Exchange FAQ–Your Questions Answered!

 Orcas Recycling Services/The Exchange FAQ                             Spring 2017

In an ongoing effort to keep everyone up-to-date on the progress of the “Rebuild The Exchange” project, here’s an ‘FAQ’ inspired by the questions that ORS staff and board members are receiving via email, social media, and, well, in the aisles of the supermarket!

We’ll do our best to keep this page fresh–send your questions to with “FAQ” in the subject line. We will post, and answer, every reasonable question we get!

 What is The Exchange?

In 1984, 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 material out of the waste stream and back into the community. Sadly, the original Exchange was destroyed by fire in February 2013.

Who is Orcas Recycling Services?

Orcas Recycling Services (ORS) is the organization that has operated The Exchange reuse center at the Orcas Island Transfer Station since 1984. 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 for nearly four years now, adding well over $1.5 Million dollars 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.

What’s the timeline for opening a new Exchange?

ORS/The Exchange has completed negotiations on an arrangement whereby San Juan County will construct the “shell” of the building to our specifications, and ORS will be responsible for the build-out of the interior space. Permits, design and engineering are complete. A construction “request for proposals” or RFP was published in February, and the contract was awarded to HB Hansen Construction, of Lynden, WA. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-April, and be completed by early July. ORS takes over at that point, to build-out the interior. This is expected to take 1-2 months. We hope to open the doors in late summer.

If the County is building the building, where will all the fundraising dollars go?

San Juan County intends to build just the outer shell of the facility. ORS/The Exchange will be responsible for the interior build-out. 100 percent of the funds donated to the Exchange will be used for the build-out, purchasing needed equipment, start-up and contingencies.

Will ORS need to continue to raise funds?

Yes. While the community has been very generous over the past several years, we still need to raise about $35,000 to open the doors of the Exchange. And after the Exchange is open we aren’t finished–to reach our goal of zero waste, need to continue improving the transfer station. Next on our list is an industrial bailing machine for processing separated recyclables. After that we are interested in composting food waste. Our fundraising days are far from over!

Will ORS have a long-term lease?

Yes. Currently ORS has a lease with the County to use the Transfer Station. Once the Exchange building is constructed, ORS will lease that facility as well. ORS is currently negotiating the terms of a revised lease that would incorporate both The Exchange and the Transfer Station, and we have every reason to believe it will be a combined lease, with a long term and a fair rate.

Will the building be heated?

The main Exchange building will not be heated. There is a small, attached office/workshop that will have heat and utilities. You can see that in the drawings here.

I have noticed a lot of construction has been done on site, including new gates, roads and a new scale house. Did Exchange donations pay for that?

Not a single dollar donated to The Exchange has been spent on any of those improvements. The upgrades you can see now were contractually required by San Juan County for ORS to operate the Transfer Station. These improvements were paid for with grant funds and revenue generated by the tipping fees. 

ORS/The Exchange received County grant funding to upgrade the Transfer Station. What happened to those funds?

Grant funds were used to help pay for the road improvements. In 2014 and 2015 ORS received approximately $70,000 in PFFAP grant funding from San Juan County to upgrade the traffic flow at the Transfer Station. These funds were restricted for use on the roads, and could not be used for The Exchange. ORS also received a $12,000 grant from the Orcas Island Community Foundation in 2014 for these road improvements. More recently, in August 2016, San Juan County granted itself $150,000 in PFFAP grant funds specifically for construction of the Exchange.

I’ve noticed that the new roads offer a better traffic pattern coming and going past the scale house. Why aren’t we using those roads?

ORS has decided it’s best to complete the construction of The Exchange building before we open the new roads and traffic patterns. We expect construction activity will make much of the new road impassible anyway. We will open all the new roads (and re-train everyone’s driving habits) when the Exchange opens for business.

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 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 avoiding unnecessary garbage fees.

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

The Board’s intention is to keep much of the “pay what you think it’s worth” or “pay what you can” model that was widely appreciated at the old Exchange. However, now as a 501(c)(3) organization, ORS will offer receipts for more valuable items, which may be tax-deductible. Some things will have price tags or “suggested donations” attached to them.

How will you handle the initial onslaught of material?

ORS is well aware that there is a lot of stuff in people’s garages out there, and we are thrilled! ORS is considering different ways to pace that input in the beginning. Many volunteers will be needed to help sort out the expected “tsunami”. The guidelines and timelines for accepting goods will be well publicized and available through our e-mail newsletter and website. We are now offering raffle tickets that allow you to “win” reserved drop-off times or even home pick up service!

I’ve heard rumors that in the past Exchange staff took all the best stuff. How will you control that?

The ORS board and management is acutely aware of the perception that some staff historically took the best incoming materials for their own benefit. ORS is committed to ensuring that this will not be the case at the new Exchange, and will have strict rules in place governing this issue.

Has the County blocked or interfered with the re-opening The Exchange?

No. The County, the County Council, Public Works and the Community Development Department have been helpful to ORS all along. Of course, things do move slower than one might wish from time to time. That is the way it goes when you play by the book. ORS/The Exchange is held to all the same rules, codes and standards that any business would be.

How can I help?

Thanks for asking! Community volunteers are essential to the new Exchange, and ORS will need and appreciate your help. We have a detailed database of volunteers, their skills and interests, and anyone interested in helping can sign up here, 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!