RECYCLING: A Smart Exchange

Oregon is on the right trail when it comes to recycling manufacturing leftovers, surplus equipment and obsolete feedstock.

To encourage reuse in the Pacific Northwest, a coalition of public and private entities in Oregon has created the NW Materialsmart, a doorway to several Internet-based materials exchanges.

Not a material exchange itself, Materialsmart is a website that allows companies to trade and list various items and provides local businesses access to regional and national materials.

Most Internet-based exchanges include links to other exchanges but are not comprehensive. For example, a small exchange often will direct visitors to a larger exchange but not to other small exchanges. The NW Materialsmart, however, includes larger exchanges, such as the Seattle-based Industrial Materials Exchange (IMEX), which serves the entire Northwest, and sites such as the Central Oregon Swap, which serves small business and individuals in the Bend, Ore., area.

“We know that many businesses in Oregon could use the existing exchange services but aren't aware of them,” says David Allaway, waste prevention specialist for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in Portland. “The problem isn't a lack of service, it's a lack of awareness.”

To that end, Materialsmart provides access to several exchange sites and includes background information about each link so that users can make informed decisions about which exchange service best suits their needs.

On the website, visitors are directed to a search engine, list of frequently asked questions and several success stories. Companies seeking to dispose of materials then can register their materials on an Internet database. People seeking resources can scroll through a list or do a simple search.

Businesses can also list their needs so that other companies can contact them. When a match is found, it's up to the companies to work out pricing and shipping details.

Materials exchanges are not charged for a link on Materialsmart's site, but they must meet certain criteria: Materials must be free, as opposed to companies that sell used goods. Additionally, a significant portion, if not all, of the exchange must be centered on transferring materials in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

“Our goal is to increase the reuse of materials,” Allaway says. “We know that when that happens, it's going to be an economic advantage for businesses. We're hoping to help Oregon businesses be more competitive.”

Led by the Oregon DEQ, Materialsmart primarily is funded by the city of Portland, Marion and Clackamas counties, and Metro, the regional government serving the greater Portland area. Other partners include the Association of Oregon Recyclers, Gresham, Ore.; League of Oregon Cities, Salem, Ore.; Portland Development Commission; Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, Salem, Ore.; and Oregon Refuse and Recycling Association, Salem.

“Local governments have put in about $2 for every dollar that we put [into funding Materialsmart],” Allaway says. “By working together in this way, we're able to accomplish a whole lot more collectively and do more outreach than we could ever have done if we tried to do it ourselves.”

To keep improving the site, the state plans to evaluate the program over time. Washington's King County also is monitoring the number of Oregon businesses that are using IMEX to list and trade resources. “That will help us get baseline data,” Allaway says.

Since the website went online in January, companies have been using the program. For instance, Epson Portland, a Portland-based manufacturer of ink jet cartridges, recently needed to offload some 55-gallon polypropylene storage barrels. Through IMEX, Epson avoided hundreds of dollars in disposal fees by giving 30 barrels to a business in Washington, which would have normally paid $800 to purchase the barrels.

Other examples include Portland-based Virtual Office Systems, which sells and repairs computer systems. The company used the Central Oregon SWAP site to provide packing foam squares to another local business that needed packing material. And Bend Outdoor Center, a river travel and gear company based in Bend, Ore., used the Central Oregon SWAP site to find a home for more than 600 pounds of bubble wrap.

The NW Materialsmart is just one part of Oregon's effort to reduce and prevent waste, Allaway says. Other state initiatives include home composting and household hazardous waste prevention programs and technical assistance concerning waste prevention geared toward local governments and businesses.

For more information about the NW Materialsmart, visit www.nwmaterial