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A young Tennessee entrepreneur is making a big difference to his community and environment through his cardboard box business.

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

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

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As Gilbert’s employment and activity services were stalled, York stated that his son “really needs to do something” with his time.

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

“And he was like, ‘Hey, this is something Ashton could have done.'”

“We thought it would be a very simple little task for him, but it’s a little bigger than that now.”

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Gilbert officially founded Unboxed in March 2021. To date, they have recycled 40 tons of cardboard.

The small business owner said that although starting your own business is “sometimes a little stressful,” it also feels “great.”

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

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

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

“He’s come such a long way.”

– Ashley York about her son Ashton

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

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

“And he has come such a long way.”

Unboxed owner Ashton Gilbert loads his family van with boxes from a local construction business.

York noted that her son not only owns a business, but he now lives independently as well – a feat he hadn’t thought possible five years ago.

Gilbert described being independent as “feels great”.

His community has been “excellent,” York said, and neighbors “make Ashton happy and supported.”

“People who don’t need their service get information about their service,” she said.

“We’ve also asked companies to donate routing systems so that I can figure out how to get from location to location.”

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

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

Gilbert’s parents currently drive their son through their routes using a “really old van” with no air conditioning, a tedious task on the hot days of Tennessee.

Unboxed currently offers service in two cities – Lebanon and Mount Juliet – and does pickup every other week for an average of $20 per household.

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Business Box also provides breakdown services. When boxes are picked up from local small businesses it takes a commercial route.

An unboxed cardboard recycling business ad.

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

The price of unboxed can vary depending on the amount and mileage of the cardboard, especially since gas prices hurt the travel-dependent business.

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“We are very happy that [the gas prices are] Started coming back down,” York said.

Unboxed owner Ashton Gilbert relaxes in his van full of cardboard boxes.

The mother-son duo has high hopes for Unboxed’s future.

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

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

“We’re really looking forward to expanding.”

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