Exchange FAQ–Your Questions Answered!

 Orcas Recycling Services/The Exchange FAQ                             Summer 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 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.

Who is Orcas Recycling Services?

Orcas Recycling Services (ORS) has operated The Exchange reuse center at the Orcas Island Transfer Station since 1981. 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 $2 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 at

What’s the timeline for opening a new Exchange?

In 2017 ORS completed negotiations on an arrangement whereby San Juan County would construct the “shell” of the new Exchange building, and ORS would be responsible for the build-out of the interior space. As of August 2017, the shell has been completed and ORS is gearing up to begin the interior build-out. ORS hopes to open the new Exchange sometime this fall.

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?

We completed our fundraising for The Exchange in May of this year. The community has been very generous over the past several years—donating over $325,000 towards the rebuilding project. That said, after The Exchange is open we have more to do!  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. Our fundraising days are not over!

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. Construction activity has much of the new road impassible anyway. We will open all the new roads (and re-train everyone’s driving habits) around the time 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 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.

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 (bands will likely be $0-$10, $10-$20, $20-$30, etc.) Color-coded stickers will identify the value band. In this way, we will 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.

 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! Initially we are planning to use a web-based reservation system for drop-off. This should alleviate back-ups at the drop-off desk, and allow staff and volunteers to manage the materials coming in. Many volunteers will be needed to help sort out the expected “tsunami”. If you would like to help, you can sign up here:

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

ORS board and management are acutely aware of the perception that in the past Exchange staff took incoming materials for their own benefit. ORS is committed to ensuring that this will not be the case at the new Exchange, and have established strict new policies addressing this issue.

 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 on our website, at, 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!