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Friends Notes

Keep up to date with news from Friends of Skagit Beaches

Stormwater Monitoring Season is Here!

Autumn 2022 starts our second two-year stormwater sampling campaign. This time with a twist: new citizen scientists in three more cities will be monitoring city stormwater outfalls in addition to continuing our work in Anacortes. Oak Harbor, Mukilteo, and Edmonds are now part of the expanded monitoring work that Friends of Skagit Beaches is leading in the North Sound. 

20221008-104425_1000226_1K-sm.jpgThis work is funded by a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundations’ Southern Resident Killer Whale Conservation Program for the purpose of improving habitat, food sources, and conducting research to support recovery of the Southern Resident Orca population within our region. The grant covers the costs for volunteer coordination, recruiting, training, equipping, and managing the data captured by our volunteers.

During the summer of 2022 Friends established a partnership with the Snohomish County Beach Watcher program and the Sound Waters Stewards on Whidbey Island to connect to eager citizen science volunteers in their programs.  We recruited, trained, and equipped volunteers in Oak Harbor, Mukilteo, and Edmonds, as well as new volunteers for Anacortes. All three groups of eager volunteers are ready to get down to the beach and sometimes even in the water (photo left) to sample and take monitoring measurements. 

This volunteer effort addresses a shortcoming in our federal Clean Water Act: no required periodic monitoring of stormwater outfall pipes. Local towns would have difficulty in financially supporting the manpower and equipment costs for this activity. That’s where Friends of Skagit Beaches and our citizen science volunteers come to the rescue.


We have also partnered with the WA Department of Ecology’s regional municipal stormwater permit manager for the area stretching from Everett north to the Canadian Border.  On a monthly basis the data captured by the volunteers is supplied to the town's stormwater manager and the state stormwater discharge permit manager. Between them they engage in the detective work to find the specific source for pollution discharges that our volunteers detect. We’ve had a number of successful resolutions of pollution sources found by monitoring Anacortes outfalls in the past two years  and expect to continue with this great track record. [Photo right: volunteer measured turbidity from silt being discharged into Fidalgo Bay from a large construction project.]

20210707_153354_1022140_1K-sm.jpgIn this new campaign, Friends added E. coli bacteria detection to the stormwater monitoring activity (photo left). E Coli is a bacterium that is indicative of the presence of fecal coliform in the water and is the standard way to detect it in water source monitoring. There is a possibility that perhaps 10% of our stormwater outfall pipes also discharge E. coli bacteria in concentration levels that harms marine life. Shellfish beds are common around our shorelines and can experience closures when levels are too high. High E. coli concentrations render the shellfish harmful to humans, birds, and animals.

Our volunteers follow the Department of Ecology guidelines for analysis. If an outfall pipe is found to consistently exceed a state chemical or bacteria threshold then local and state inspectors investigate for the source, triggered by our data. This action component of the project makes this monitoring work satisfying for volunteers when they see they’ve made a difference. They see the dynamic nature of man-made pollutants that are discharged into our marine waters.

Friends assembled a dedicated group to organize, recruit, and train these volunteers. Through the summer of 2022 this group visited all four cities and hosted training sessions for the volunteers on the use of the test equipment and the micro-biology processes.

Particular thanks goes to Sue Spadoni, Wayne Huseby, Chris Wood, Betty Carteret, Sherry Johnson, and Tim Gohrke. This project expansion was a heavy lift but the group succeeded in organizing and training thirty-three volunteers among all four cities.

Want to know more or have questions?  Contact project lead, Tim Gohrke, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A New Citizen Science Project Grant awarded to Friends

UPDATE: Grant for Fidalgo Bay and City of Anacortes stormwater monitoring.

20200625 100037 dscf4130 lr
The Rose Foundation awarded a significant grant to Friends of Skagit Beaches for monitoring stormwater outfalls at the point where stormwater meets saltwater. The objective of this project is to create a continuously updated baseline of measured stormwater pollution levels that reach Puget Sound.
The City of Anacortes has more than 80 outfalls that deposit stormwater directly into Puget Sound. This project, manned by volunteers, will monitor most of these outfalls. The outfalls not monitored are either on private land or are too unsafe for a volunteer to reach.

(FOSB President Tim Gohrke checking out one of Fidalgo Islands stormwater outfalls)

This stormwater pollution monitoring project is a partnership with Friends of Skagit Beaches, the City of Anacortes, and the Samish Tribe's Department of Natural Resources.

At this stage the project is organizing the training curriculum around six types of measurements:
1. Dissolved Oxygen Levels
2. Salinity
3. pH
4. Water Temperature
5. Turbidity
6. Fecal Coliform levels

20200717 100347 dscf4161 lrVolunteers will use several calibrated electronic measuring devices for fast and accurate data capture. The data will be stored in the project's own database. The Rose Foundation grant provides funding for two years. At the end of that two year period the project will visualize the data and show the actual levels of pollution from Anacortes stormwater.

(Pictured: Wayne Huseby watches Diane Hennebert (City of Anacortes) calibrate her turbidity test equipment. This procedure involves three bottles with known turbidity levels. The sensor is shown each bottle and calibrated to that level. This machine will be used by the FOSB stormwater monitoring volunteers in their monthly data gathering work among the city's stormwater outfalls.)

The State Department of Ecology requires that a municipality with a stormwater permit must examine and sample at least 13% of their entire stormwater pipe network each year. Most municipalities have budget shortages for manpower. Usually no more than 13% is examined. That means in the five year permit time frame no more than 65% of a town's stormwater system is monitored, and likely only once in five years.
Stormwater is the state's largest single pollution source according to The Department of Ecology. It's greater than waste water treatment or agricultural runoff. Yet no municipality can routinely or consistently report pollution levels that discharge into Puget Sound.

This situation seems tailor-made for a citizen science volunteer campaign. The Anacortes stormwater monitoring project will not stop pollution, but will guide the city's limited manpower to find and eliminate the sources of pollution that the volunteers detect.

Have a Happy Waste-free Holiday

Compiled by Chris Wood with contributions from
Ellen Anderson, Betty Carteret, Callie Martin, Michelle Marquardt & Carol Sullivan



The eye-catching graphic above demonstrates the Japanese art of wrapping gifts (click to view an example) with fabric called Furoshiki.

This is just one idea for reducing holiday waste our passionate and dedicated volunteers shared at a recent gathering. You will find more of their ideas below to inspire us all towards the goal of a zero waste holiday celebration. Even with the best intentions, we will have some items to dispose of. To help us recycle as much as we can, Callie Martin, Waste Reduction Recycling Education Specialist for Skagit County, put together a holiday recycling guide which you will find at the bottom of this newsletter below our gift ideas.

Volunteer Carol Sullivan shares her philosophy on gift giving with us. "When you receive a gift, receive it and acknowledge it.  Then it is yours to do with as you wish.  Keep it, use it, donate it, sell it or re-gift.  Without guilt. Your job is only to receive it." Carol shares more on using Furoshiki and other creative wrapping ideas below.

Give the Gift of Swaps

One of the primary goals of our program is to encourage people to swap out single use plastics and replace them with a reusable alternatives. Just search for "simple swaps for plastic" on the internet and you'll find a wealth of ideas and gift possibilities. 

Simple Swaps was the motivation behind the gifts several volunteers created for the friends and families on their shopping list.

 michelle bag1    michelle bag2


Michelle's Purse Shopping Bag

Michelle put her considerable design and sewing skills to use. Her cleverly designed outside pocket doubles as a way to fold and secure the bag into a small easy to stash package. 

michelle grocery bag1     michelle grocery bag2

Michelle's Grocery & Produce Bag Kit

takeoutkit1     takeoutkit2

Michelle’s No Styrofoam Take Away Kit

If you don't sew or have the time, you can put together similar kits with purchased items.

Another great idea is Ellen's Travel Place Setting which includes:

  • a cloth placemat
  • cloth napkin
  • eating utensils

She used the placemat as the wrapping, rolled it all up and held it in place with a decorative hair tie. You could sew the placemat and napkin yourself or do what Ellen did and go on a treasure hunt to your favorite thrift shops to collect the items. Of course you'll find a number of local thrift shops listed in our "Beyond the Bin" recycling guide.

Favorite Homemade Consumable Gifts

Several volunteers shared recipes for delicious edibles and thoughtful pampering gifts. Everything from spice mixes to DIY bath salts!  Save glass or mason jars to put consumables in and top with a circle of holiday fabric.  If you like to paint, use the jars as a small canvas and add artistic embellishment. Those glass and mason jars can also be used to send guests home with leftovers from holiday meals.

creamed honey pic     honey lid labels

Betty’s Creamed Honey: Creamed honey is a spreadable honey that will not crystallize. It is easy to make using a store bought creamed honey as your starter. Mix 1-part creamed honey with 10-parts honey (clear with no crystals.) Let filled jars sit in a cool dark place for 2 weeks before using. If you share the steps with the gift, the receiver will be able to use your gift as a starter to make more. Visit these links for a recipe to make creamed honey and for a pdf file of Betty's labels you can print (tip: print double sided on card stock).
Favorite Recipes:  Betty also shares her favorite cornbread and soda bread recipes as holiday gifts by simply combining all the dry ingredients in a quart size mason jar and including the recipe. She makes 12 times the recipe of dry ingredients and divides it into 6 quart jars, which provides two batches per jar. Download her Rich Corncake recipe and package labels. Many favorite recipes can be shared as gifts this way.

Everything Bagel Topping – Shared by Callie Martin
Combine the following ingredients:

  • 1 T dried minced garlic
  • 1 T black sesame seeds
  • 1 T dried minced onion
  • 2 T sea salt
  • 1 T white sesame seeds
  • 2 T poppy seeds

Add them to a shaker jar and use liberally on almost everything! Heads up - we love salt! If you're watching your sodium levels or aren't a huge fan of salt, you can reduce it to one tablespoon.

Hot Cocoa Mix – Shared by Callie Martin
Combine the following ingredients in a food processor:

  • 1½ cups nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup white chocolate chips
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt

Lock food processor lid into place. Hold down pulse button for 1 second, then release. Repeat until chocolate chips are finely ground, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer cocoa mix to airtight storage container. Mix can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 months.

To make hot cocoa combine ⅓ cup cocoa mix and 1 cup milk in a large mug. Heat in microwave until hot, about 2 minutes. Stir with spoon until well combined. And top with whipped cream or mini marshmallows, desired.

Magnesium Rose Bath Salts - Shared by Callie Martin
Combine the following ingredients

  • ¼ cup Himalayan pink sea salt
  • 1 cup Epsom salt
  • 10-20 drops Rose Absolute essential oil
  • ½ cup dried rose petals

Stir ingredients together until well combined. Store in an air tight, glass container.

Magnesium Rose Bath Ritual: Add the bath salts (the entire 1 ¼ cups) to a small amount of hot water in your tub. Swirl to dissolve. Fill tub with warm water and soak for 30 minutes. After soaking use a towel to dry off your body but do not rinse off. You should nap or rest for at least 30 minutes after your detox bath. I take my baths before going to bed for a great night’s sleep. Be sure to drink plenty of water during and after the bath.

A note about ingredients: All ingredients can be sourced from Mountain Rose Herbs Epsom salt can be found in the pharmacy/health & wellness area of your local drugstore or grocery store. If planning ahead, rose petals can be wild harvested in the month of June in the Pacific Northwest and dried to use in gifts for loved ones during winter.

 Gifts of Experiences

Time spent with friends and family is precious and memories of shared experiences will last well beyond the holiday. Customized to the person getting the experience, these gifts can be as simple as coffee hour at a favorite spot to elaborate weekend getaways for adults or train trips with grandkids to a nearby city. To a youngster, even a “stay-cation”, where you become a tourist in your hometown, is memorable. The possibilities are endless! 

A gift of cooking is something fun to share with young kids. Homemade pizza is fun for all ages. Bagels are surprisingly easy - try this King Arthur Flour recipe. If your a skilled cook, give a culinary evening of teaching a favorite advanced recipe, like paella, followed by sitting down to enjoy it together. Or treat the cook on your list to a class at the King Arthur Baking School located out by the Skagit Regional Airport. They offer a variety of seasonal one-day and week-long baking classes.

Giving Gifts

With the goal of fostering social awareness and responsibility, give children or grandkids the opportunity to choose a local or international charity to receive their “giving gift.” You provide the funds, and they do the choosing.  Very young children might need a concrete “item” to donate, like an animal that gives a family food or a product to sell (Heifer International was Carol's choice for young grandkids.  A tree ornament animal symbolized their choice for that year.)  Older kids can be introduced to websites, like Charity Navigator, to help them select well run charities.


Alternative Wrapping Options from Carol, Your Skagit BYObag Lady!

Furoshiki is a Japanese method of gift wrapping that uses reusable cloth (think origami-like.) The gift is opened in the presence of the giver, who then takes the wrapping home to use again for another gift occasion. Check out Spoonflower’s video tutorial to learn more about the Japanese style of wrapping gifts in decorative cloth and scarves at

I'm not inclined to learn all the techniques, but I love the idea of reusing/repurposing a pretty scarf, piece of fabric - or a long-sleeved shirt - to fashion reusable gift wraps! A child’s long-sleeved shirt from the second-hand store makes three gift bags. Cutting the sleeves off straight across, stitching the bottom closed and adding a color coordinated ribbon at the cuff makes a great gift for small items.  I made several, and gave them along with the gift to share the idea. The body of the shirt becomes a larger bag by stitching the sleeves and shirt bottom.  On some, I’ve used a larger width ribbon and tied it as a man’s tie.  Others just get the normal bow tie.  

Many condisposal picsumable gifts can be in glass jars you’ve saved from the kitchen. Top them with a circle of fabric tied on with ribbon.  Get real clever, and make those rounds out of fabric coated with beeswax (plus pine resin and jojoba oil) to cover that jar and others.

The idea is to RETHINK how we give, and how we present what we give to reduce single-use materials.  Remember that most all gift wrap paper is not recyclable, nor is it compostable. Plain tissue paper can be recycled with mixed paper, and brown Kraft paper or newsprint can be recycled or composted. But they are still single-use . . . . RETHINK!




By Callie Martin, Waste Reduction Recycling Education Specialist
Skagit County Public Works’ Solid Waste Division

Christmas Light Recycling

We all love the charming glow of winter lights, but when a string stops lighting up, where do you take them? Here are a few options in the Skagit County area.
Drop-off boxes for working or non-working lights are located directly inside the main doors of these business, available until the end of January:

  • Lowes in Burlington
  • Home Depot in Mount Vernon
  • Skagit River Steel and Recycling
    1265 S. Anacortes St. Burlington, WA 98233; (360) 757-6096
    Open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

For Recycling Mail-In

Christmas Tree Composting

The best place for the good old-fashioned, indoor, cut evergreen tree after the holiday is the compost pile. By city, here are the options for helping your tree return to the soil. Remember, in all cases trees must be completely clean, and free of decorations, lights, bows, tinsel, glitter, and flocking.

For Composting Curbside Pick-Up

  • Anacortes, Burlington, Mount Vernon, Sedro Woolley
    In all of these cities, residents serviced with a curbside green waste cart may cut up their tree and place them inside the green cart for curbside pickup.Please make sure your tree fits inside your cart, do not leave the tree on top of cart, or beside it. Refer to your city’s Public Works Department for additional information.

For Composting You Haul

  • City of Sedro Woolley Recycling Facility
    For residents of Sedro Woolley only. The City Recycling Facility accepts clean trees, free of charge, for composting at their facility during the first three weeks in January. Look for large signs outside the facility gates.
    315 Sterling Street
    Sedro Woolley, WA 98284
    Hours: Monday – Friday, 7 am – 2 pm, Saturdays, 8 am – 4 pm
    Closed Holidays
  • Skagit Soils
    All residents in Skagit County are welcome to visit this facility, base disposal fee for yard waste and tree composting is 2.5 cents per pound with a $5.00 minimum.
    13260 Ball Rd, Mt Vernon, WA 98273
    Winter Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 4:30, Saturday 9:00 to 2:00.
    Holiday Schedule: Closed 12/24 & 12/25, also 12/31 & 1/1

Packaging Material Recycling & Reuse

Packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and air pillows are often part of the packaging contained in holiday shipping orders. Beyond letting your kids make music in the hallways by popping them, here are some options for reuse and recycling.
Make Low Packaging Requests

  • Email Customer Service. Amazon: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
    Ask them to make a note in your account to avoid plastic packaging or avoid extra packaging when possible. (No, there’s not a way to do this manually.) They’ll make a note to avoid plastic on your account, but it’s up to the distributors whether they do it or not. Definitely not a guaranteed method, but worth a try.
  • Search through Amazon’s Frustration Free Packaging products. The program sends your item without – essentially – a box around a box. The box is recyclable and comes without excess packaging materials. Not every item on Amazon is available in the frustration-free packaging service (there are over 300,000 items), but it’s definitely a start.
  • Skip 2-Day Shipping & ask for bulk delivery. When you’re ordering multiple items, be sure to request that they be sent together. Sure, it might take a few days longer to get your items, but you’ll get far less cardboard/plastic packaging with one bulk delivery. When you ask for items to be delivered quickly, the online distributor loses the ability to consolidate deliveries. Rather than sorting items into trucks in the cheapest way, the company now has to focus on the fastest way. That means more trucks running on the roads or worse – air delivery. Airplanes emit far more carbon than other modes of transportation, so ultra-fast shipping guarantees you’re shooting more carbon directly into the sky.

For Recycling at Mail & Shipping Stores

  • Specialty mail and shipping stores will often take all three of these packing materials back for reuse as long as they are clean, and contained. This includes UPS, FedEx, and other specialty or private mail shops. Find stores in your municipality and give them a call to see what they’re looking to accept. Do note that the United States Postal Service does not take these back.

For Recycling at Department Stores

Wrapping Paper Recycling & Disposal

Wrapping paper should not go in the recycling bin unless you specifically purchased recyclable paper.  The same goes for tissue paper, ribbon, and bows.  Even things like gift boxes, bags, or cards that would normally be recyclable have to go in the trash if they're embellished with glitter or a metallic finish.

Recyclable Options for Paper

  • Craft paper and newspaper are both recyclable and if used as gift wrap, can be recycled in the curbside bin. Unembellished paper bags an kraft paper are recyclable or compostable as well.





Clean Laundry is a Good Thing. Right?

Are We Literally Washing Micro Plastics Into the Sea?

My daughter came home from her high school Environmental Science class last year talking about plastic fibers released when we wash our fleece. She said they are part of the ocean plastics problem, showing up in seafood we eat and even in our own bodies. Sounds like the plot from a bad horror movie. I have been in denial ever since. Give up straws? Sure, but give up my beloved fleece, a mainstay of life in the Pacific Northwest? Please, no not that. So when asked if I wanted to write a blog for our volunteers, I was ready to dive in and learn more about this topic. Without going too far down the internet rabbit hole, here is what I found out.

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Ocean Wise’s Plastic Lab, a research arm of the Vancouver Aquarium, has been studying microplastics since 2014. Here are the highlights from studies they have conducted that were reported in a February 2019 Patagonia blog post.

A study of seawater from off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, found that over 70% of all plastic particles were fiber shaped. Other researchers studying the Atlantic Ocean report that fibers comprise 90% or more of the microplastic particles found. In such large numbers, and because these fibers are so small, they are a threat to marine life that mistake them for food.

In Spring 2018, Ocean Wise partnered with Patagonia, Arc’teryx, REI, MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op), and Metro Vancouver to begin a multi-phase research program to investigate the sources of synthetic microfiber pollution, and to identify the best science-based solutions to the problem.

wash test

The study found that textiles shed between 31,000 and 3,500,000 fibers per load during normal laundering in household washing machines. Not all textiles shed equally. For example, ‘fluffy’ textiles like fleece, as well as textiles made of spun staple yarns and textiles pre-treated with brushing are the highest-shedding types. Some fabrics shed a large amount during the very first wash, and then shed little.

 The laundry study was carried out with commercial-grade test washers that simulate a cycle in a typical home washing machine. Photo: Mathew Watkins


fabric swatch testData from the laundry study and the weathering study was used to create a reference library of spectra and a shedding catalog for the most common textiles used in outdoor apparel, a valuable resource that may help researchers to identify microscopic textile fibers and trace pollution back to its source.

 Katerina Vassilenko from Ocean Wise's Plastic Lab stands next to fabric swatches tested in the weathering experiment. Photo: Lorand Szasz

 The Ocean Wise researcher’s reported that the differences in shedding rates between textile types and over time provides opportunities for manufacturers to modify practices to reduce microfiber pollution.

A 2016 study reported in the journal Environmental Science & Pollution looked at the amount of fiber released when washing and drying new fleece blankets. They concluded “that cumulatively large quantities of microplastics are released into the environment from this source.” In addition, they reported the following results:
“Results confirm domestic washing of textiles and garments as a constant and widespread source of plastic microfiber emissions into the environment.” They found that the first washing released the most fibers by a factor of 2-3 times. After 7 washings the amount of the fiber release leveled off. “A key result of this study is the indication that fibers are emitted throughout the lifetime of the garment.”

“Release of fibers during tumble drying was approx. 3.5 times higher than during washing. However, dryers have built in filters.”

“These results show that installation and maintenance of a relatively simple and robust filter to washing machine wastewater could prevent most of the emissions.”

“Previous studies have shown that the majority of fibers released during washing are removed in wastewater treatment plants where these are used. “

The final study I am sharing results from, Rochman et al, investigated the presence of microplastics and fibers in fish and shellfish sold for human consumption in Indonesia and California.

 For the California samples, “of all species purchased, anthropogenic {human caused} debris was present in the gut content of eight (67%) of all fish species sampled, including jacksmelt, Pacific anchovy, yellowtail rockfish, striped bass, Chinook salmon, blue rockfish, Pacific sanddab and lingcod and in the Pacific oyster. Within each species, we found anthropogenic debris in 29% of jacksmelt, 30% of Pacific anchovies, 33% of yellowtail rockfish, 43% of striped bass, 25% of Chinook salmon, 20% of blue rockfish, 60% of Pacific sanddabs, 9% of lingcod and 33% of Pacific oysters.”

”All anthropogenic debris found in fish from Indonesia was composed of plastic, whereas in fish from the USA only 20% of anthropogenic debris found in fish could be confirmed as plastic. In contrast, the majority (80%) of anthropogenic debris found in fish from the USA was composed of fibers from textiles."

The authors suggest this is due to differences in waste treatment practices. In Indonesia, large of amounts of waste is dumped directly into the sea and presumably includes a large portion of plastics. In California, “there are more than 200 wastewater treatment plants discharging billions of liters of treated final effluent just off shore." ”Even though treatment results in a reduction of many contaminants, synthetic fibers from washing machines can remain in sewage effluent, and may be delivered to aquatic habitats in large concentrations via wastewater outfalls. One study found one fiber per L of wastewater effluent.”
Take Away
One component of microplastic waste in the environment are fibers from our synthetic clothing. They are not captured completely by wastewater treatment plants and they have been found in fish and shellfish. What level of threat the fibers pose to the sea life that ingests them and the humans that in turn ingests the seafood has not been fully determined. The fibers pose both a potential physical hazard in the digestive system as well as being a source of hazardous chemicals that have an affinity for attaching to the surface of plastics.What We Can DoTo reduce the amount of plastic fibers released by your washing process Oceanwise recommends that you:

The Sierra Club website has these helpful suggestions:

  • A German company has created a laundry bag you place your fleece items in that is designed to trap microfibers during washing -  the GUPPYSAFE washing bag
  • Consider items made with fabrics treated for odor control that require less washing. (I know - this raises issues about what chemicals are they being treated with.)
  • Choose natural fiber clothing instead such as wool, down, leather, cotton and other non-plastic textiles.


Teaming up to get to the bottom of microfiber pollution. Stephen Chastain.  1 Feb 2019. fleece jacket pollutes the ocean: here’s the possible fix. Catherine O'Connor. Outside. 25 May 2017.
Are we eating our fleece jackets?: microfibers are migrating into field and food. Jessica Boddy. NPR. 6 February 2017. 1:21 PM ET.
Emissions of microplastic fibers from microfiber fleece during domestic washing. U. Pirc & M. Vidmar & A. Mozer & A. Kržan. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 22 September 2016
Anthropogenic debris in seafood: plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bi- valves sold for human consumption.  Rochman CM, Tahir A, Williams SL, Baxa DV, Lam R, Miller JT, Teh FC, Werorilangi S, Teh SJ (2015). Sci Rep 5:14340. Ways to dress cozy without shedding so many microfibers: how to prevent your outerwear from polluting waterways with plastic. Fink, Bill. Sierra Jan/Feb 2019.

The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches and Skagit County Solid Waste. 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.

Understanding Disposable Products

& How Compostable are Compostables?

October 2019 - by Callie Martin,

Waste Reduction Recycling Education Specialist, Skagit County Public Works

plastic utensils    bamboo utensils     

compostable bowl        compostable cup          

You’ve likely been here before: Wearing the organizational badge of honor, you’re charged with the task of purchasing dishware, cups, and utensils for a family reunion, club picnic, or work event. With so many disposable options to choose from, how do you decide what to buy? Let’s walk through this together.

Traditional Plastic

The main offender of disposability is petroleum-based plastic ware. These items have been sold for several decades and include Styrofoam cups, plastic cold cups, straws, plastic cutlery, and lids for paper coffee cups. Nothing from this group of serviceware can be recycled. Currently, the best place for most of these items after single-use is the trash can. Best efforts for reuse could be washing them to use at another time, though they are less durable than other materials.

Compostable Plastic

   biodegradable cutlery comp plast cup   

A bit tricky to decipher from traditional plastic, compostable or plant-based plastics were all the rage beginning in 2010. Compostable plastics come in the same forms as traditional serviceware, and today there is a compostable plastic alternative to just about any traditional plastic item you can find. Many thought compostable products might end the destructive impacts of plastic pollution, and create a less wasteful disposable option for activities on the go.

An important characteristic of compostable plastic is that it is meant to break down in an industrial-scale composting facility, rather than a backyard compost pile. This is because a typical backyard compost pile does not grow hot enough to break down the chemistry of compostable plastics.

If you have access to a collection bin that is hauled to a composting facility, compostable products are an acceptable alternative to traditional plastic. However, we have a second caveat at play. Industry studies have found that many compostable plastic serviceware items do not break down fully during the industrial composting process. Bits and pieces of compostable plastic are found floating about the finished compost. The impact of this lowers the market value for finished compost products, and deteriorates the future success of community composting systems.

While compostable to a certain degree, nothing in the compostable plastic family is recyclable in the blue curbside bin. Combined with the confusing fact that these products look a lot like traditional plastic, compostable plastics aren’t the obvious answer to plastic pollution we were hoping for.

Wait though, compostable plastic MUST be better than traditional plastic. Right? It is true, when compostable plastic enters as litter into the environment it does have an easier chance of breaking down without adding as much pollution as traditional plastic. Letting it out of our hands and into the environment without proper disposal has never been the goal though, and shouldn’t be something to bank on.

If you find yourself heading in the direction of purchasing compostable plastic for your next event, be sure to use the following guidelines:

  • Purchase compostable plastic if the only other option available is traditional plastic.
  • Make sure any compostable plastic purchased is ASTM 6400 or ASTM D6400 Certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute. This guarantees is can break down fully in an industrial-scale composting operation.
  • Be sure you have access to municipal composting in the form of a curbside green cart or yard waste pick up service.
  • Check with your local industrial composting facility to verify that they accept compostable plastics for composting.
  • In Skagit County, yard waste carts are hauled to Skagit Soils, where compost is made on an industrial-sized scale. Currently, compostable plastics are not accepted for composting at Skagit Soils or anywhere in Skagit County.



Compostable Paper

Since soiled or dirty paper cannot be recycled, it is often a great option to compost it instead. There are an array of compostable paper products out there for use at gatherings and events. In order to be composted successfully, paper serviceware needs to be unlined. This means no thin, traditional plastic liners on the tops or bottoms, or around the inside of the paper. Though regular bleached paper can be composted without much consequence, the gold-star standard for compostable paper serviceware would mean the products were not only unlined, but also unbleached. Compostable paper products do eliminate the issue of plastic pollution entirely, as they compost very effectively using industrial composting methods. It is important to remember that paper products do have a significant impact on the environment through natural resource use. When trying to move away from plastic, compostable paper products offer a good transition.

Follow these guidelines if you want to host your next event using compostable paper products:

  • Paper coffee cups are often lined. Be sure to purchase only those treated with polylactic acid (PLA) as the form of liner, as it can be fully composted. Eco Products offers a variety of options for PLA lined compostable paper products.
  • Ideally, look for unbleached paper products. These will usually be brown in color, rather than white. If brown can’t be found, white is okay too!

Bamboo & Wooden Products

Another disposable alternative you may have placed on your radar are wooden or bamboo products. These items are often one hundred percent compostable, and offer a good alternative to both traditional and compostable plastics. Compared to other large-scale crops, bamboo comes out ‘greener’ than most with regard to the overall environmental impact. A fast growing grass, it requires no fertilizer and self-regenerates from its own roots, so it doesn't need to be replanted. The downside to bamboo and wooden serviceware are that they are often expensive. Greenwave, Bambu Veneerware, and Green Paper Products offer bamboo options.

Washable & Reusable

The best thing to do for Mother Earth is to avoid disposable options for serviceware altogether.


      ceramic mugs


Washables do take resources to create, and use water to clean, but after a certain amount of uses create little to no additional pollution. When choosing what to buy, talk to other organizers. Purchasing washable plates, cups, and silverware may actually prove less expensive over time. Consider hosting gatherings or meetings in a space that already has washable dishware available to borrow, like a church or community center. Come up with solutions for dishwashing, or better yet, have everyone invited to the event bring their own plate, mug, and silverware from which to enjoy the meal. This creates a larger sense of community, and sometimes even a way to meet new friends!


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