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Simple and Not So Simple Swaps

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Our volunteers share their best strategies for reducing single-use plastic

Okay, you’ve taken the Plastics Pledge and, according to our survey results, you’re doing a pretty darn good job of reducing single-use plastics and improving recycling. You’re working hard to adopt the four major Simple Swaps:

  • Swap out that single-use bottled water by bringing your own reusable water bottle
  • Swap out that plastic grocery bag by bringing your own grocery totes to the store
  • Swap out that plastic cutlery by bringing your own reusable cutlery when you eat on the go
  • Swap out that single-use coffee cup and plastic lid by bringing your own reusable coffee mug

Now, let’s think about taking the challenge a bit farther. Let’s swap out some of the single-use plastic in our lives that are a little less obvious.

First, identify a couple single-use plastic items you tend to use a lot. Do you eat a lot of single-serving yogurt? Do you buy single-serving chips for school lunches? How about those plastic produce bags at the grocery store? Pick the thing that you use most and figure out how to swap it out for a non-plastic or reusable option.

We asked our many volunteers who you’ve met around the County hosting our interpretive display to tell us what single-use plastic items they use and what they do to reduce their use. Some of their ideas might just fit your lifestyle, too!

Bulk up on bulk foods! The most frequent answer to the question of what single-use plastic you use the most is, as predicted, food packaging. How to avoid all those tubs and plastic jars? Lots of our volunteers buy in bulk. Dale buys spices, nuts, and beans in bulk. Linda buys her tea in bulk. Ellen buys nut butters in bulk. And she buys blocks of parmesan cheese and grates it herself. And Mae buys dried milk instead of milk in plastic containers.

And don’t forget those cleaning supplies and soaps. Maureen buys those in bulk, too! And in the ‘every bit counts department,’ Joan considers dental floss a triumph of packaging over product, so she buys her dental floss in big dispensers.

And bring your own containers. Those plastic produce bags are easily swapped out for mesh bags available for purchase. Craig brings his own cotton bags for bulk items, too. Some stores allow and even reward you for bringing your own containers to buy their bulk products. Linda reports that the Vinegar and Oil store gives you credit for reusing glass bottles.

Speaking of yogurt, Betty has eliminated those single-serving tubs by making her own yogurt in her Instant-pot. Some of our other volunteers have been resurrecting their latent kitchen talents, too. Dale makes her own guacamole and salsa. Maureen and Betty make their own hummus (recipe below). Ellen makes her own salad dressing. Heidi makes her own crackers and granola. And Susan bakes her own bread. And how about using real lemons and limes instead of those little plastic fruit replicas?

And whatever happened to glass? If you must buy packaged goods, look for glass containers, or paper packaged products to avoid plastics. Some products that are still readily available in glass or paper are salad dressing, pasta sauce, honey, wine (thank goodness), bar soap, vinegars, and soy sauce.

But its summertime and what about all those plastic plant pots? They are NOT RECYCLABLE as you know, so don’t put them in your recycling bins. Ruth reports that Sanitary Service Center in Bellingham does take them to recycle. But you have to drop them off there. If you can’t reuse them yourself, Jan reports that Master Gardeners and Native Plant Society have a bin in the parking lot of the Mount Vernon Extension Center for large size, square pots. You can avoid them entirely by buying plants bare root or in plugs. Joe’s Garden in Bellingham sells some plugs of vegetables. And, of course, you can start your plants from seeds yourself.

That’s not all! Do you have some great ideas to help us all reduce our use of single-use plastic? We’d love to hear them. Comment below or send us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And look for us at local Farmers Markets this summer. Stop by to say hi and share your simple swap ideas!

 

Easy Homemade Hummus

Got 10 minutes?  Get out that food processor hiding in the cabinet. This recipe can be adapted to your own tastes by adding more/less of some ingredients and topping with your favorite additions such as roasted garlic, pine nuts, roasted peppers, or whatever suits your fancy. Enjoy and pat yourself on the back for not buying that plastic container in the store.

2 to 4 garlic cloves to taste

¼ cup water; additional to thin at end to taste

¾ cup tahini

¼ cup fresh lemon juice, ~ 1 large lemon or 2 small

1 teaspoon salt (substitute garlic salt if you love garlic)

¼ cup ground cumin

15.5 ounce or ~1¾ cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Add garlic cloves to food processor and pulse until minced. Add ¼ cup water, tahini, lemon juice, salt, and cumin.  Puree for about one minute until texture becomes light and smooth (pourable, not thick and pasty). Add chickpeas and puree three minutes until very smooth. You can add more water by the tablespoon to thin the consistency as you like.  Store in refrigerator in sealed container for one week.

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The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches, Skagit County Solid Waste, and the Washington Department of Ecology. We are working to educate Skagit County residents on the issues of plastic waste in the environment and involve them in taking action to avoid single-use plastics and recycle plastic right.

 

The Friends of Skagit Beaches Plastics Project is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division.

The Problem with Plastics

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Its kind of a love/hate relationship we have with plastics

Plastic is an amazing thing. Invented in 1907 and perfected during the first half of the 20th century, plastic hit the market in full force in the post WWII era. The photo above from a 1950s Life Magazine article touted the advent of “Throw-Away” living and promised how it would free us from the burden of household chores. Plastic is durable, cheap, stain resistant, and light. We use it in so many ways, from airplanes to eyeglasses. Its durability is one of plastic’s attractions, but it also causes some serious problems related to disposal. That “Throw-Away” lifestyle has come at a significant cost to the environment and health.

By the Numbers. It is said that every piece of plastic ever made still exists on the planet today. An estimated 6,300 million metric tonnes, or 90.5% of all plastic waste ever manufactured, has never been recycled. Americans only recycle about 9% of the plastics used. Whereas in Europe, the plastic recycling rate is 30%. This unrecycled plastic has ended up in landfills, incinerators, or floating free and polluting the environment. All that plastic will last long after its useful life has ended. It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose in a landfill.

More numbers, because we love them. And it takes a lot of energy to make all the plastic we use. In the US plastic manufacturing consumes 12 million barrels of oil each year in the production of 30 billion plastic bags. Between 8-10% of the nation’s oil supply is used during the manufacturing process of plastics and it is predicted that plastics production will consume 20% of the world’s oil production by the year 2050. Nearly half of the 400 million tons of plastic produced worldwide each year is destined for single use items (e.g., straws, cups, bottles, bags) that have an average useful life of only 10-15 minutes before they become part of the waste stream. For example, single use plastic bags like those from the grocery store are only used for an average of 12 minutes!

Plastic in the oceans. 8 million metric tons of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year. 80% of the plastic waste entering the oceans is from land-based sources, washed into the ocean after it is washed into rivers and streams. Plastic released at sea from fishing, shipping, and other maritime activities accounts for only 20% of the plastic entering the ocean.

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Animals get entangled in ocean plastics and they ingest it along with the toxics that adsorb to it. It has been estimated that each year plastic waste is killing one million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, large numbers of sea turtles and sharks, and countless fish. Nearly half of the world’s most important fish stocks for human consumption have been reported to contain plastic.

Microplastics, tiny fragments causing big problems. Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic that are less than 5 mm in length. Some microplastics, like microbeads, are purposely manufactured while other microplastics are the result of the degradation of larger plastic debris. Ocean plastics eventually break down into microplastics, which have been found literally everywhere in the ocean where they have been looked for. On some beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii, as much as 15 percent of the sand is actually grains of microplastic. When consumed by marine organisms these microscopic pieces of plastic can cause physical damage and release toxins. Plastics have a natural affinity for toxicants and acts as a toxic conveyor belt, sponging up pollutants transferring it to everything that eats it.

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Plastics on our plates. Not only are marine organisms being directly impacted, humans may be impacted by consuming contaminated fish and shellfish. Research on the impacts of human consumption of microplastics through the food chain is growing but little is known about the impact on human health. Recent research conducted in the Salish Sea has shown that small plastics are widespread along shorelines and that filter feeding organisms like mussels, clams, and oysters are contaminated by plastics they have ingested from the surrounding waters.

What to do, what to do? Reduce your use of plastics, especially single use plastics! Adopt some “simple swaps” to reduce single use plastics in your life. Carry your own water bottle instead of using single-use plastic water bottles. Bring reusable shopping bags instead of using plastic grocery bags. Bring your own cutlery when you are eating away from home instead of relying on plastic cutlery. Use your reusable coffee cup instead of buying a single use cup. These simple habits can have a big impact when included in our daily routine. Plastics are all around us in our daily lives, so it can seem like a daunting task to reduce plastics in our lives. Just think of it as a journey to transition away from a “Throw Away” lifestyle to one that is better for our environment and health.

Sources:

Addressing Land-based Pollution
https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/oceans-seas/what-we-do/addressing-land-based-pollution

Fact Sheet: Single Use Plastics
https://www.earthday.org/2018/03/29/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/

Geyer, R., Jambeck, J.R., and Lavender Law, K. 2017. Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances 19 Jul 2017. Vol. 3, no. 7, e1700782. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782 https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/advances/3/7/e1700782.full.pdf

Guess What’s Showing Up In Our Shellfish? One Word: Plastics
https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/09/19/551261222/guess-whats-showing-up-in-our-shellfish-one-word-plastics

The Impact of Microplastics on Food Safety: the Case of Fishery and Aquaculture Products
http://www.fao.org/in-action/globefish/fishery-information/resource-detail/en/c/1046435/

Microplastics in Fisheries and Aquaculture
http://www.fao.org/3/a-i7677e.pdf

The Ocean Conference-Factsheet: Marine Pollution
https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/Ocean_Factsheet_Pollution.pdf

Planet or Plastic
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/planetorplastic/

Plastic Bag Consumption Facts
https://conservingnow.com/plastic-bag-consumption-facts/

UNEP. 2018. Single-use plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability. https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf?isAllowed=y&sequence=1

What are Microplastics
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html

1bag at a time
https://1bagatatime.com/learn/plastic-bags-petroleum/

 

The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches, Skagit County Solid Waste, and the Washington Department of Ecology. We are working to educate Skagit County residents on the issues of plastic waste in the environment and involve them in taking action to avoid single-use plastics and recycle plastic right.

The Friends of Skagit Beaches Plastics Project is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division.

Trail Tales: Repair and Clean Up

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A helping hand with our volunteers

erica pickett and parks rec helperIn 2013, Friends of Skagit Beaches’ Trail Tales project worked with the City of Anacortes Parks & Recreation Department to install the first group of interpretive signs along the Tommy Thompson Trail between 34th Street and March Point. Over the years, several signs were vandalized and other damaged by seagulls dropping shells along the causeway and trestle.

Last year, Project Lead Betty Carteret received funds from the 2018 Anacortes Lodging Tax fund to replace several signs with the most damage. Working with the sign manufacturer, IZone Imaging, it was determined that this group of signs had a manufacturing defect that was contributing to early deterioration. IZone offered to replace all the signs in that group at no cost under warranty. Friends didn’t have to spend a dime to get 15 new signs to replace the old signs along the trail.

We really appreciate the outstanding customer service offered by IZone Imaging

On March 8th with support from Anacortes Parks & Recreation staff, a group of 8 volunteers removed the old signs, cleaned the aluminum support frames, and installed 15 new signs. Thank you to all who helped get the job done!

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The interpretive signs tell the storying of the history of Anacortes’ working waterfront; the ecology of the shoreline and watershed; activities that led to shoreline pollution; and the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup project that has restored the shoreline along Fidalgo Bay. The signs are popular stopping points along the trail and are visited by many residents, tourists, and visitors staying at the Fidalgo Bay Resort. You can pick up a map brochure guiding you to see the interpretive signs at the Anacortes Visitors Center, Cap Sante Marina Office, or the Anacortes Library.

Learn more about our Trail Tales interpretive signs here 

You can attend an update on the Baywide Cleanup project (the Custom Plywood Mill site) on March 25th @ 11 am at the Anacortes Library.

With the weather improving and Spring on its way, grab your trail map and head out for a Journey of Discovery along the Tommy Thompson trail. If you’d like more information about the interpretive trail, you can contact Betty Carteret at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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The Dangers of Wishcycling

plastics project march blog post

End recycling contamination in Skagit County!


The Skagit Plastic Reduction & Recycling Coalition is determined to help Skagitonians reduce reliance on single-use plastics AND recycle plastic correctly. That last bit is important for a lot of reasons.

I’m an environmentalist. I recycle!” Ever since the first Earth Day in 1970, recycling in America has grown to represent the starting point for environmental stewardship. If you care about our planet, you recycle. But sometimes we want so badly to ensure all the plastics we use gets recycled that we put things into our recycling bins that end up making the whole lot unrecyclable.

Wishcycling. Have you ever wondered if a particular kind of plastic packaging is recyclable and just put it in the bin, assuming either it would be recycled or it would get ‘sorted’ out? That’s wishcycling and it causes contamination of the recycling waste stream. And no one wants contamination of the recycling waste stream! Recycling contamination is a significant problem, resulting in loads of recyclable plastics ending up in landfills. Unfortunately, this happens a lot because many of us put items that are not recyclable in the bins, or we fail to rinse recyclable plastics. In other words, we have become wishful, but kind of lazy, at the same time. Ouch.

Plastics recycling contamination. The plastics recycling process generally includes recyclables being sorted, bundled, and transferred to a recycler to undergo the process of breaking the material down so it can be made into new products. But if those shipments of recyclables contain a lot of material that is not recyclable, then the process of recycling is made much harder or even not feasible, resulting in the whole lot being disposed of rather than recycled. Recycling contamination has become such a big problem that China will no long accept plastics and other materials for recycling from the US and other countries around the world. China placed stringent requirements for levels of contamination that are significantly lower than what we currently see in the US plastic recycling stream.

It’s time for a recycling reboot.

What’s recyclable? Good question with a more complex answer than you would think. Plastic recycling is dependent on two things: the recyclability of the plastic item and the market for recyclable plastics. Recently, the market for recyclable plastics has changed dramatically because of China’s decision to stop taking recyclable plastics from the United States due to excessive contamination of the recycling waste stream.

So, what’s recyclable? In Skagit County, you have two options for recycling plastics: you have curbside recycling (generally provided by Waste Management) with a single recycling bin where you put all recyclables (plastics, glass, metal, and paper – aka comingled recycling) or you take your recyclables to the Skagit County transfer station, managed by Skagit County Solid Waste Division, where there are separate bins for different types of recyclables, including plastics.

Currently, in Skagit County:
Curbside recycling of plastics accepts clean bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs.
Transfer station plastic recycling accepts clean bottles and jugs, but not jars or tubs.

Just remember the SHAPE of the container is what’s important, not the number in the triangle. And rinse containers to remove food residue (they don’t have to be sparkling…just rinsed). Also, remove lids and never put your recyclables in plastic bags as both items can become stuck in the machinery at the recycling plant causing costly downtime.

Don’t even THINK about putting any other plastics in your recycling bins. If in doubt, throw it out. We know it’s painful, but if you aren’t sure a plastic item is recyclable, then do not put it in your recycling bin. Doing so could contaminate the recycling waste stream. It’s time for all of us to reboot our recycling habits and recycle only accepted materials, so we don’t contaminate the recycling stream and send valuable recyclables to the landfill.
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Download a flyer about the most common recycling contaminants to keep out of your bins at https://recycleoftenrecycleright.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Most-Common-Contaminants-Poster.pdf.

More details and current information can be found at the Waste Management website at http://wmnorthwest.com/skagitcounty/recycling.html.

If you take your plastic recycling to the transfer station, you can download a copy of their guidelines at https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PublicWorksSolidWaste/main.htm.

 

Refuse Single-Use Plastic in 2019!

2019 in sand

Resolve to Refuse Single-Use Plastic in 2019!

Okay, we know that New Year’s Resolutions can be tricky. But you’ve already resolved to reduce your plastic waste by taking the Plastic Waste Reduction Pledge in 2018. Remember? So what better time to double-down on your efforts than the beginning of a New Year?

Let’s start with four really easy steps. You’re probably already taking them some of the time. Let’s resolve to take these steps EVERY DAY of 2019.

  1. Use reusable shopping bags. Plastic bags are ubiquitous on beaches and in the oceans. They are ingested by whales and turtles and entangle birds and other wildlife. They are the second deadliest ocean trash to animals. And they are so easy to refuse to use. Just throw a reusable shopping bag and some nifty mesh produce bags in your purse, backpack, or car (wherever would be convenient), and take them with you to use when you shop.  
  2. Refuse to use plastic straws. Plastic straws are everywhere. Over 9 million straws have been picked up off of beaches during International Coastal Cleanups. That has motivated the Ocean Conservancy’s #SkiptheStraw campaign. You can refuse plastic straws by… refusing them. Tell your waiter or that friendly counter person that you don’t want a straw in your drink. If you really love straws or need them for medical reasons, buy some paper straws or one of the reusable varieties that are currently flooding the marketplace and bring them with you when you’re out and about.
  3. Bring your own water bottle. Yes, stay hydrated, but not with water bottled in plastic. Americans purchase over half a billion bottles of water every week even though we have some of the best tap water in the world. And bottle caps are the fifth deadliest trash for ocean animals because they are so easily ingested. Save some money and save the ocean from plastic pollution by bringing your own water bottle. Nothing fancy needed. Make it a habit to have one everywhere you go.
  4. Bring your own coffee cup. We wish we could say it ain’t so, but those paper cups that hold your to-go coffee are lined with plastic. They are not recyclable and let’s not forget the very obviously plastic lids that cover them. Do the ocean a favor and bring your own coffee cup instead. Again, nothing fancy needed, just a simple ceramic one from your cupboard will do the trick. Make it a habit and it will become a habit!

Take our Plastic Pledge, mail it in, and we'll contact you about picking up your reward - a free reusable shopping and produce bag.

Have a lovely new year and thank you for doing your part to reduce plastic on our shorelines and in the oceans in 2019.

Source: Wilcox, C., Mallos, N.J., Leonard, G.H., Rodriguez, A., Denise, B., 2016. Using expert elicitation to estimate the impacts of plastic pollution on marine wildlife. Mar. Policy 65, 107–114. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2015.10.014 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X15002985

The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches, Skagit County Solid Waste, and the Washington Department of Ecology. We are working to educate Skagit County residents on the issues of plastic waste in the environment and involve them in taking action to avoid single-use plastics and recycle plastic right.

The Friends of Skagit Beaches Plastics Project is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division.

Article submitted by Joan Drinkwin, Natural Resources Consultants, Inc.