Part of a series about the charitable reuse centres operating in Halton Region.
Waste audits have shown that 7% of the materials found in Halton’s residential garbage stream are textile materials that could be salvaged through reuse centres. This number may not seem like a lot, but if each of the more than 180,000 households in Halton were to reduce their garbage by 7%, it could significantly extend the lifespan of our landfill!
Wastewise is dedicated to waste diversion through its successful operations.
I had the opportunity to meet with Debbie Smart to discuss how Wastewise operates, and how it benefits the local community.
LP: Tell me a bit about Wastewise.
DS: Wastewise is a local charity that is dedicated to promoting the reduction, reuse, and recycling of waste generated in Halton Hills through the operations of a reuse centre. Our focus is to divert materials from the landfill, and in turn support our community. Our location is one of the few locations in Halton Hills where residents can drop off of textiles, paper, scrap metal and electronic waste in one convenient stop.
Our thrift store is unconventional, to say the least. We attract people who are ready for a search, and know that they will find something great. Wastewise is very much a part of the community here in Georgetown and it is not unusual for us the see neighbours stop and chat or new friendships form while people are shopping and recycling. We are known in the community as a central location to responsibly dispose of salvageable textiles, e-waste and other recyclable material so we recognize a lot of our customers as they are frequent visitors. This has helped us build a strong relationship with our customers, and our thrift store allows many members of the community to obtain good quality materials at an affordable cost.
In the past, our focus has been solely on waste management, recently though we have expanded our patent to encompass environmental sustainability. We are realizing that in order to make a change in waste reduction and management, we need to look at the bigger picture.
LP: In what ways does Wastewise give back to the local community?
DS: We have been very involved with the local community since we began our operations in 1991, and are involved in a number of great initiatives! Financially, we support each of the three high schools here in Halton Hills by providing a $1,000 scholarship to a graduate pursuing environmental study. In 2011 we gave $5,000 to POWER Halton, and $5000.00 to GDHS to help support the E.A.R.T.H. programme. Recently we have collaborated with the Town of Halton Hills to provide funds to start a public space recycling program which you will find in all local parks and recreation areas. We support community involvement among our youth by offering volunteer opportunities for the required 40 hours and by supporting green clubs at various schools, and in one instance we provided funds to reward the students with a pizza party for their hard work.
We provide many organizations in the community with textiles as well such as blankets and pillows for the Humane Society. We work closely with the Holy Cross Helps Program, the local fire department when they require materials for controlled burns, and provide affordable classroom materials for teachers and daycares. We also provide reduced rates for international farmers to bring textiles home for their loved ones.
LP: When did the reuse program start?
DS: Wastewise was started in 1991 by a group of local residents in response to a proposal for a landfill development in Halton Hills. The group, known as FOAD (Furiously Opposed Acton Dump) realized they cannot just say ‘we don’t want this’ and not take any action to prove a landfill is not required. FOAD realized that the community could do something with our waste other than send it to landfill. At the time, there was no place in Halton Hills to bring good, usable items. Basing their idea of Urban Ore, FOAD proposed the idea of a donation and reuse centre, received funding from the government, and Wastewise was opened.
LP: What kind of materials do you accept?
DS: We accept all sorts of items! We accept almost all reusable household goods for donation – books, puzzles, board games, kitchenware, small appliances, collectables, paintings, and textiles which includes purses, shoes, boots, pillows, linens and of course clothing. . Residents can also drop off electronic waste (TVs, monitors, printers, phones, etc.) to have them safely recycled.
If there is anything that we cannot accept, we redirect residents to locations that we know can take those items for responsible disposal.
LP: How are the materials processed?
DS: Residents who donate materials bring them to the facility, and they are sorted in the back section of our warehouse. Most of our sorting is done by a great group of volunteers. All of the items are organized into various categories. We regularly receive items that we know will interest our varied customer base and generate more revenue to sustain the centre, these items may be assessed by knowledgeable persons and placed in the Wastewise silent auction.
LP: Do you ever receive materials that Wastewise doesn’t need? If so, what happens with those materials?
DS: We do our best to stop items we do not need from entering the facility, but it is inevitable that stuff gets dropped off that we cannot accept. As an example, the other day, two mattresses were left outside our doors. In that case, I had to load the mattresses into my personal vehicle, bring them to the transfer station, and pay the fee for disposal. While zero waste is an amazing goal, we realize at a thrift shop, that is not a reality for us. We do have a garbage bin that we put non-recyclable material in such as broken glass and plastic. This bin is picked up once a week, and we incur a cost to have that garbage material collected.
We know that it costs money to be in this business and dispose of waste responsibly (reuse, recycling, and garbage materials), but we do our best to keep waste low. Even when residents come in, we try and promote waste reduction (for example, promote reusable coffee cups and water bottles versus disposable alternatives).
LP: In what ways can residents get involved or contribute to Wastewise?
DS: If residents want to get involved, we are always looking for volunteers! Our volunteers help sort donated items such as books and clothing, test electronics, and can ensure our facility is operating effectively. In addition interested residents may apply to become a board member.
Residents can also contribute to Wastewise by donating or shopping here! We receive so many great items, and residents leave with affordable, unique finds. We like to say “Stop here first. If we don’t have what you need, we will help you find it!”