Thanks for helping to open the Exchange | Guest column

Thanks for helping to open the Exchange | Guest column

Submitted by the board and staff of Orcas Recycling Services and The Exchange

Almost five years ago our collective heart sank when the quirky but beloved Exchange burned to the ground.

Today, Orcas Recycling Services (ORS) would like to thank you. A beautiful new Exchange reuse facility has re-opened on the original spot at the Orcas Transfer Station.

It’s packed with wonderful donated items that will end up under Christmas trees, instead of on a train for a 300-mile, one-way trip to the landfill.

The Exchange should be able to divert as much as 10 percent of our waste stream away from the landfill, and back into the service of island families. This is a major milestone for ORS and our community.

While this is a time to celebrate, it’s also a time to look forward. ORS is far from done — our mission is zero waste — and we are a long way from that goal.

The next step is a better, more efficient recycling system for Orcas Island — and potentially for San Juan County.

The recycling industry is currently in turmoil. China, the world’s biggest consumer of recycled material, has announced it will soon drastically cut back on the amount of material it will take in — especially less valuable plastic and paper products.

What that means for all of us in San Juan County is higher prices to dispose of recycling—particularly mixed or “co-mingled” recycling. In fact, costs have risen 800% since July. These increases will undoubtedly impact what we all pay for our recycling.

But there is a better way. We need to go back to a system where we separate valuable materials (aluminum, steel, cardboard, clean paper, certain plastics) from the stream, bale these materials, and sell them directly to the recycling industry.

Glass is a different problem. It has almost no value as a recycled material, it contaminates other recyclables, and it costs a lot to ship off island. ORS intends to refurbish an old glass-crushing machine that we have at the Orcas transfer station. Rather than ship glass off island, we will crush it, and make a usable landscape and fill material for use here at home.

Separation of recyclables will have significant economic benefits for the community (lower costs for recycling) and will benefit the environment (a cleaner more reusable stream of material; lower carbon footprint). This is where ORS is heading.

In the coming months, you will be hearing more about our next major project; a sorting and baling facility at the Orcas Transfer Station. We are currently in the early design phase.

Many of you have already voiced your support for this vision. We hope this letter will inspire you to participate—as a volunteer, a consultant, a financial supporter.

Thank you for helping us re-open the Exchange! We are thrilled about it, and we know you are too. We are also excited about a zero-waste future for the islands, and we hope you will join us on that journey.

Happy holidays and a wonderful new year!