A new grassroots organization focused on generating zero waste on Whidbey Island is continuing to help people find new ways to use repurposed items.
Known as rePurpose, the small nonprofit organization is powered by a handful of volunteers who are passionate about the environment and decided to team up shortly after the city of Langley declared a climate emergency in 2021.
Much of the group’s energy has been focused on partnering with the South Whidbey Community Center in Langley for projects around the campus, from solar-powered composting bins to self-serve kiosks with recycled materials to visible signage that lets students and other users of the community center know that the the campus is going zero waste.
Gail LaVassar, executive director of the community center, said rePurpose’s presence on campus helps hold the community center accountable.
“Since we’ve set out to repurpose this whole campus from the school into a community center, one of the ideas has been to make it more sustainable. And part of that is because it is a big platform,” she said. “A lot of people are looking at the community center, coming in and so we could do things like convert to heat pumps, and it hopefully spurs action elsewhere.”
Last year, a fundraising campaign and a grant from Puget Sound Energy helped remove one of the boilers in the community center’s main building and installed heat pumps in every room, which provide a more sustainable heating source.
LaVassar said the work is ongoing to remove a second boiler. The community center is also working with Puget Sound Energy to switch out the current lighting for LEDs, which will reduce energy consumption.
With the help of rePurpose, the community center is doing even more to benefit the environment.
“It’s kind of fun to be at the community center ‘cause you can kind of see it firsthand, things that we’ve done that are really simple and people can do them in schools, in their home, different organizations,” said Joan Green, a core member of rePurpose.
Kids who are part of last year’s ALE, or Alternative Learning Experience, program of South Whidbey School District dug deep into the ground to create space for specialized, double-walled composting bins that run on solar power. The students then painted bright, cheerful scenes of mountains and trees on the cone-shaped bins, which are located in the courtyard of the campus.
“We go in the classrooms and work with different groups of students as rePurpose and just try to help them with their ideas,” Green said. “Kids these days are very interested in helping the planet, so it’s a great partnership.”
LaVassar said the composting bins are utilized not only by students, but also building staff and anyone who is a partner at the community center, which includes art studios, recreational businesses and social services, among other things.
“The youth were really excited about trying to increase people’s knowledge about composting,” she said.
Artists at the community center can access an array of art supplies located within the building on a shelf that Green rescued from being thrown away. Some of the most recent items included CDs, glitter glue, small easels and canvases made out of foam core board.
“We’re so used to throwing things away. That’s kind of like what our society does. But we really believe that we don’t need to throw anything away, that everything is a resource and especially on the island,” Green said, adding that the island’s waste is currently trucked off Whidbey.
Green, who is one of the artists at the community center, curates the little art shelf on a regular basis.
“We don’t always see who’s leaving things here, but I see it changing all the time and I just kind of keep it tidy,” she said. “It’s getting a lot of action now.”
Outside by the dumpsters, another self-serve kiosk for users of the community center is dedicated to slightly larger items, such as pieces of wood, a suitcase and two children’s bicycles.
“People usually think of the dumpster areas as kind of gross and yucky,” Green said. “We’re trying to change that by having this be like a resourceful place that people can come to for materials and things.”
It was here that Green found several strips of long white paper that she recently repurposed into an art exhibit for Goosefoot’s annual “Rags, Rubbish and Refuse” show at the Bayview Cash Store.
“I do a lot of art with reusable material so when I see all those little things I just get so excited, and I think a lot of kids feel that way too and different artists, you just see possibilities in these things that are just kind of open-ended,” she said.
“People use things in ways that I would never think of,” LaVassar said. “Honestly, one person’s trash is someone else’s joy.”
Many South Whidbey artists have keenly felt the loss of the repurposed items section of Island Recycling, which was eliminated when new owners took over last year. Though rePurpose’s reuse kiosk at the community center is small in comparison and not open to the general public, the group is interested in expanding to something bigger someday.