Business

Man starts curbside recycling business on South Whidbey

After spending a few years working with the environmental movement in Boston, Trystan Matthews has come back home to South Whidbey to start a curbside recycling business he believes will reduce the amount of garbage locals send to the landfill. - Matt Johnson
After spending a few years working with the environmental movement in Boston, Trystan Matthews has come back home to South Whidbey to start a curbside recycling business he believes will reduce the amount of garbage locals send to the landfill.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Paging through The South Whidbey Record this January, Trystan Matthews couldn't believe what he was reading.

A story on the pages of the paper told him that the recycling rate among Island County residents was at a three-year low and seemed to be falling. While statewide, Washingtonians were recycling about 38 percent of what they tossed out, the people on his own island were sending more than two-thirds of their waste to the landfill.

That, he thought to himself, should not be. Looking at his own garbage, he figured at least 50 percent could be recycled. Why shouldn't everyone else be able to do the same?

"There's absolutely no reason we can't achieve that," he said.

No reason except for one: There is almost no true curbside recycling service on Whidbey Island.

While it can be argued that the island's trash hauler, Island Disposal, does curbside recycling by picking recyclable materials out of loads dumped at its Coupeville transfer station, only the city of Oak Harbor offers curbside service in which trash and recyclable materials are picked up separately.

Having spent time while on the East Coast working on legislation to protect public lands from development and industry, Matthews moved back to Whidbey Island last year with a commitment to reducing man's impact on the environment. Recycling, he decided, was one place South Whidbey residents needed help -- help he could provide.

This month, Matthews, a 22-year-old music student, started up a new curbside recycling option for South Whidbey residents, Recycle Whidbey. He is signing up customers interested having their recyclables picked up separately from their garbage and who are willing to pay for the service.

Getting going with just a compact pickup truck, a telephone number and an e-mail address, Recycle Whidbey is nothing fancy. But Matthews hopes the service, now that it is offered, will be an inducement to Clinton, Langley and Freeland residents to recycle more and more thoroughly.

"This is a need we obviously have," he said.

Jerry Mingo, supervisor of Island County's recycling program, said this week that Matthew's business could help separate useful junk from garbage. Right now, he said, 16 percent of all recyclables are collected curbside, if the Oak Harbor and Island Disposal systems are counted together. While in Oak Harbor curbside recycling has only yielded an 11 percent recycling rate, Mingo said offering the service on South Whidbey can only be a good move.

"I think there's a lot of value in the community knowing that someone cares enough to go into business," he said.

Once he receives the necessary permits for his business from Island County, Matthews plans on doing recycling pickups at least six times a month.

He said he plans to charge pickup fees similar to those charged for garbage. Customers who decide to pay him $10 a month for two pickups every four weeks, or $7.50 for one, could break even on their total trash disposal costs or better.

That is assuming, Matthews said, curbside recycling cuts the amount of trash left for the garbage man by half.

"If you're diligent about recycling, the cost would be the same as just doing garbage," he said.

Matthews said he hopes to begin picking up recycling in March. If the Langley-based business is successful, he said he can see hiring employees and getting a larger truck to do the work.

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