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At 7, this boy runs a company and saves for college

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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 Hickman, 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 said 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 said.

According to Damion, Ryan has saved over $11,000, which was matched by ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show‘ in January.

The money is going toward a college account, though Ryan said he wants to buy a full-size trash truck and eventually become a garbage man.

In a joint interview with CNN, his father said 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 said.

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,” Damion said. “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.”

Damion, a graphic designer and no more than an average recycler himself, emphasizes it has all been “100 percent Ryan though, of course, I’m the driver – every three weeks or so, we go to the recycling center – and I also help him sort into glass, aluminum and plastic when it’s a big pile.”

Despite the outpouring of support and gratitude, Damion remains slightly cautious.

“I try to discourage direct donations, I don’t want people to think we’re trying to make money off the kid,” he said. “We certainly appreciate it, and I realize it makes people feel good – 99 percent of the comments say how inspiring it is. But, a fraction of the comments say ‘The kid is a marketing tool for a mom and dad business,’ and we just try not to read them. I started typing a response once and stopped. I feel it’s not worth it.”