Whistler's favourite thrift and recycling stores — The Re-Use-It and Re-Build-It Centres run by Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) — have become the resort's favourite way to keep waste out of landfills.
The Function Junction-based stores kept 668 metric tonnes of waste out of landfills in 2012, more than double the 332 tonnes kept out of landfills just two years earlier in 2010.
As well, executive director Lorna Van Straaten said 85 per cent of the WCSS's $1.2 million budget now comes from Re-Use-It Centre sales and other recycling programs. The store opened in 2000, selling everything from clothing to ski equipment to knickknacks to books to art — with all monies raised going into WCSS services and programs like the food bank, counselling, KidSport and Welcome Week.
This means between $700,000 and $750,000 per annum, she said.
"It really is the best business model I can think of," Van Straaten said. "Our strategic goal over the last three years was to get to that level of funding (85 per cent) and we reached that this last year. The additional programs have taken us there."
Those additional programs include bottle and can recycling, which is now earning $18,000 per year for WCSS, and small appliance re-sales, which keeps 10 metric tonnes of small working appliances out of the landfill.
Success has given WCSS a level of freedom from financial pressure that is all too rare in social services anywhere.
"The biggest thing this allows us is the ability to react to people. It gives us an agility, that's the best word to describe it. When a need is identified to us in the community it allows us to be able to react and create a program to meet that need, sometimes within weeks of identifying what that problem is," Van Straaten said.
"It allows an agility that other agencies don't have because they have to all go for the government grant or foundation funding. Certainly, we are unique in the fact that the self-funding gives us so much security. I don't have to worry about the withdrawal of funding, as long as the Re-Use-It Centre and the Re-Build-It Centre are up and running and doing their job this agency will be here to provide services and programs to people who need it in the community."
The Re-Build-It Centre, which sells furniture and household items such as kitchen cabinets, faucets and bathtubs, has been in operation for almost two years and has not yet broken even. The WCSS put $58,000 into supporting it in 2012, and Van Straaten said they expect it to break even in 2013.
And, she added, it must start generating income for the agency or it might be closed.
"We're in our last 16 months of trying to make the Re-Build-It Centre a profit contributor. This is its second year and it's on track to have a break-even year. We have to get this business to a point where it is contributing some revenue... we can't run a not-for-profit business because we need to be funding our programs and services. So this is our last kick at the can with it," Van Straaten said.
"We have a board agreement that we would try this for three years. It's going to break even this year, but unless the business starts to make some money in the coming year we'll be we closing the door."
But this is the only uncertainty in what, by anyone's standards, has been essential in removing the terrible pressure other social services agencies feel.
"I know of other agencies who wonder if they have to close the door from month to month, and it's really discouraging and stressful; it's terrible for the people relying on the programs," Van Straaten said.
"I don't think we had any expectations of how well the program would do. We were able to see that keeps growing, and that's what is shocking. You think you are at the highest level that you keep processing and it keeps growing."
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