WAIF gets OK to open re-use store near Coupeville

Half-full buckets of paint, scrap or old lumber and other used building supplies may soon be for sale at the Coupeville dump.

Earning their latest merit badge in environmental sustainability, the Island County Commissioners last week informally agreed to allow a non-profit group to open a re-use store at the county’s solid waste complex.

Per the agreement, which is expected to be finalized with a formal vote later this month, the store will be operated by Coupeville-based Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation, or WAIF.

The non-profit group will run the store out of an old pole-building, located just west of the facility’s commercial entrance, which was built to house the facility’s original recycle center.

“I think it’s great to find creative ways to reduce our revenue stream,” said Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who also serves as chairwoman of the board. “And this benefits a nonprofit so it’s a win-win.”

According to Mary Anna Cummings, manager of WAIF store in Oak Harbor, the organization’s interest in a re-use store has less to do with dollar signs and more to with parallel philosophies.

WAIF’s overall mission, she said, is to give animals a second chance. A re-use store does the same thing, but for building materials.

“It’s taking something and giving it a whole new use, a re-use,” Cummings said.

What profits are made will be put toward the organization’s shelters and various other programs run by the nonprofit.

The model for a re-use store is basically the same as a thrift store. Goods are donated, then resold for profit, though usually at a fraction of the cost of buying the same item brand new.

In this case, the items sold are largely building materials and a range of other hard-to-recycle goods, such as scrap electronics that are not accepted by the state’s E-Cycle program – keyboards, mice, fax machines, etc.

Various other items, from fishing poles and plastic buckets, may also be collected and resold at the new store.

The model is nothing new as similar stores can be found in communities scattered throughout Puget Sound. The RE Store in Bellingham has been in business for 20 years.

Whidbey Island got its first in late 2011 with the opening of Habitat for Humanity of Island County’s retail store in Freeland. According to store Manager Sandra Stipe, it resells all kinds of building materials and home products, and the store has been a huge success.

Not only are people buying recycled supplies for construction needs at home, but the store is frequented by other customers as well, from artists on the prowl for unique materials to farmers and ranchers who are looking to save some cash by putting old products to innovative new uses.

“People buy bathtubs and use them for horse troughs,” Stipe said.

“All of this stuff would have ended up in the landfill and people are buying it,” she said.

According to Jerry Mingo, recycle coordinator for Island County, making a dent in the county’s waste stream by recovering recyclables, materials that do indeed currently go to a landfill, is one of the primary objectives of the partnership with WAIF.

Mingo got the idea to establish a re-use store at the solid waste complex in 2011 after visiting a similar store, Around Again, in Sequim. The organization had great success in reselling non-toxic latex and acrylic paints, reporting that paint sales alone made up the financial backbone of the program.

“The light bulb just went off,” Mingo said.

Although the county currently accepts toxic paints untreated and in liquid form, latex and acrylics must be thickened first.

The deal with WAIF removes that step while also reducing the county’s garbage stream.

The agreement also specifies that WAIF is to provide a yard attendant who will assist the public at the tailgate to identify and separate materials that can be resold at the new re-store.

Education and setting an expectation with the public for recovering recyclables will be an important part of the job, Mingo said.

For those benefits to Island County, the deal allows WAIF to use the building free of charge. Also, the county will contribute $5,000 for fencing, signs and other miscellaneous start up costs.

Several people hauling garbage to the dump on Wednesday voiced support for recycling store.

“That would be a really good idea,” said Chris Bryan, a Freeland resident. “There’s a lot of stuff that people throw away that really can be reused.”

“Anything that can be recycled, that doesn’t have to be thrown away, that’s good for everybody,” echoed Ray Heltsley, a Coupeville resident.

According to Price Johnson, no objections were raised this week when the board discussed the issue so she expects the matter to pass when it is formally voted on later this month.

Once approved, Cummings said the store would partially open in March, likely for one or two days a week. The hope is to be open five days a week by April.

“I think it’s going to be a very interesting and exciting project,” she said.


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