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By Mark Peterson

Today was a good day. Writers block had been plaguing me, and the old noodle in my skull was having a hard time connecting synapses and forming thoughts for a quality blog entry. My newsletter due date was fast approaching and I still hadn’t settled on something to write about. Enter Staci May of Earl’s Bike Shop, who came to the rescue.

First and foremost, Staci is a good human (her husband Craig is pretty cool too), and I always enjoy catching up with her. We had a Toward Zero Waste tune-up on the calendar, and I was looking forward to seeing how I could help Earl’s Bike Shop with some of their recent concerns. Like many businesses, they are finding it more difficult to find ways to recycle all of their items. They have worked really hard at being a solid Toward Zero Waste business and don’t want to backslide.

Over the years I have given Earl’s pointers and answered questions for them for some of the basic stuff. I figured when I showed up they’d be doing what we’d suggested, and I’d help them figure out ‘what things don’t go there’ and ‘this goes here’ and so on. I should have known better than to sell Staci and Craig short! I was blown away when I learned the lengths they have gone to reduce waste since we’d last connected.

Earl’s has gone above and beyond, and they are well past the basics of recycling of paper and aluminum cans. I found it funny when I asked Staci about what they are doing, and when she finished listing off all the great thing they do, she paused for a second and remarked, “Oh, and we sell used bikes.” I guess when you start a business with one of the most basic tenants of Toward Zero Waste–REUSE–as a core element of your business, it is easy to forget that repairing and reselling what has already been manufactured is a huge way to reduce waste.

It doesn’t stop there though. Earl’s has endeavored to go paperless–they specifically

Craig Earl and Staci May

set up a point of sale system so they can email receipts and keep customer purchase histories on file. Each workstation has a laptop where their bike techs can view service orders so they don’t have to write on paper service tickets. They hand write their price tags on recycled paper so they don’t have to throw out label backings, and can use the price tags again and again. The tags are affixed to the products with bubble ties rather than single use zip ties. They recycle all metal, aluminum, and glass. And something that is super important: they dispose of all their hazardous waste (like brake fluid and cleaning solvents) at the local Whatcom County Toxics facility–a cost they bear, yet are remiss to pass on to customers.

But, what I found was the most impressive is they do with their old tires and tubes. Earl’s had been searching for an alternative to landfilling them since it just didn’t feel right. What they discovered is a company in Skagit County that will take old tires, grind them, put that chopped rubber in forms, and pour concrete around it to make ecology blocks. The blocks themselves are pretty cool, too, because they use less concrete, are lighter, and the rubber provides an insulation value so they can be used in the construction of buildings. You may be asking what’s so impressive about this; well here is the kicker. When the pile of tires gets too big, Staci & Craig load it up in their van and shuttle the rubber down to the Skagit facility and PAY so it can be repurposed rather than go to the landfill.

When I asked Staci why they do this rather than throw it away for what is essentially pennies (since their building owner pays for the garbage service), she was pretty matter of fact. “It is the right thing to do. Sure it cost us money and recycling might be a bit harder now, but we’re committed to do the best we can and taking the easy way out by throwing all this in the trash isn’t doing our best.”

I couldn’t agree more–and it is so heartening to see a small local business so committed to sustainability. Thank you to Staci and Craig for filling my bucket with positive Toward Zero Waste energy, and reminding me that it’s worth it to fight the good fight! Yes, today was a good day.

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