admitted that she never could have imagined what her son would accomplish while living with autism as well as facing other intellectual and mental health challenges.

“We really didn’t know what his future was going to look like,” she said. 

“And he has come such a very long way.”

UnBoxed owner Ashton Gilbert loads his family’s van with boxes from a local manufacturing business.

UnBoxed owner Ashton Gilbert loads his family’s van with boxes from a local manufacturing business.
(Robin Rayne)

York mentioned that not only is her son a business owner, but he also now lives independently — an accomplishment she did not think possible five years ago.

Gilbert described that it feels “pretty good” to be independent.

Their community has been “outstanding,” said York, and neighbors have “cheered Ashton on and supported him.”

“Those who don’t need his service help get word out about his service,” she said. 

“We’ve even had companies donate routing systems to help me make the most sense out of how to get from location to location.”

Ashton Gilbert chats with his mother, Ashley York, as they collect boxes at a local business.

Ashton Gilbert chats with his mother, Ashley York, as they collect boxes at a local business.
(Robin Rayne)

“It’s been really supportive and I’m really proud of our community for that.”

Gilbert’s parents currently drive their son through his routes using a “really old van” without any air conditioning, which makes for tiring work on hot Tennessee days.

UnBoxed currently serves two cities — Lebanon and Mt. Juliet — and does pickups every other week for $20 a month on average per house.

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The business also offers box breakdown services. It takes on a commercial route when boxes are picked up from local small businesses.

An UnBoxed cardboard recycling business advertisement.

An UnBoxed cardboard recycling business advertisement.
(Robin Rayne)

With some businesses, said York, “we pick up about 700 pounds of cardboard at a time from them.”

UnBoxed’s pricing can vary based on the amount of cardboard and the mileage, especially since gas prices have put a damper on travel-dependent business.

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“We’re very happy that [the gas prices are] starting to come back down,” York said.

UnBoxed owner Ashton Gilbert rests in his van filled with cardboard boxes.

UnBoxed owner Ashton Gilbert rests in his van filled with cardboard boxes.
(Robin Rayne)

The mother-son duo has high hopes for the future of UnBoxed. 

Those plans include first acquiring a new commercially insured van and hiring a driver.

“We would also like to employ others with unique abilities who are struggling to find meaningful employment,” she said. 

“We’re hoping to really expand.”

York encouraged other parents and individuals living with autism “not to give up” if they aspire to entrepreneurship in one way or another. 

Source: Fox News


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