Since Sunday, Dave and Jill Campbell are officially absent.
While the former owners of Island Recycling may have wished for a quiet exit, the signs of their impending retirement could not be missed by longtime adored customers, many of whom have become valued friends over the years.
The 42-year-old recycling business, however, will live. DTG Enterprises, a company that has recycling facilities in the Seattle area, took over the contract with Island County — which runs through the end of 2025 — and will continue to operate Island Recycling.
The eclectic center for dropping off recyclables – as well as the occasional trash and unusual items – is a busy and iconic place for those who live in South Whidbey. Some come almost daily to sort through their belongings, or find treasures to decorate their homes. People have even been known to bring their guests from foreign countries to experience Island Recycling firsthand.
“If I’m proudest of anything, I’m proudest of the community this place brings,” Jill said. “It’s great, maybe some newcomers don’t like it so much, but we have people who come here every day and walk around like it’s a garden and they meet their neighbors.”
Dave founded Island Recycling in 1979, at a time when recycling was not the trendiest activity. He had previously recycled materials from his own garden and stepped forward when the county was looking for someone to take responsibility for recycling at a former landfill near Freeland.
He and Jill, who got involved in the business in 1990, didn’t expect the recycling center to grow the way it did.
“It’s kind of become this monster now that’s bigger than us, in terms of trying to meet the demand for transportation and transportation,” said Dave, who hauled a truckload of recyclables to the mainland. daily.
Over the years, they have seen the company evolve. The resale aspect of Island Recycling, which attracted “a lot of old people looking to fix their lawnmowers,” according to Dave, has become a draw for artists and metal fabricators looking for usable raw materials.
“I really don’t know of any other place that has so much spread out for retail and tries to get as much done in one place as we do,” Dave said.
The clientele has also expanded, with more and more people moving to Whidbey from cities during the pandemic.
The Campbells acknowledged that their meticulous sorting process might come as a surprise to city dwellers accustomed to throwing everything in a single trash can.
“It makes recycling a lot more meaningful if you have to think about what material goes where,” Dave said.
Some quirky items have made their way to Island Recycling over the years. On one occasion, Jill had just told her daughter that they couldn’t afford to buy her an American Girl doll when one showed up at Island Recycling. A man was looking to get rid of all the items his tenant had left behind, and one of those things turned out to be a perfectly intact Samantha doll.
Another time someone made “I saw Elvis at Island Recycling” bumper stickers as a joke.
“After that someone brought in a bust of Elvis,” Dave said. “So that was pretty cool.”
Running the business has not been without its challenges, including people trying to get rid of things that aren’t recyclable, like dead seagulls in shoeboxes.
“Markets are constantly on the move,” Jill said. “There were some really, really tough years for us. Even with county grants for low-value things, it was hard to get by.
In recent years, the couple have begun to think about retirement.
“We love this place. It’s bigger than us,” Jill said. “And with a new business, they’re going to get benefits that we’re really happy they’re getting, because we love our crew.”
Tom Vaughn, CEO of DTG Recycle, the core business of DTG Enterprises, said Island Recycling’s current staff would be retained and provide additional employee benefits such as health insurance, 401k, expense reimbursements tuition and free training for a commercial driver’s license which is required to drive trucks.
The transfer of operations took place on February 1. Vaughn said Island Recycling will immediately begin offering polystyrene recycling and mattress recycling. Along with DTG Recycle’s wide variety of plastic recycling, this makes it possible to incorporate certain materials into the company’s own apparel line, PlanetObsessed.
In their final days as owners of Island Recycling, Dave and Jill spent time saying goodbye to customers and collecting the majority of their sentimental and beloved decorations.
“All the Elvis have left the building,” Jill said. “I didn’t even know I liked Elvis, but he’s kind of a mascot.”
Loyal customers have been awarded coveted decorations that have been promised for years, such as a black velvet painting or an elephant sculpture.
“It’s a community place, and I hope it stays that way,” Jill said. “We love the community and it’s been a really fun time for us.”