Exchange FAQ–Your Questions Answered!

Orcas Recycling Services/The Exchange FAQ                          June 2019

 What is The Exchange?

In 1981, a group of community activists created Orcas Island’s legendary reuse center: The Exchange. Starting out as a one-room cabin on the grounds of the Orcas Transfer Station, The Exchange grew organically into a whimsical collection of sheds, tents, and handmade structures filled with useful items that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Most importantly, it was a source of affordable goods for struggling families. Over the years The Exchange redirected and redistributed thousands of tons of useful material out of the waste stream and back into the community. Sadly, the original Exchange was destroyed by fire in February 2013.

Happily, on November 24, 2017, Black Friday, the doors were opened at the new Exchange!

Who is Orcas Recycling Services?

Orcas Recycling Services (ORS) is the organization that has always operated The Exchange reuse center at the Orcas Transfer Station. In September 2013, ORS, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, took over management of the entire Orcas Island Transfer Station (OITS). ORS has run the Transfer Station successfully since then, adding well over half a million dollars annually to the local economy in the process. Our mission is to “build a zero waste community through service, education and stewardship of Orcas Island’s waste and resource streams.” You can see a list of staff and board members here.

How did ORS Pay For The New Exchange?

With hard work and the help of a generous community! First, by raising over $325,000 in donations. Then, in 2017 ORS completed negotiations on an arrangement whereby San Juan County constructed the “shell” of the new Exchange building to our specifications, and ORS was responsible for the build-out of the interior space. 

Will the rules of shopping at The Exchange be the same as before?

Items at the new Exchange will be priced using a “Value Band” system ($1-$10, $10-$20, $20-$30, etc). Color-coded stickers will identify the value band. This way we honor the spirit of the “pay what it’s worth” or “pay what you can afford” approach of the old Exchange while recognizing our new financial responsibilities going forward.

Will ORS have a long-term lease?

ORS operates the Transfer Station under a contract with the County. We recently completed contract amendments that provide for the next 30 years, in 10-year contract increments. This allows ORS more stability in planning our future, and it lines up with our 30-year obligation to pay for the Exchange building through rental payments to the County.

Will ORS need to continue to raise funds?

The community has been very generous over the past several years—donating over $325,000 towards the rebuilding project. We completed our fundraising for The Exchange in May of 2017. That said, after The Exchange is open, we aren’t finished! To pursue our goal of zero waste, we need to continue improving the transfer station. Next on our list is an industrial baling machine for processing separated recyclables. After that we are interested in composting food waste. Our grant writing and fundraising days are not over!

Does ORS/The Exchange plan to use funds generated by the Transfer Station to fund The Exchange?

ORS is a non-profit organization committed to reducing waste and good stewardship of our waste resources.  To achieve our goals ORS must efficiently handle both reuse (traditionally thought of as The Exchange activity) and garbage and recycling (a traditional Transfer Station function). ORS believes that The Exchange will be self-sustaining. ORS tracks the revenues and expenses of the Transfer Station business and The Exchange business separately to avoid inappropriate cross-subsidization (either way). However, materials will inevitably flow from one side to the other. It would be difficult and inefficient to build a barrier between The Exchange and other ORS activities at the Transfer Station.

At ORS we believe that part of our responsibility is to manage the Transfer Station operations as effectively and efficiently as possible, to help avoid increased tipping fees. ORS is also committed to helping the community save money by reducing or redirecting their own household waste streams, thus reducing their cost of solid waste disposal.

How can I help?

Thanks for asking! Community volunteers are essential to the new Exchange. We have a detailed database of volunteers, their skills and interests, and anyone interested in helping can sign up on our website, or write to our volunteer coordinator, Jim Duffield, at The new Exchange needs people with every kind of skill: from artists to builders to farmers to fundraisers to lawyers to engineers to scientists – so please get in touch!