21-Year-Old Entrepreneur with Autism Runs Thriving Recycling Business: ‘He Has Come Such a Very Long Way’


A 21-year-old Tennessee entrepreneur with autism is running a thriving cardboard recycling business with the help of his family.

At the height of the pandemic, Ashton Gilbert noticed an excess of cardboard that needed to be picked up in his neighborhood due to the increase in online shopping, Fox News reported.

His mother, Ashley York, who operates a small business, also required many cardboard boxes to be disposed of.

Realizing that Ashton needed to do something with his time, his parents suggested that their son recycle the cardboard from his mother’s business.

What started as doing a simple job to help his mother has turned into a successful neighborhood-wide cardboard recycling business.

Since starting Unboxed in 2014, Gilbert has recycled over 40 tons of cardboard, with some of the material being donated to community gardens or to individuals who need boxes to move.

Unboxed currently operates in two cities, Lebanon and Mt. Juliet, and offers box breakdown services to both houses and small businesses, charging $20 per house on average.

According to Ashton, some small businesses require 700 pounds of cardboard to be picked up.

Using an old van with no air conditioning – which can become uncomfortable during hot Tennessee summer days – Ashton noted that while the job can be stressful, he enjoys operating the business and interacting with customers.

In turn, the community has embraced the 21-year-old’s hard work and the services he has provided. Companies have even donated routing systems to assist with making trips.

“It’s been really supportive and I’m really proud of our community for that,” Ashton told Fox News.

York, who helps run the business with her son, is proud of what he has accomplished despite the challenges that come with autism.

She even highlighted that he is living by himself and is the sole business owner of Unboxed, something she did not think was possible five years ago.

“We really didn’t know what his future was going to look like,” York said. “And he has come such a very long way.”

Unboxed hopes to purchase a new commercial driving van soon and employ a new driver.

Ashton’s mother encourages those with autism “not to give up” if they wish to pursue an entrepreneurial path.

You can follow Ethan Letkeman on Twitter at @EthanLetkeman.


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