Last Chance is first thought
Marina recycled goods operation gets calls from across the nation
By SILAS SPAETH
For the Salinas Californian
After becoming manager of the Last Chance Mercantile, Glen Evett was a little surprised by the calls from community waste facilities throughout the country asking for information about the Monterey Regional Waste Management District's successful recycling store.
In the early 1990s, the MRWMD decided to change from offering a monthly auction of reclaimed goods to hosting a permanent, 8,000-square-foot shop providing clothing, home and yard goods and yard materials such as mulch and decorative wood chips.
It attracted national attention as one of the first such retail outlets of salvaged goods at a landfill in the country.
"A while ago, a group from Delaware visited the store to learn more about its operation," Evett said. "I believe they then went home and opened up a similar facility."
The store does about $450,000 in actual sales volume annually, he said. Although the amount is impressive, Evett said it does not cover operation costs, which also include the adjoining Household Hazardous Waste program.
"We have a staff of nine people," Evett explained. "The rising cost of health insurance, plus general operating expenses, take a big chunk of the pie. We salvage about 1,200 tons of materials per year, including what people drop off and what our crew recovers from the trash."
Used lumber, doors, windows and other construction materials are among the store's best sellers. Furniture and clothing also move well, as do electronic goods and outdoor items like mulch.
Because of an increased awareness of the store's existence, donations now exceed what's gleaned from landfill drop-offs. If an item doesn't sell in the store, it's sent to a charitable organization or, if it is a lumber product, ground up for wood chips. The idea is to keep as much as possible from being sent to the landfill.
If an item has not sold quickly, the staff lowers the price and is more than willing to bargain with a customer.
"We like to think we have the lowest prices for a retail establishment in the area," he said.
With two professional compost operations on the landfill site, people who purchase compost at Last Chance Mercantile get a good product at a very good price. Sold by the bag or truck load, the composted soil sells well as do the colored wood chips and other garden materials.
Evett, a Salinas resident, has managed the Household Hazardous Waste/Last Chance Mercantile site since 1999.
He said his hazardous waste team receives 10,000 "turn-ins" a year from people who drop items off, generating 550,000 pounds of solid waste.
The top materials the unit handles include paint, motor oil, solvents and various yard chemicals and garden sprays.
"We are also beginning to take prescription and over-the-counter medications," Evett said. "Also, e-waste, fluorescent tubes and batteries are now part of the mix."
As of February, landfills can no longer accept household batteries. Eventually, communities will have sites for battery drop-off, but for now the recycling center is the only location that takes them. The best strategy is to collect used batteries at home and drop them off once or twice a year, he said.
"It's starting slowly, but people are aware of the program and they are dropping batteries off," Evett said. "The disposal of e-waste items has appreciably increased as well."
Except for television and computer monitors, there is no charge for dropping items off at the household hazardous waste disposal for those who live within the boundaries of the MRWMD site.