- Ryan Hickman started recycling at 3½ years old and hasn't stopped since
- He's saving for his college education, though he claims it's actually for a full-size trash truck
(CNN)It's never too early to start a business.
When he was 3½ years old, Ryan Hickman visited the rePlanet recycling center in California, and found his life's mission.
The next day, as he greeted his dad, Damion, at their San Juan Capistrano driveway, he pointed down the street and made an announcement: "My new business! I'm going to pick up all the cans and bottles from everyone in the neighborhood."
Today, at the ripe old age of 7, he is the CEO, manager and employee of Ryan's Recycling Company. He has 50 customers and over 200,000 bottles and cans in his recycling credit.
Though Ryan says he doesn't remember what made it all start (It was over half his life ago!) he remains passionate about the reason. "It's because bottles get to the ocean and then animals get sick and die," he says.
According to Damion Hickman, Ryan has saved over $11,000, which was matched by "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" last January. The money is going toward a college account, though Ryan says he wants to buy a full-size trash truck and eventually become a garbage man. In a joint interview with CNN, his father says they've designated it for college for the time being and by 18 Ryan can make the decision himself. "Yeah, but I want to buy a truck," Ryan insists.
One of Ryan's favorite places is the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, to which he donates all his brand's T-shirt proceedings -- over $3,700 thus far. "I like to go there and look at sea lions, and the money that we donate to them gives them medicine and food," he says.
Four years into the venture, neighbors have grown accustomed to the little boy who comes knocking for their recyclables, and the more enthusiastic ones call to ask for a pickup or even drop off bags at the Hickmans' door.
At school, Ryan's favorite activity is helping the janitor, Mr. Jose, separate the trash.
"My wife and I support him doing it and we told him that whenever he wants to stop he can," Hickman says. "I want to see him with friends but the recycling just makes him happy. He's actually recruited his friends now so it's Ryan and five of his friends helping Mr. Jose."