Ian Matthews
ENVS 120 Internship – Materials Exchange Program
Final Report
December 13, 2002

Walla Walla 2020 - Materials Exchange Program

General Information

The Walla Walla 2020 Materials Exchange Service is a community-oriented program designed to reduce the amount of waste sent to our landfills. The program encourages individuals and businesses to obtain usable waste materials from one another, thus saving money, while simultaneously preventing the unnecessary disposal of many types of solid waste. Anything from wood pallets to bubble wrap can potentially be reused through this service.

Objectives

Initially, my primary objective was simply to alert the local community to the presence of the Materials Exchange Service. Since the program is still in a formative stage, it has not been widely publicized. The presentation of information was to include the use of as many types of media as possible, with importance placed on newspapers, television, and distribution of brochures and pamphlets. Had I felt at some point that I had sufficiently accomplished these goals, there were a number of other programs that I could have focused on, such as the Green Seal Program, and the installation of recycle/trash cans in downtown Walla Walla.

About halfway through the semester, my focus was sharpened slightly at the behest of Sandra Cannon and the Recycling Committee. My objectives for the remaining portion of the internship were to research the success and methods of other materials exchanges around the country, and to solicit the involvement of construction companies specifically, since they are likely to have the most use for the program. Ultimately, the hope was to put an article in the Union Bulletin covering one business and its use of the materials exchange.

Experience

My experience during this internship was positive overall, if slightly limited. My first attempts at contacting the general public involved making a number of phone calls to various newspapers, television stations, and public facilities, such as the landfill. Most of the people that I spoke with were very pleasant and eager to help, which was initially encouraging, but progress was slow in terms of real results. I found that email was by the far the worst method of communication. I emailed three or four local newspapers with requests to publish a public service announcement, and despite the fact that the emails were preceded by calls, I received no responses. However, when I walked into the Union Bulletin holding a copy of my PSA and spoke directly to Andy Porter, I was able to get the PSA into the paper within a week or so. In light of these results, I resolved early to minimize my reliance on email to contact organizations, although sometimes it seemed the only way reach people.

But meeting directly with businesses or people was difficult in that I didn’t have access to any transportation other than walking. Primarily because of this, I had to restrict my initial activities to downtown Walla Walla. During the first few weeks, these activities consisted mainly of going door to door with brochures and talking to managers about the program, trying to assess their interest, with the intent to sign up those businesses that had extra materials and would be willing to post them on the website. This approach yielded very limited results, but it was a good way to become familiar with some local businesses, as well as to practice explaining the program to people, which was actually somewhat challenging for me. Ultimately, I found that most small businesses of the type found in the downtown area did not have much need for the program, but even so, many were enthusiastic and offered at the least to consider posting what little usable waste they discarded.

Though I called multiple newspapers and television stations, by mid-semester, I had successfully published just one PSA in the Union Bulletin. In addition, I had printed brochures, and distributed them to a variety of businesses, as well as to Dennis Rakestraw at the landfill, who agreed to hand them out to people as they disposed of their waste. I had also met with Tova Cochrane at the recycling office to discuss the program, and with the recycling committee, headed by Sandra Cannon.

The recycling committee was appreciative of my efforts, but suggested that I begin concentrating on construction companies, rather than the general public. We thought that they would have the most immediate use for the program, and we also wanted to find a company willing to use the program in exchange for an article covering them in the Union Bulletin. Later, after speaking with numerous contractors and construction companies, including Emerick Construction at Whitman College, and Rob Robinson at Building Dynamics, we concluded that such an article probably would not be possible in the near future. Right now, the hope is to convince Andy Porter to do an article covering all or most of the small businesses currently listed on the program’s website.

We did, however, receive favorable responses from many of the companies that we contacted. While there was some skepticism, there was evidence of real interest in the program, or at least its potential. Right now, there is still a fair amount of streamlining needed. Tova has suggested building a storage facility at the landfill, which I think would help immensely. Dennis Rakestraw at the landfill seemed to think this might be possible, but it will take time, and right now, businesses simply aren’t willing, or don’t have the space to store excess waste themselves. Steve Houston, for example, the project manager for Emerick Construction’s work on the Whitman College science building, was very interested in the program when I talked to him, but said the private storage of waste materials was not plausible.

My final task was to begin research on other materials exchange programs (of which I found there are many) in order to report on what strategies seemed to be most effective, and could be applied to our program in Walla Walla. Although I emailed a few programs, I chose to look mostly at websites, and at information that Tova kindly provided for me.

Right now, though my work has ended, Tova is continuing to work with Andy Porter on the publication of the article covering local businesses and their use of the exchange.

Reflections

While I did not, unfortunately, accomplish all of my goals, this experience has undoubtedly been beneficial for me. I think it has been most helpful in that it has forced me to interact on some level with the community. I greatly enjoyed working with my internship sponsors, and speaking with members of the recycling committee, as well as with owners of local businesses (most of whom, though certainly not all, have been exceedingly nice people). As I noted in my journal, many of the tasks that were expected of me were slightly over my comfort level, in that I don’t think my character lends itself to semi-professional interaction with people, nor subsequently the organization of community outreach. But while this made my work challenging, I do feel that I improved in these areas, which was my primary goal on a personal level, and part of the reason that I volunteered for this particular internship.

On a more practical note, I would say that the work I did was helpful, but not stellar. It was unfortunate that I trouble calling businesses and setting up meetings, etc., because this is really the most important thing for the program. The few PSA’s that I released produced very limited results, whereas speaking to individuals was much more effective.

Tova Cochrane and Sandra Cannon were extremely helpful in discussing my plan of action, setting up meetings, and providing transportation when I needed it. Working with them was a valuable learning experience. But to future students, I would suggest a more focused plan of action. Doing fewer tasks well seems more effective in the long run than trying to do everything at once. Also, depending on the nature of the student, it might be helpful for Tova or Sandra to come up with a well-defined list of goals from the start. For those students, like me, who are not particularly aggressive or self-organizing, assigning a few specific tasks initially might help the internship get off to a better start, just to give the student an example of the work to be done, before he or she begins to branch off.

Present and Future

There are many types of materials exchanges, ranging from the urban Materials For the Arts program in New York City, to industrial waste exchanges like the Industrial Materials Exchange (IMEX), in King County, Washington, to the small program here in Walla Walla. They can be aimed at businesses, or individuals, or both. The Walla Walla exchange is currently aimed at both, although right now, it is thought that businesses will have more use for the program, especially construction companies, since they produce the most immediately reusable waste. The problem with this is that construction companies need a place to store their waste while they wait for it to be collected. Even if there is room in the yard (which there often is not), storage costs money, and is more troublesome than disposing of waste at the landfill. Therefore, I think that the establishment of a storage facility run by the county for the program should be a very high priority, although this will probably be a difficult task, as it will require sufficient funding and space. Tova has suggested a site at the landfill, which, if it can be arranged, seems like the best option to me, because it would have the added advantage of allowing potentially reusable materials passing through the landfill to be diverted into storage. Obtaining funding from the county for such a project would be an excellent task for a future intern. Looking at other exchanges, I noted that the MFTA program in New York has a very well managed storage facility that serves as an intermediate ground between donators and users of materials. It works something like a thrift store, in that any eligible person or organization can peruse the delivered materials, which are given away at little or no cost. As far as I can tell, this service is essential to the program. Many other exchanges, especially those dealing with industrial products, have similar storage areas. The IMEX in King County, for example, opened a new hazardous waste storage locker in September. The only drawback to such a facility is that the county may want to see justification for the money spent, in which case studies might be required to determine whether the program is actually reducing the amount of waste going into the landfill.

The Website is also vital to the success of the exchange. It needs to look professional and be easy to use. I think our current Website is fine for now, but as the program increases in size, it may be beneficial to make it more complex. Most of the other Websites that I looked at were very impressive. I particularly liked the site for SonoMAX (www.recyclenow.org/sonomax/), the exchange program in my home county of Sonoma, in Northern California. SonoMAX is similar to the Walla Walla Materials Exchange because it is designed for a small, mostly rural community. Like the program in Walla Walla, it relies on independent, Web-facilitated contact, rather than using a storage facility. The site is much the same as ours, but with additional touches like feature advertisements and current issues. There is also a printed flier showing available materials that can be requested. This, I think, is somewhat extraneous, and a waste of paper, since that information is already available online. But on that note, a newsletter of some sort, such as many of the larger exchanges have, might be useful for keeping the community in touch once the program here in Walla Walla has matured. My only immediate suggestion for the Website would to be to organize the materials in broader categories. For instance, rather than listing ‘Stainless Steel Tanks’ directly on the Website, it might be better to have a ‘Containers’ category, within which the tanks could be listed. This would facilitate the inclusion of future listings, which will presumably become increasingly diverse. It might also be worth considering a separate section for construction materials, which potentially constitute almost a separate area of the exchange. Also, returning to the increasing diversity of materials, I noticed the application form (as included in the blue brochures) does not have a section for a description of materials. Since Rob Robinson of Building Dynamics noted that the lack of detailed descriptions on the Website was a drawback for him, it might be prudent to include such a section on the application form.

I want to briefly mention that Tova and I were also intrigued by the possibility of the program being used for art. In my neighborhood at home there is a wonderful scrap artist who produces incredible pieces using exactly the type of materials that should ultimately be available on our Website. I sure there are many similar artists in the Walla Walla area who would be interested in the materials exchange, but are not aware of it. This, then, could be a possible focus for a future intern.

Right now, more people simply need to be introduced to the program. But rather than just alerting the general public through public service announcements and the like, I think it would be better, initially, to contact influential individuals who can reliably spread information. For example, one online article in the Cornell Chronicle noted that it might be useful to use “vendors who travel between companies to build an informational network” (Segelken ’98). I think that focusing on individual construction companies, such as I was attempting to do towards the end of the semester, will also be helpful, though I have found that large companies are more difficult to work with.

Hopefully, this type of approach will actively involve people in the program. Afterwards, once it is more established, alerting the general public may be more effective. But I think the bottom line is, in order for this program to succeed, the public has to have a use for it. We can organize and advertise the program, maximize its viability and convenience, but ultimately, people will have to make it work for themselves. The service may languish for a while yet, but if continued effort is made by the Recycling Office, I think its usefulness will eventually be recognized, and hopefully incorporated into the growing mood of environmental awareness.


Important Contacts:

Tova Cochrane
Green Seal/Composting Specialist
Walla Walla County
Regional Planning Department – Waste Management Division
(509) 527- 3282
tcochrane@co.walla-walla.wa.us

Sandra D. Cannon
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
(509) 529 – 1535
sandra.cannon@pnl.gov

Dennis Rakestraw
Landfill Supervisor
Sudbury Road Landfill
(509) 527-4591
drakestraw@ci.walla-walla.wa.us

Andy Porter
Reporter
Union Bulletin
(509) 525-3300 ext. 282