Help Us Fix Recycling On Orcas

The political and ecological challenges we face today can be overwhelming.  The problems are vast, spanning the globe.  We all know that we need to act, but how can we make a difference when the challenges are so great?

One way is to start small. Start local. Take small bites. Here’s a great place to start: the Island’s waste stream. With a little bit of heavy lifting, we can make a big difference.  Zero-waste is the goal, and as members of an island community, it’s our shared responsibility.

We’ve done great things before. We came together to re-build The Exchange reuse center.  In 2018 alone, The Exchange kept approximately 159 tons of usable material out of greenhouse gas-emitting landfills.

Just the same, we still managed to generate and ship to the mainland over 5,060 tons of garbage and 660 tons of co-mingled (mixed together) recyclables. In other words, we are generating about one ton of waste per-person every year.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us. And that is what this letter is about–the next step towards a zero-waste future.

A Better System for Managing Recyclables.

Over the past three years the recycling system in America has collapsed.  For almost three decades China had been the primary market for our recyclables. Suddenly, in early 2017 they halted imports. In the U.S., we do not have the infrastructure to process all this material. So where does it go? Sadly, a significant percentage now goes to the landfill.

How can we address this nationwide problem locally? We can’t change the mind of the Chinese government. We can’t change the practices of the profit-driven sorting facility where our co-mingled recyclables currently go.

What we can do is take matters into our own hands—by building the facilities we need to process separated recyclables here on Orcas.

Instead of sending trucks full of semi-contaminated co-mingled recycling off-island to the sorting facility, we need to collect separated aluminum, cardboard, paper, plastics and glass (like we used to do) and process them efficiently and effectively.

These materials, when co-mingled, are almost worthless. But when they are separated and compacted into clean, uncontaminated bales we can begin to capture their value as resources.

The rate at which baled materials are actually recycled goes up, and the cost of shipping them back to the mainland drops

Estimated breakdown of Orcas Island’s Recycling by volume & weight (2018)

The potential for managing glass is even more exciting. ORS has determined that if we can crush the 160 tons of glass we produce annually into sand, all of it—100 percent—could be used in construction and excavation projects here on the island. In other words: glass would never have to be shipped back to the mainland.

The Andela two-stage glass crusher will reduce glass into sand for use in local construction projects.

We have done our research. After looking at recycling facilities around Washington State, ORS has developed preliminary designs for a recycling center at our Orcas Island Transfer Station. We need to build a simple metal building with concrete slab to house an industrial-scale horizontal baler for compacting recyclables. We also need a new two-stage glass crusher for converting glass containers into sand.

Once in place, this will make a big dent in that 660-plus tons of co-mingled recycling we generate on Orcas every year. We will dramatically increase the amount of material that is actually recycled, and significantly decrease our carbon footprint by reducing the number of garbage trucks leaving the island.

Another plus: Sorted and baled materials have value.  With careful management and savings from reduced hauling we can start creating incentives for separation—and start passing the savings on to the community in the form of lower prices for recycling.

Once in place, this new recycling center will provide a major step towards maximizing the management of our waste stream.  We will progress further towards our shared goal of zero-waste.  We will decrease our carbon footprint. We will create jobs, and we will start looking like a model community that might just inspire other communities down the road.

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

Help us get to our target of $441,981 and start making a real difference in how we manage our waste here on the island. Click here to make your contribution online.  

Happy holidays, best regards, and thank you for your continuing support!