WasteWise Methow: A Methow Valley Business that Keeps Picking It Up
Original interview by Marcy Stamper
photography by Sol Gutierrez
brought to you by the Twisp Chamber of Commerce
Team WasteWise. Photo by Sol Gutierrez.
Casey Bouchard’s first job at age eight was weighing aluminum cans in the recycling center run by his parents at their Coors beer distributorship. That gig was more about teaching responsibility than an intentional commitment to recycling or the environment. But it planted the seed that grew into a passion for stewardship that would take root and blossom in the fertile soil of the Methow Valley community.
“I’m a typical Gen Xer. I’ve always known recycling is good – it’s what you do – but until 2009, I had no idea how interesting and complex the industry was,” said Bouchard, now a partner in WasteWise Methow, which provides waste collection and recycling services to 2,500 residential and commercial customers throughout the Methow Valley.
Co-Owner Casey Bouchard.
Raised in a family business, Bouchard always wanted to start something of his own. When he came to the Methow in 2005, he was surprised to find that there was no recycling collection service – dedicated recyclers self-hauled their material to Methow Recycles in Twisp.
“The opportunity to start a recycling pickup service was obvious, but it was Diane Duck who forced me into it,” Bouchard said with a chuckle. “She was my first friend in the valley and we became very close in the last few years of her life. One day I was helping her pull weeds and talking about my idea for commercial recycling when she grabbed my arm with one hand and pointed at me with the other and said ‘go do it!’ Anyone who knew Diane will understand the power of that moment. She was fiercely passionate and had a hard edge, but twinkling eyes and a heart of gold. I took her instruction that day as a direct order,” Bouchard said as he remembered how he got into the recycling business.
“In 2008, Diane connected me with an equally passionate person who knew everything there was to know about recycling in the Methow: Betsy Cushman,” Bouchard recalled, referring to the then-Executive Director of Methow Recycles. “Betsy and I hit it off, and she’s been a friend and mentor ever since.” After a year of research and consistent encouragement from Cushman, Bouchard launched Recycling Roundup in 2009 and began collecting recyclables from Methow businesses. It was decidedly home-grown – he made the rounds in a pickup truck or on his bicycle, towing a trailer loaded with material.
His first paying customer was The Duck Brand – “Thank you again, Diane!” Bouchard exclaimed, gesturing to the universe. Next came the Rocking Horse Bakery in Winthrop. That was a trade account; Bouchard got paid in coffee and pulled-pork sandwiches. (A couple years later, in a truly Methow-style twist of fate, Dave Swenson sold the Rocking Horse to The Mitchell Family and became Bouchard’s first employee. Twelve years later, in similar Methow-style, the Westerfields – current owners of the Rocking Horse – maintain the tradition of trading sandwiches and coffee for weekly recycling service.)
From the beginning, Recycling Roundup focused exclusively on the recycling needs of valley businesses. As a result, Bouchard’s business grew. “At one point in that first or second year, we doubled in a three-month period. I barely turned around and we doubled again three months later,” Bouchard recalled. “Those were really challenging years, but I learned a lot. There was endless opportunity for innovation. For example, I remember having beers with Betsy one afternoon. We’d been wrestling for months with the question of how to capture recycling from valley visitors. Betsy remembered an idea she heard at a recent recycling industry conference, and a couple beers later we came up with the concept for BlueBags.” BlueBags are still sold and collected at retail locations throughout the valley and offer visitors and residents alike a simple option to recycle small quantities of mixed materials.
On a similar afternoon in 2010, the spirit of Methow innovation struck again when Bouchard was visiting Julie Muyllaert at her business, Methow Cycle & Sport. Julie shared the idea of inviting local businesses to sponsor public recycling bins. As a result, projects were formed with the Town Councils, Methow Recycles, Methow Resource Recovery, Methow Arts Alliance, and 15 local businesses to create the first set of street side recycling bins in Winthrop and Twisp. The bins were created by local artists taking inspiration from the mission of each business sponsor.
“That’s been my favorite project so far,” Bouchard said, “working into the wee hours of the morning with Pinkerton [that’s Brad Pinkerton – the late, great Winthrop sign painter] to paint art on old wine barrels and meet Winthrop’s Westernization rules.” Mark Monteverde re-purposed the Lost River wine barrels for Winthrop, and Barry Stromberger fabricated bins for Twisp out of old 55 gallon drums donated by Scott and Christie Alexander of Cascade Foam and Coatings. “There was such a sense of enthusiasm and collaboration among everyone involved,” said Bouchard, “It gave me the sense that anything was possible in this community.”
As Bouchard’s commercial recycling business grew, homeowners began contacting Recycling Roundup about residential service. But – pardon the quick technical talk – Washington State’s regulated permit system separates residential and commercial recycling, and Methow Valley Sanitation Service, the long-time garbage company in the valley, held the exclusive permit for residential services. In short: something significant would have to shift in order for the Methow to get residential curbside recycling.
By 2012, Bouchard had upgraded to a larger pickup truck – Deb Thorlakson’s trusty horse-hauler, Green – a larger cargo trailer, and was working 7 days a week with help from partner Joseph Weaver and close friend Jeff Kovitz just to keep up with commercial demand. That year, Don Davidson, owner of Methow Valley Sanitation Service, expressed an interest in selling. Bouchard teamed up with Chad Patterson and Mickey Smith to acquire the business, which came with large compactor trucks and the permit to offer residential services. Bouchard, Patterson and Smith combined Methow Valley Sanitation Service and Recycling Roundup to create WasteWise Methow and began offering full-service waste and recycling collection services in 2013.
The WasteWise partners bring a broad range of experience to the Twisp-based company. In addition to his early career weighing beer cans, Bouchard has a background in management, marketing and customer service. Patterson, a fourth generation Methow local, brings expertise in business planning, logistics and equipment. Smith has a background in strategic planning and finance. “Chad can figure out absolutely anything – mechanics, math, routes, you name it – he has common sense and a lot of vision,” Bouchard said, “and Mickey is our Oracle: he’s been involved in all sorts of different businesses for over 50 years. We have an excellent partnership and I wouldn’t do this with anyone else.”
WasteWise’s first step was to invest in an automated garbage truck, which allows an operator to remain inside the cab and control a joystick to empty trash cans (instead of needing a helper to hop on and off the back of the truck and manually tip cans). That change made the job a lot safer and more efficient. “It also enabled us to re-purpose the old garbage trucks and put them to work on our recycling route,” Bouchard said. Since the trucks compact material, WasteWise was able to scale up recycling services. “With ‘Old Red’, ‘Big White’ and ‘New Blue’ (the affectionate names of the original WasteWise fleet) we could collect six times the material in half the time,” Bouchard said. “And we were doing it in a way that was much safer for the crew.”
A key part of this increased productivity was the ability to collect unsorted recyclables – and get ready for one last bit of technical talk! – that creates a commodity know in the industry as “Commingled Recycling,” or CMR. Working together with Cushman and Methow Recycles, WasteWise developed a model to collect and export CMR out of the valley. Here’s how it works:
1. Customers pay WasteWise a monthly fee to pick up their clean, unsorted recyclables curbside.
2. WasteWise delivers that CMR to Methow Recycles and pays them to bale and ship it to the Waste Management SMaRT center in Spokane. The SMaRT center is a highly mechanized plant, where a combination of technology and human effort is used to sort large volumes of regional recyclables into globally marketable commodities.
This marked a big shift in the recycling model of the Methow. For Methow Recycles it meant taking on a new commodity, CMR. “We didn’t know a lot about commingled recycling, but we saw it had the potential to make recycling easier for a lot more people,” said Cushman.
There’s proof that the model is working: WasteWise now has over 700 recycling customers and will handle 250 tons of recycling this year. That represents over half of the total material baled by Methow Recycles. “This is working because we live in a community that values recycling,” Bouchard said. While the Methow Valley makes up about 13% of Okanogan County’s population, it accounts for over 40% of the county’s recycling, according to data tracked by Methow Recycles.
Safety, Sustainability and the Future
WasteWise is continuing to innovate and evolve to become safer, provide new and better services and be more sustainable. “It’s an exciting challenge for me, and one that aligns with my personal values of stewardship for my community and the environment,” Bouchard said.
In 2021, WasteWise upgraded to Front Load collection equipment for commercial waste. Once again, this allowed the company to scale up to meet the ever-changing demand of the growing valley community. “It’s going to make our existing service even better, create opportunity for new services, and be safer for the team,” Bouchard said. “We are a small but mighty crew. Jeremiah, Skip, Thor and Brian work hard and take excellent care of our customers. They are family, and protecting their safety is our top priority.”
While Bouchard has always believed in recycling, he goes further to point out that recycling is just one thing we can do. “If you ever work a garbage route, you’ll come back changed forever,” he says. It’s the starkest-possible reminder of the importance of responsible consumption, resource conservation, reuse and overall waste reduction. “A waste company that’s not thinking like that won’t survive in the future. We have one planet to take care of and share with everyone.”