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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.

Refuse Single-Use Plastic in 2019!

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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.

Create Memories, Not Waste, this Holiday Season!

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According to Stanford University, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holiday season than any other time of year. This extra trash amounts to 25 million tons of garbage! That’s a lot! The good news is its not difficult to reduce waste during the holidays.

Here are seven things we all can do to prevent waste this holiday season. 

  1. Eat, drink, and be merry without single-use plastic. All those party plates and platters may look festive, but they will last long after the holiday season has ended. Use real cups, dishes, and cutlery at your holiday parties. And bring your own cup, plates and cutlery on the go, so you can refuse those ubiquitous to-go cups and containers when you’re out and about.

  2. And while you’re at it, join the clean plate club and avoid holiday food waste. The average American household throws away $2,200 worth of food every year. Yikes! Avoid contributing to this shocking statistic by preparing food for the holidays in reasonable quantities and make sure you and your family eat those leftovers! And avoid food gifts unless you are sure they will be appreciated and eaten!

  3. Use natural materials to wrap gifts and reuse wrapping materials. Forgo traditional wrapping paper and plastic tape and use newspaper, recycled paper, or even fabricto wrap gifts. Use twine or cloth ribbons to secure. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.                

  4. Ditch plastic decorations. Refuse "fake snow," which is often made from finely ground polystyrene. Choose reusable decor over disposable, and real garland over plastic. Avoid decorations packaged in unrecyclable plastic.

  5. Recycle Right. Contamination of the recycling waste stream is a significant problem, resulting in loads of recyclable plastics landing in landfills. Keeping abreast of what goes in those plastics recycling bins is important. In Skagit County, if you have curbside recycling you can recycle clean bottles, cups, jars, jugs, and tubs. If you take your plastic recycling to the transfer station, you can recycle clean plastic bottles and jugs, but not cups or tubs. Easy right? Just remember the SHAPE of the container is what’s important, not the number in the triangle recycle triangle.               
  6. Don't purchase gifts in unrecyclable plastic packaging (like clamshells/oyster packaging). This packaging is not recyclable in Skagit County or in most other places in the nation. Seek out gifts that are unpackaged.

  7. Give gifts of time and experience instead of more packaged “stuff.” Some great options are theater or movie tickets, an afternoon roller skating or bowling, a special lunch date, or coupons for time spent together.

Enjoy the holidays with your friends and family as a time to be together, to cook and share stories.

Create memories, not waste! Happy Holidays!

 Sources:

Stanford University https://lbre.stanford.edu/pssistanford-recycling/frequently-asked-questions/frequently-asked-questions-holiday-waste-prevention

The Plastic Pollution Coalition https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2016/12/16/5-ways-to-reduce-plastic-for-the-holidays

Friends new plastics project, Skagit Plastic Reduction & Recycling Coalition, is funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology with additional support from Skagit County Solid Waste Division and Friends of Skagit Beaches. For more information about this project or to volunteer, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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

Monofilament Line Recycling

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Plastic waste polluting or marine environments is a major issue that is damaging habitat and wildlife in Skagit County and around the world.  One of the sources, monofilament fishing line, is a focus area that CVP volunteers are helping to address.  Recycling tubes such as the one shown installed at Heart Lake in Anacortes have been placed at 22 popular fishing locations in our area from Bowman Bay to the Marblemount Fish Hatchery.

The project started by the Skagit Beach Watcher volunteer, Don Coleman, is being carried forward under the leadership of CVP volunteers Dick Kent and Glenda Alm – thanks for taking over the lead!  Friends continues to provide funding to covers costs of the hardware and labeling of the equipment.

A team of CVP volunteers has signed up to be a steward for each of the installation sites to empty and properly recycle the monofilament line deposited in the tubes.  Unfortunately, we often find other garbage in them that has to be sorted out from the plastic waste.  But at least the fishing line and other garbage aren’t being tossed into our lakes and saltwater estuaries!

Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen’s Stewardship Committee in Action

An Afternoon to Remember -  by Pete Haase

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Friday June 2, 2017 was an afternoon many of us will remember for a long time.  Nineteen youngsters and some parents from the mixed 1 – 2 – 3 grade class taught by Abigail Ross at Anacortes Island View Elementary hopped out of a bus at 12:30 at the Fidalgo Bay Resort on a promise that they could go do surveys for surf smelt eggs.  A dozen of us big guy volunteers stood there as ready as we felt possible, wondering what we were in for.

This story starts in January.  Jack Middleton and I were up at the Bald Eagle Festival in Rockport on a Saturday doing a presentation and an outside demonstration about Forage Fish, the kind of thing that’s part of our Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee (FBARCSC) education mission.  A lady leaned over the edge of the deck at the Interpretive Center there and asked – “Say, can you do that for a class of kids?”  Jack jumps right up and says – “Sure.  That is a great idea!”   The lady was Abigail.

Coincidently, also in about January, Glen Alexander, an educator at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Bayview, had asked Barbara Lechner and Michelle Marquardt if they could expand their Trail Tales Forage Fish Interpretive station into a program for young children.  They did that with great success.  Somehow, also coincidently, that led to them sharing their interpretive station and activities with the Before School program at ... Island View Elementary School ... again with great success.  Now we HAD to produce.  

With a lot of help and creative ideas, we made some simplified field sheets about surf smelt surveying and a “script” for the big guys to follow as they led the little ones on the beach.  Our FBARCSC was able to buy many clipboards, print all the sheets and instructions, and supply all the materials needed; like gravel scoopers, collection bags, sample jars, rulers and GPS units.  Our local Marine Resources Committee (MRC) let us borrow their complete Forage Fish Survey equipment kit as did the Whatcom (MRC.)  With the set we have for FBARCSC that made three complete stations we could operate and keep the kids well occupied.

Padilla Bay donated their microscope with camera and display screen, with an operator, and a local volunteer citizen did the same.  Many folks from our usual Forage Fish survey teams and also from recent Salish Sea Stewards classes came to help.  The Samish Indian Nation let us use the clubhouse, facilities, and the beach on the shore of Fidalgo Bay.

The teacher had the kids divided into 5 groups of 4 and each had a name – like the “Fun Forage Fish Finders” and “Soaring Skagits.”  We had two of our volunteers and a parent with each group!

A few days prior, Michelle and Barbara took their fun forage fish program into the classroom and gave the kids a great understanding of surf smelt and good beaches and why they are important – much of which they had already studied.  When they “hit the beach” they knew what they needed to do.

It was quite a show.  Each group headed for a spot on the beach where they thought it might be good for surf smelt to have spawned.  The kids did as much of the work as they could.  They stretched out a big yellow measuring tape and found out how many steps they needed to measure 33 and 50 feet – distances needed to do a survey.  Then they began digging and looking in the sand and gravel and collected a nice bag of sample material from a 100 ft “transect.”  Most of the groups were able to find eggs in the gravel, right at their spot, with their eyes and even better with a hand-lens.  One group found a HUGE swath!  On their field sheet they documented the GPS location of their sample site, the amount of shading, the type of substrate, and the distance from the high tide line to their transect line – all data collected during a normal survey.

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They were so excited to have a bag of gravel with some eggs in there.  Back they came and rinsed the gravel in sieves to separate the eggs and small particles and then ran the results through the fun “Blue Bowl” to better isolate the eggs into a sample jar.  Now they could see so many!  Then they took their sample inside to the microscope for a lot of ooohing and ahhhing as they saw their “finds” up close and in various stages of development. Finally they took the eggs back to the beach and did their best to get them back into a place where some will survive and hatch.

A young fellow in my group said – “The BEST day ever!”  Most of us felt like that too at the time.