The Island Exchange, the much-loved book room located at the Salt Spring Recycle Depot on Rainbow Road, has seen some changes lately. As the Exchange’s volunteer coordinator (and yes I am a volunteer), I thought I’d try to clarify those changes.
First, it’s important to remember that the book exchange is now, and always has been, a volunteer-run service. In the early 1990s, two island women asked the Recycle Depot if they could locate a book exchange at the depot and were given space. Depot employees have never actually staffed the Exchange.
The Exchange, which offers magazines as well as books, has thrived thanks to three factors: a few dedicated volunteers, tolerant Recycle Depot staff and a cavernous paper recycling bin.
Boxes and boxes of books and magazines surplus to the Exchange’s small space have filled that big paper bin. When charities like thrift shops and the Giant Book Sale needed to dispose of books they couldn’t sell, they brought them to the Exchange, where volunteers would put what they could on the shelves and take the rest to the bin. The library also disposed of its culled books at the Exchange.
Many people happily stacked boxes of books and assorted junk in the book exchange, never questioning where the stuff went. Sometimes, people yelled at volunteers disposing of books, even if you had to make like Houdini to get into the room. Then the volunteers would hide, wishing folks could understand that the Exchange didn’t have magical powers to expand on command. Indeed, the majority of people were usually able to accept that many books had to end up in the paper recycling bin, justifying our culture’s deep-seated prohibition against destroying books by embracing our culture’s equally strong desire to recycle, if not reuse.
Materials like photo albums, old posters, puzzles, gift bags, toys and clothes were also left in the Exchange, perhaps part of a “feel good” recycling vibe. Surely, in this wonderful little room, someone would take the items, when thrift shops and charities wouldn’t. And sometimes, that did happen. But more often, such items went to the garbage, kindly paid for out of the limited budget of the Recycle Depot.
Enter B.C.’s new recycling program, introduced May 19, 2014, and called “Packaging and Printed Paper Extended Producer Responsibility.” Multi Materials BC is the new industry steward responsible for recycling residential packaging and printed paper. New recycling rules and funding formulas pursuant to this change are putting our Recycle Depot in jeopardy. Alongside it, the Island
Exchange is feeling the heat too. Bins of paper with books in them can no longer be shipped from the depot, while magazines are still allowed. And no, ripping the covers off books won’t make any difference. Long story short, that cavernous paper bin is no longer a place where unwanted island books can be recycled. Some off-island recyclers who accept books take them to a landfill. The Hartland Landfill facility allows the public to also drop off books in bins provided by Discover Books (a group which re-uses some books, but is selective and does not want textbooks, encyclopedias, etc.)
So if the Island Exchange is to continue as a place where at least some books are re-used, where islanders can get free books and magazines, and spend an enjoyable time when the rain is falling or they’re recycling, it must remain true to its original mandate — take a few books, leave a few books. It can no longer accept what won’t fit on the shelves.
Hence, the Exchange is now only open when a volunteer is on duty to accept books. But because people are notoriously slow to adapt to change, folks are still piling boxes of “stuff” outside the Exchange. Just last week, for instance, between volunteer shifts, we got two boxes full of torn and mouldy books, a block of wood, used Q-tips, stick-on tattoos and used scribblers. The Exchange’s small volunteer team simply can’t take on everyone’s castoffs. When two nice men saw the volunteer’s dismay over the boxes, one of them offered to take two bags to his garbage — thank-you to the captain of Salt Shaker! The other donated $10 for further garbage disposal — thanks to you too sir! We will not always be so fortunate.
Our volunteers are dedicated book people who make every effort to stock the Exchange with interesting books. A set of guidelines for accepting books is posted inside the door. Please don’t bring us your garbage, and although we love to get good books and popular magazines, be prepared to take books back home with you if we just can’t take them. The first question we ask is “Will someone want to read this?” You can ask yourself that same question.
A schedule of open times is posted on the Exchange door. Sometimes a volunteer can’t make it and with no one to fill in, you will be disappointed when you come to the wonderful little book room. Please try to understand.
Better yet, volunteer to do a shift — a couple of hours a week, or every two weeks, is all that we ask for. There is a sign-up sheet on the door. I will call you. Oh yeah. You can be sure of that, because the book exchange is an island institution and no one wants to see it close, which it surely will if we can’t get a handle on the “stuff.”
Coordinating the volunteers for the Island Exchange is one of the writer’s volunteer pursuits.