It was a breezy Tuesday on May 21, as China Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton waited in the Swap Shop for a group of students from the University of Maine to stop in for an interview. The students are learning how to properly conduct interviews as methods of collecting data for research. Their class, Digital Ethnography Field School’s Exploring and Documenting Maine’s Culture of Reuse, is part of the ResourcefulME project headed up by Cynthia Isenhour, assistant professor with the Department of Anthropology and the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine and Andrew Crawley, assistant professor. According to their website, “ResourcefulME is a three year research project designed to explore the social, environmental and economic value of Maine’s vibrant reuse economy.“
The China Transfer Station originally started putting aside items that still had a second life after coming to the dump for disposal. As the collection grew, the transfer station had to construct a separate building to house all of the repurposed valuables. “The Swap Shop” has become very popular. China residents drop off anything that can be reused and “shoppers” give these items a new life. “Some people will pull up to the swap shop as soon as they see items being dropped off,” said Irene Belanger, selectman from China and Recycling Coordinator for the Transfer Station.
The students were on a day tour of resources in our local area. Prior to coming to the Transfer Station, they visited the Department of Environmental Protection and Uncle Henry’s to conduct interviews about how these entities are helping to impact the reuse culture in our Maine communities.
The students came prepared with their lists of questions, photography releases, and tape recorders. Students Cameron and Carrie spearheaded the interview with Tim Grotton, Irene Belanger, and Transfer Station Assistant Keith Rhoades. When asked, “Have you ever seen items returned?” Rhoades stated, “I once saw a buzz saw taken and returned over three times.” Belanger commented on the resale value of some items, while Grotton spoke of the wide variety of things that come in. The class held the interview in the actual Swap Shop building. While there, patrons came into the building to shop the entire time, not deterred by the size of the crowd in the structure.
The students were able to learn a lot during the interview. For example, not only is this operation an enjoyable pastime for the China residences, it is also saving thousands of dollars in items not having to be processed with the rest of the rubbish at the station. Recently, Ashley Farmington, of the China Transfer Station helped write and apply for a grant to help track the beneficial qualities of the swap shop. If approved, the results of the studies can assist other area transfer stations to set up their own swap shops, saving even more debris from landfills. Grotton agreed to share any data collected with ResourcefulME and the students.
The Swap Shop is effectively a Maine community doing what they do best – helping each other, the environment and the economy. After all, one man’s junk truly is another man’s treasure. Not only are we all benefiting from that concept, but now students are learning from it, too.
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