By Margie Doyle
Garbage in; garbage out.
If only it were that simple. But as long as we continue to regard the end product of our consumption and construction as “waste,” and as long as we are not happy living with that “waste,” we have to deal with the complexities of removing garbage from our site, or sight.
And that, as the Orcas Transfer Station Vendor Selection Committee (VSR) – Steve Alexander, Lisa Byers, Russ Harvey, Patty Miller and Jeffrey Struthers – has thoughtfully considered this past month, involves risk:
- Dan Liedecker of Sj Sanitation has warned about toxic risk.
- Cimarron Trucking has addressed financial and sustainable operations risks.
- Orcas Recycling Services/The Exchange has addressed visionary operations and sustainable lifestyle risk.
VSR committee members considered financial risk and they are prudent to do so, considering the financial mess the county has gotten into with its budget-busting solid waste operations — increased, ironically, by a diminished waste stream and heightened operational costs. They have also weighed the risk to island lifestyles and sustainability, given a proposal dominated by profit incentives dependent upon volume of waste.
As eloquently stated by Jeffrey Struthers at the VSR meeting on August 16: “There is a fundamental conflict between a business that involves volume with an organization whose mission is to reduce volume. At some point the hope is that we’ll have incentive to turn waste around before it leaves ‘the Rock’ and find uses for it. We need to find a way to do that long term.”
At its meeting to decide upon opening contract negotiations with either or both vendors (or neither) the Council appeared to have two choices before it. Cimarron, a trucking company had proposed what, historically, has been a sound business operation, as a subcontractor to the mainland monolith Waste Management, to take our garbage away. It has the history, it has the fleet, it has the business acumen. ORS, a registered non-profit organization, wants to change the business model in a bold way: to build up the recycling and re-use aspect of “waste disposal” so that income is not derived from more waste hauled to a landfill, but from the economic “churning” of recycling and increased employment of island personnel to run its operations
So the VSR fleshed out the strengths and weaknesses of the two proposals and the Council came up with a solution that is neither idealistic or cynical, but realistic, and yes, complex.
The essential elements of “waste disposal” on Orcas Island begin with:
- disposal of solid wastes to mainland landfills where they are “entombed” forever, to use the words of Orcas resident and former Portland-area Metro solid waste director Bern Shank
- re-use of consumer and construction goods
- financial sustainability
- rate stability
- recycling commitment
- local control and responsibility
- transportation: both on island accessibility for route haulers and ferry and off-island costs
- local, state and federal government regulation compliance
- cooperation and partnership among business entities with fundamentally different motivations
At the August 17 meeting, Vendor Selection committee member Lisa Byers said, “Some people just want to get rid of their garbage.”
That is true; and it is also true that unimaginable change also happens when people are ready to face challenge with energy, commitment and open-ness.
Orce again, could we fortunate islanders be in a leadership position to create a new reality, to delegate operations on four county parcels that deal with our waste-needs stream, even as we help both Cimarron and ORS/The Exchange transition from hauling or exchanging unwanted goods to a central processing area where the business interests of both can be served? Waste can be reduced; an energy processing facility can be developed; unworkable goods can be restored to functionality; goods and services (an on-island hauling-carpool-transportation hub?) can be exchanged; and education about conserving the bountiful lifestyle we’ve enjoyed can be transmitted.
With negotiating respect, generosity and trust on all sides, both Cimarron and ORS could develop their operations into a profitable hauling business (who needs the “garbage” title?) and a vital, model recycling agency — to the benefit of us all.
We have no room for “My way or the highway” if we want to make the waste stream work for all of us.