After the Free Store: Where Does It Go?


Special to The Echo

Megan Davis of the recycling crew found this robot sculpture in the recycling office and says it’s her favorite piece of all.

Warren Wilson College is very proud of its recycling program. Students and faculty work diligently to send landfills as little refuse as possible. Recycling crew manager Megan Davis shed some light on the difficulties and progress made by the program since she arrived one year ago.

The recycling crew are hard-working folks, but there are some issues presented that no amount of sweat equity can solve, according to Davis. One of the biggest problems being faced by the recycling crew is eco-plastics, including the single-use cups from Gladfelter. These, and other supposedly eco-friendly products are misleading, Davis said. 

Without specific equipment the crew doesn’t have the means to add the cups to their compost in small pieces, according to Davis. 

“So they sit in the pile looking the same,” she continued. 

Davis called  this misconception “Greenwashing”— the idea that those cups and other products are less harmful or more recyclable than ordinary plastic.

If one ever has some time, maybe after grabbing some books or a fridge magnet from the free store, stop by the recycling office. The place is covered with art and collages made by Recycling Crew over the years. They have some very interesting pieces, including Davis favorite, a robot sculpture made of wires and various other discarded items. 

When Davis joined Warren Wilson she had some immediate concerns. The school was donating a rather large amount of items, particularly textiles like clothes and bedding to Goodwill.

 “I’m still confused by this,” said Davis, who has concerns about Goodwill’s practices and opted to find alternative ways to dispose of Warren Wilson’s recyclables. 

The Free Store is one way Warren Wilson diverts from the dumpster. The recycling crew makes a selection of recovered items and they are made available to students and other community members. Normally, the Bryson move-out is a one-day event in which the Recycling Crew gathers various items left behind by students leaving campus in May. Inside Bryson, the community peruses the makeshift market, but COVID-19 has suspended that tradition. Picking up the slack are a small handful of local organizations, such as Asheville Metal Recycling and Homeward Bound.

Asheville Metal Recycling is operated by Cody Mathews and his brother. They took over in 2001 from their father, who started the company, and they haul away a considerable amount of Wilson’s discarded metal and appliances. Asheville Metals has accounts with organizations and facilities all over western North Carolina, though Warren Wilson is the only college they work with. 

Mathews says around 90% of the metals they bring in move on to a processing plant in Eastern North Carolina or East Tennessee.  The school can get some money for the metals as well, but in recent years the truck full of metal is barely enough to cover the cost of gas. Mathews said the price is rising, however. These metals, including steel and aluminum removed from mini fridges and microwaves, are shredded and moved on to a refinery where they are made into car frames, I-beams and various other applications, according to Mathews. The facility is in Buncombe county and employs around 17 people. 

“It’s the best program we’ve seen,” said Mathews about recycling at Warren Wilson. “They do a good job of separating steel from aluminum and you guys recycle it all, not many places do it so well.” 

As for the textiles left behind, Homeward Bound takes all the sheets and bedding when the year is over at Warren Wilson. This charity, dedicated to the cause of ending homelessness, has been working under the “Housing First” approach, which prioritizes permanent housing since 2006. When they move an individual or family into a home, they come furnished with used items, making use of the sheets and blankets given by Wilson. 

To find out more about Homeward Bound click here: