2020 Year-end Ask

Dear Fellow Orcas Islanders,

Last year at about this time we wrote to you about our plan to move Orcas Island towards a “zero waste” model. We are pleased to report that significant progress has been made. We are also back to ask for further support, so we can make further progress–because it’s the responsibility of all of us to better manage our waste.




The Goal: A Better System For Recycling

As we described to you last year, the recycling system in America has essentially collapsed. For almost three decades China has been the primary market for our recyclables. In 2017 they halted imports. We do not have the infrastructure to process this material in the U.S.  So where does it go? Sadly, a significant percentage now goes to landfills.

In the past year another issue has become even more critical: climate change. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots between solid waste management and climate issues (methane from landfills; emissions from trucks and equipment; the fact that making new products from recycled material requires far less energy that making products from virgin materials). How can we begin to address these world-wide problems locally?

We take matters into our own hands, and build the facilities we need to efficiently, effectively and responsibly process recyclable materials on Orcas.

A Huge First Step: Glass Crushing Technology Is On The Way.

Thanks to your incredible support over the last year, we have completed fundraising efforts to manage one material: glass. Glass has little or no value as a recycled material. It’s also heavy and expensive to transport. We realized if we could crush the glass into sand, all of it –100 percent—could be used in construction and excavation projects here on the island.

We are thrilled to announce that in November 2020 we made the initial down payment on new glass crushing equipment which will be installed in early 2021. By next summer, we should be collecting glass separately at the transfer station, and providing locally recycled “sand” to the Island’s construction and excavation industry.

The Next Huge Step: The Ability to “Bale”

This next step manages the rest of the recyclables: aluminum, steel, cardboard, and plastics. These materials, when co-mingled, are almost worthless. But when they are separated and compacted into clean, uncontaminated bales, they have value, and are less expensive to transport.  When we bale, we dramatically increase the percentage of material that is actually recycled, and significantly decrease our carbon footprint by reducing the number of trucks hauling material to the mainland.

We need an industrial-scale horizontal baler for compacting these materials into bales. To house the baler, we need to build a simple metal building on a concrete slab, with a loading dock. We need a forklift, and associated handling equipment.

Once in place, this facility will make a big dent in that 650-plus tons of co-mingled recycling we generate on Orcas every year. Another plus: with careful management and savings from reduced hauling we can start creating financial incentives for separation, and start passing the savings on to the community in the form of lower prices for those willing to separate their own materials.

These new recycling facilities will enable us to take a major step toward improved management of our waste stream. We will decrease our carbon footprint. We will create jobs, and we will start looking like a model that might inspire other communities around the state and maybe across the Country.

Please join us in getting this done. If we can’t solve this on Orcas Island, where will it ever be solved?