Ashton Gilbert, Tennessee man with autism, launches a successful recycling business

A young Tennessee entrepreneur’s cardboard box business has a significant impact on his community and the environment.

Autism-affected Ashton Gilbert, age 21, founded his own cardboard recycling company, UnBoxed, during the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with Fox News, Gilbert and his mother, Ashley York, explained that they realized there would be a great deal of cardboard to collect in the neighborhood as online shopping became a necessity in early 2020, as opposed to a mere convenience.

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

“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.”

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

According to the small business owner, while starting his company has been “a little stressful at times,” it has also felt “pretty good.”

Gilbert enjoys the most about his job because it allows him to “interact with customers,” as well as help the environment and give back to his community.

Some of the cardboard collected is donated to community gardens and people in need of emergency moving services.

York admitted that she had no idea what her son would accomplish while living with autism and 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.”

York mentioned that her son is not only a business owner, but he also lives independently, which she did not believe was possible five years ago.

Being self-sufficient, according to Gilbert, feels “pretty good.”

Ashton Gilbert has started living at his own residence since starting his cardboard recycling business. Facebook
Ashton Gilbert has started living at his own residence since starting his cardboard recycling business. Facebook

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.”

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

Gilbert’s parents currently drive their son’s routes in a “really old van” with no air conditioning, which makes for exhausting work on hot Tennessee days.

UnBoxed currently serves two cities: Lebanon and Mt. Juliet, with pickups every other week for an average of $20 per house.

The company also provides box breakdown services. When boxes are picked up from local small businesses, it takes a commercial turn.

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

UnBoxed’s pricing varies depending on the amount of cardboard and the mileage, which is especially important now that gas prices have put a damper on travel-dependent businesses.

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

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.