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Can't Recycle something? Options exist beyond throwing it away

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Since the beginning of 2018, China has imposed stricter restrictions on which recycling materials it will purchase and on the acceptable level of contamination of those materials. This has tremendously affected household recycling in the U.S. by significantly reducing the demand for low-grade materials. Many former recyclables must now go in the trash. See the column above, or refer to the city of Walla Walla’s website (, for details on what is acceptable for our household recycling.

While we adjust to these changes in household recycling practices, it is good to keep in mind that we have some options for some of the “waste” we generate in our homes. First, we can be more aware of our purchases and the packaging they come in.

For food waste and yard waste, composting is a great alternative to the landfill. For clothing and household goods, community thrift stores are very helpful. And for remodeling, building and home upgrades, Sustainable Living Center’s Builders ReSupply is a wonderful local resource.

In 2009, the Sustainable Living Center (SLC) initiated a feasibility study with an Environmental Protection Agency grant to determine if our community could support a building materials recycling-and-reuse store. Study findings estimated over 200 tons of usable building materials — including dimensional lumber, windows, doors, trim, cabinets, fixtures and more — were being disposed of into Sudbury Landfill each year.

Determined to help stem the flow, the study organizers and SLC set out to stretch grant dollars, and were able to incorporate the opening of Builders ReSupply into their work plan. The store opened in September 2010.

Today, SLC is happy to share that Builders ReSupply (BRS) is going strong. In 2017, BRS diverted over 60 tons of materials from the landfill. Individuals taking on small remodels or swapping out light fixtures and other decorative home elements donated most items by the box or by the trunk load. Other items came by the truckload from community partners like Blue Mountain Action Council, ProBuild, Whitman College, Gary’s Paint & Decorating, Gesa Credit Union, and the list goes on.

Some items also came in through a partnership with Good 360, an organization that allowed our local Home Depot to donate items to be distributed, at no charge, to individuals in our community. Of the 60 tons collected, about 5 percent were recycled (primarily mixed metals) or were taken to the landfill (primarily broken glass and bathroom fixtures).

Builders ReSupply is located in the Airport District. With indoor space of just under 3,400 square feet and outdoor space of 4,800 square feet, the store is always in a state of change. Inventory ebbs and flows from one week to the next as donations flow in and items are sold. Store regulars know if they see something they want, they should not wait to buy!

The store accepts donations of new or used reusable building materials. Doors, windows, kitchen and bath fixtures, cabinets, lighting, hardware, plumbing, electrical and flooring can all be found on any given day. Appliances and other large items are accepted on a case-by-case basis, depending on space available and condition of the item.

Some donations may be declined if they are considered hazardous, unsanitary or obsolete. Examples of these include spoiled paint, home, garden or farm chemicals without proper labeling, damaged or stained fixtures, fluorescent light fixtures and similar items. We will do our best to suggest alternatives for the proper disposal of items that we cannot accept.

It is always exciting to see what the next contribution will be, and we greatly appreciate the support of our donors. In addition to the satisfaction of giving usable materials new life and helping support BRS and SLC programs, donors can save on tip fees and can opt to receive a 501(c)(3) tax donation receipt.

BRS can coordinate pickups of materials on a limited basis. Contact the store for details at 509-525-2728 during store hours, or the SLC office, 509-524-5218.

BRS employs a part-time store lead and is grateful for the help of volunteers who assist with customer service, organizing, loading, unloading and special projects. SLC welcomes volunteers from high-school students to retirees and anywhere in between. Regular volunteers are much appreciated, but one-time volunteers help make an impact, too!  

The challenges of solid waste and recycling are many, but with a little effort, we can all work toward reducing our waste footprint and ensuring the things that we discard are put to their best use.

Erendira Cruz is the executive director of the Sustainable Living Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Montana State University.

Link to Union Bulletin here.

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