The mission of Orcas Recycling Services/The Exchange is zero-waste. Nothing embodies that philosophy better that what they are doing with two very different materials: yard waste and glass. Both materials, waste product that were once shipped off island, sometimes hundreds of miles, are now kept on Orcas and transformed into useful, high-quality landscape materials.
“Turning a waste stream into a useable product that can stay on the island is the holy grail for us,” says ORS/Exchange Board President Jim “Duff” Duffield. “The savings for everyone in dollars and carbon footprint are huge.”
When the Exchange took over the Orcas Transfer station in 2013, green waste went into the trash, and was shipped 400 miles away to the landfill. Soon after taking over, that began to change.
For several years now ORS/The Exchange has been taking in green waste from the public at a discounted rate, and grinding it into a garden mulch. With a consistency similar to ‘garden bark’, they feel they have now perfected the material.
“It was actually something of a learning curve”, says ORS/Exchange Director Pete Moe. “Until we found the right grinder, we had a lot problems with the consistency of the finished product. Now our mulch is really nice—consistent, easy to work with and clean.”
Moe notes that the “clean” part is important to them—early experiments had too much contamination from trash and gravel. These problems have been solved, largely from better storage and management.
In the past year ORS/The Exchange has sold more than 160 yards of mulch, with business booming now as spring gardening gets underway in earnest. At just $20 per yard, it’s an absolute bargain and you get to feel good about using a truely circular, zero-waste product.
“If you think about it, it’s kind of insane to ship potential soil off of an island,” adds Moe.
Glass to Sand
By now you may have heard that ORS/The Exchange is collecting glass separately from other recyclables at a discounted price. They are taking that glass and crushing it into sand-like particles with their new glass crushing system. Since they started in November 2021, ORS/The Exchange has crushed 36.45 tons of glass.
The glass-sand is great for excavation and construction projects, and there is a healthy local market with local excavation companies. But the material also has all kinds of possibilities as a landscape material.
“I think the most obvious use for it is garden paths,” says Moe. “In fact we’ve heard it will kill slugs!” Which is something that just about any Orcas gardener will find interesting.
The sand has a white-to-green-to-tan color, reflecting the predominant colors of the glass bottles and jars that they receive. It has no sharp edges or harmful dust. When wet, it sparkles.
Excellent as a base for setting steps, or as a non-adhesive ‘mortar’ for brick work. It has excellent drainage properties and works well in trenches and French drains.
But the possibilities have not been fully discovered yet. According to Moe several people have expressed interest in experimenting with the glass-sand, mixing it with cement, plaster, and other materials to see what else can be concocted.
ORS/The Exchange is currently offering free samples of the sand to folks who want to experiment with it. In return they just request a report on the experiment, hopefully with pictures.
For larger volume projects pricing on the material has not yet been set and for now will be negotiated.
The economics on these materials is essentially a wash for the company, says Moe. Most importantly, waste materials that used to be shipped back to the mainland are now staying on island as useful materials. There are benefits for the company in that — so far they have saved over $2,400 in glass disposal fees. Transportation costs — in dollars and carbon — are also reduced.
ORS/The Exchange welcomes anyone to stop in and check out these materials and take home a free sample.