GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a time when inflation is driving up the cost of groceries, people who “live, work and play” in Kent County have a new resource for free household supplies: the Kent County Department of Public Works’ Swap Shop.
“We figure that there’s thousands and thousands of dollars of reusable items that we’ll be able to place here each year for residents to be able to pick up,” DPW Director Darwin Baas told News 8 earlier this month.
FREE FINDS INSIDE THE SWAP SHOP
The Swap Shop is connected to the county’s newest SafeChem facility at 1045 Wealthy St. SW, across from the Kent County Recycling and Education Center. Inside, visitors will find a variety of products the DPW’s resource recovery specialists have examined and approved for reuse, from WD-40, antifreeze, ice melt and car care products to bug sprays, weed killers and household cleaners including laundry detergent.
With Kent County’s growing population, Baas doesn’t expect to have a tough time stocking the shelves of the Swap Shop. He estimates about 5,000 households take advantage of the county’s five SafeChem drop-off sites each year, providing plenty of reusable products for the Swap Shop.
“So much of this is good and reusable material, but we’ve not had a good way to make it available to the community. Our goal is to take these supplies that otherwise would be disposed of and make them available to residents, especially when they’re making a decision about, ‘Do I buy groceries or do I need a quart of oil for my car?’ Whatever the situation is, this site is going to be open three days a week… where people can come in and shop free,” Baas said.
The Kent County DPW fashioned its Swap Shop using insight from similar successful initiatives in Kalamazoo County and nationwide.
Baas expects visits to the program’s popularity to grow as word gets out about the free program that’s open to everyone in Kent County, regardless of income.
“I think what we’re going to find (is) it’s going to be really hard to keep things in here once people find out about it. They’re going to go, ‘Oh, hey, I’m going to stop here first before I go buy something new because it’s here and it’s available and it can be reused. Why not do that first?’” Baas said.
The only requirement for shoppers is to sign an agreement promising to return any of the unused product.
FREE CLEANOUT: HOW SAFECHEM WORKS
For those looking to clean out your closets, Grand Rapids’ new SafeChem facility is ready. Three days a week, people pull into the covered drop-off area and pop open their trunk for DPW employees to take their unwanted toxic and dangerous items for free. The SafeChem facility accepts mercury thermometers, aerosol cans, cleaning chemicals, fuel, oil, paints and rechargeable batteries from cars, ATVs, laptops and power tools, among other items.
“Really anything that you really shouldn’t dump down the drain, put in the trash or a dump out in your backyard,” Baas said. “This program is designed to take those things safely.”
Anything that doesn’t make the cut for the Swap Shop is handed over to a hazardous waste materials contractor who safely converts and disposes of it.
“If it’s flammable, they might make fuels, blend it. If it’s a cleaner that maybe that has a pH acid or base, they’ll neutralize that, and then it can be treated. Certain things like pesticides need to be incinerated,” Baas explained.
Kent County runs four other SafeChem drop-off sites in Rockford, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Township.
The new Grand Rapids building is designed to manage household hazardous waste with a special coating on floor, intrinsically safe lighting and self-contained grates that can be pulled out and cleaned. The Grand Rapids SafeChem facility is also equipped with spill kits, an eye wash station, shower and first aid kits in case any chemicals make it past the safety glasses, safety suits and gloves staff wear.
Baas says the new facility in Grand Rapids allows the DPW to take the next step in reimagining the way we handle waste.
“We’re just excited to be here. We’re not a new neighbor to the Wealthy Street campus here, but this is new in terms of our services that we offer here. And particularly the Swap Shop, I think I’m most excited about that because it’s something that we’ve been thinking about and wanting to do for a lot of years, we just didn’t have the right path to be able to do it. So now that we’ve got the building, we have the staffing, we have this room available, we expect it to be a busy, busy place,” he said.
The Swap Shop will be open at the same times as the Grand Rapids SafeChem facility. Those hours are Monday, 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday, 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; Thursday, 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and every second Saturday of the month, from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. For more information, visit the Kent County DPW website, http://www.reimaginetrash.org/safehomes/safechem/.