Going Green on Whidbey Island
Last weekend I met some friends for lunch in Seattle. We dined at Iva’s’ Longhouse on Lake Union. The street side looks much like the Ivar’s take out counter at the Mukilteo ferry terminal, but around the side it looks more like a longhouse. I walked through a giant totem pole to get into the restaurant. The salmon, clams and fresh halibut was tasty. The longhouse inspired architecture reminded us that the people of Puget Sound have eaten fish and shellfish since the last ice age retreated roughly 10,000 years ago.
If you’re planning to keep up this tradition and go clamming this summer, there are a few things you should know.
First and foremost, call before you dig. Seriously.
The Washington State Department of Health monitors shellfish from the outer coast through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and into Puget Sound from Bellingham to Olympia. Each day they post any evidence of biotoxins on their clickable map and their hotline number. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning can make you very sick and some can be fatal. You can’t tell by looking at them if they’re safe to eat and you can’t cook or freeze the toxins out. If you’re gathering oysters, ice them immediately and cook them thoroughly to avoid Vibriosis. And check before you dig any shellfish by calling 1-800-562-5632 or clicking www.doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm
This site will also tell you which beaches are closed due to pollution. In general steer clear of waterfront development with septic systems, outfall pipes or marinas. And there may be signs on the beach that say if an area is closed and why, but not always. The clickable map or hotline number is your best bet for safe shellfish harvesting.
Next check the Department of Fish and Wildlife to find out about the shellfish season, harvest limits and permits that may be required. You’ll find information on seaweed harvesting, too. http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/
And sign up for a Digging for Dinner class offered for free by experienced Beach Watcher volunteers. Even if you’ve been digging clams for years, you’ll probably learn a lot. Pull on your rubber boots, bring a shovel and a bucket, and take the kids for a fun afternoon. The first classes of the year will be on Saturday, June 6 at noon at the Double Bluff Park near Freeland, and on Saturday, June 20 at noon where Zylstra Road meets Hwy 20 near Coupeville. They’ll have an answer for any questions concerning shellfish harvesting on Whidbey Island.
For those tempted to go clamming in east of Coupeville or Monroe Landing, remember there are sewer outfall pipes on both sides of Penn Cove. To dig safely in Penn Cove, go to the west end near Zylstra Road or the park on Madrona Way. The only people allowed to dig for shellfish at Monroe Landing are the Tribes who use the clams for bait not for human consumption.
Freeland County Park was just closed to shellfish harvesting after a six week season. Because the summer winds generally come from the north, the beach there fills with seaweed forming a thick carpet that holds pollutants that wash from the shore. Holmes Harbor is a six mile long bay that doesn’t flush well. Winter winds blow from the south and clear the beach so water quality improves but people don’t dig clams much in the winter. This year the State opened the beach for clamming for six weeks in the spring before the seaweed piled up.
Go enjoy the beach and get a taste of Whidbey!
Bike to work, bike to school, bike to the bus, or make the great escape and go on a biking adventure!
I’m not a cyclist. I don’t have the clip on shoes or the skin tight shirt. I don’t like “sharing the road” with cars, buses and trucks. I like to ride bikes, but I’m just choosy about where I go.
When I lived in Anacortes, I loved riding the Tommy Thompson bike path along the water as part of my daily commute. I could pedal effortlessly watching the sun come up over the water, or stop to pick blackberries on my way home. My favorite part was pedaling on the old railroad trestle over the bay. It was just five miles from my house to the Park and Ride where I caught the bus the rest of the way to work. What a lovely way to start and end each day.
Since leaving Anacortes, I ride much less, but last fall I took my first multi-day Rails to Trails, bike trip, a 5 day, 250 mile ride from Pittsburgh to historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. My family lives in the area so I combined it with a visit. My sister took me to the bike shop where I rented a hybrid bike. They had outfitted it with a rack and panniers, headlamp, helmet, pump and a tool-kit with an extra tube. All I needed were my clothes, water bottle and snacks.
This bike path is a Rails to Trails project called the Great Allegheny Passage. It runs from Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania for 150 miles to Cumberland, Maryland where it connects with the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park, 185 miles of tow path along the Potomac River that leads to Washington, D.C. Together they make a 335 mile long, off road, almost flat, scenic and historic bike trail. Every 5-8 miles there are camp sites with picnic tables, privies and water available. Or you can stay in lodging in the small towns along the way that cater to recreational riders.
I planned my stops about 50 miles apart, which gave me a little time to visit historic sites and enjoy the trip. I went in October to see the brilliant fall foliage exploring small towns along the way and meeting other cyclists and locals. On the wooded bike path I came upon deer, ground hogs, turtles, geese and 3 flocks of wild turkeys!
I crossed trestles and walked through tunnels, and flattened pennies under historic trains. I took photos of the locks on the C&O Tow Path where the mules used to tow barges up the Potomac River. It was a wonderful trip.
When I came back I began planning my next bike trip. A friend and I took advantage of a 3 day weekend to bike on Vancouver Island. The weather was perfect. We took our bikes on the B.C. ferry from Tsawwassen. When we reached Swartz Bay we biked south on the Lochside Trail through Sydney, on back roads and bike paths to Victoria. There we connected to the Galloping Goose Trail and headed west, passing through lovely parks, stopping for lunch by a lake and then pedaling on to Sooke. We rode almost 50 miles that day. Most of it flat.
The next day we rode the Galloping Goose through the woods along the Sooke River to the end of the trail. We had a leisurely picnic and siesta and then rode back to Sooke for the night. On the last day we started early and rode easily back toward Swartz Bay. We stopped for lunch on the beach in Sydney. It was such a clear day we could see Mt. Rainier, 140 miles away. Later we caught the ferry and spotted Orcas just ahead! What a spectacular way to end a great weekend bike trip. Now I’m planning my next bike adventure!
To plan yours visit: http://www.railstotrails.org/experience-trails/
State and local laws now require regular septic inspections. It helps protect surface water and ground water which is especially important when roughly 70% of Island County residents get our drinking water from underground. It’s a little complicated to determine how often and by whom these inspections should be done so let’s play the If and Then game.
First, if you know what type of septic system you have, then you can move ahead to the next paragraph. If you have no idea, then find out by calling the Island County Public Health at 360-679-7350.
If you have a basic gravity system or conventional pressure system then you could take Septic 101 and 201 classes and for $28 you could get certified to inspect your own system. (Unless you live in a designated sensitive area like the Penn Cove watershed. More about this below.) Inspections are required every 3 years for a gravity system and every year for a pressure system. You can register for online or in person classes at www.islandcountyseptictraining.com or call 360-678-7914.
If you have any other type of system, a mound, sand filter, aerobic treatment unit, etc, then you’re required to have a septic professional inspect your system annually. You can find a list of septic professionals at www.islandcountyseptictraining.com. Alternative System classes are also being offered this year, but not for certification.
For a Limited Time Only!
If you live in the Penn Cove Watershed then you could get a Rebate that would probably cover the cost of your inspection (not pumping). Just take the free 30 minute Septic 101 class online at www.islandcountyseptictraining.com, get your system inspected in 2015, and send your invoice from a licensed Maintenance Service Provider to the County. For details call 360-678-7913.
It’s important to note the difference between an inspection and pumping. Regular inspections are required because it’s important that your septic system is functioning properly. It’s like getting an annual tune up for your car. An inspection helps find minor problems before they become an expensive septic repair. Also, an inspection may cost between $200-$300 while pumping could cost twice that. If you need financial assistance to pay for septic inspections or maintenance call Kathleen Parvin at 360-387-3443 extension 240.
Septic professionals vary widely. Some want to pump your system whenever they come to your house, but it doesn’t need to be pumped unless the septic tank contains about 30% solids or if it requires some repair. Fees for services vary, too, so call a few and ask for quotes. If you’re shopping for a new home in Island County, then you need an inspection done before you buy. If you buy a home with a failed septic system you cannot legally occupy that home until it’s fixed which may cost another $20,000.
Save Money on Septic Maintenance
If you don’t already have lids and risers installed for easy access to your septic system, then getter done! It costs a bit to install them but will save money on all your future service calls.
If you spread out your water load throughout the week, then your system will run more efficiently. Give your washer at least an hour off between loads and don’t do more than two loads a day. Use liquid laundry soap and non-toxic cleaners.
If you have a garbage disposal, then use it as little as possible. To find out more about composting food waste in “rodent proof” worm bins, read my previous blog or visit: http://ext100.wsu.edu/island/nrs/waste-wise.
If you have a septic system, then take care of it by putting only five things down your drains: water, mild detergents, mild liquids, human waste and toilet paper. Protect your drain field. Don’t compact the soil. Don’t drive over it, park on it or build anything on it. Don’t plant large plants or a vegetable garden on it or near it. Don’t water it. You can learn more about caring for your septic system by taking Septic 101 at: www.islandcountyseptictraining.com
Last night I brought a house warming present to a neighbor who recently moved to Whidbey Island. It was something I knew he’d appreciate. Worms! Not just any worms. These were red wigglers known for their ability to reproduce rapidly and eat a lot of food waste. He was starting a worm bin and I supplied the worms.
In Island County the WSU Extension Waste Wise program keeps tabs on a lot of worm bins and connects volunteers who can offer free worms to their neighbors. Call the program coordinator, Janet Hall, at 360-678-7974, to find a neighbor with a worm bin near you.
But first you have to be ready to provide them with a good home.
This is a great time of year to start a worm bin! Red wigglers like temperatures between 55-75 degrees and the summer months will provide the most produce leftovers for worm food.
There are several different kinds of worm bins. You can buy them in all shapes and sizes. You can build one from a sheet of plywood or you can make one using an old metal garbage can with a tight fitting lid. The size depends on how much food waste your household generates.
Here’s how to make low maintenance one with a garbage can. Dig a hole putting the rocks on one side. When the hole is about 2/3 the depth of your garbage can, put the rocks back in the bottom of the hole. Drill lots of ½ inch holes in the lower half of the garbage can, on the sides and the bottom for drainage. Slide the can into the hole and fill in around it.
“But don’t the holes let the worms escape?” Exactly! The worms can escape into the ground when conditions in the can don’t suit them. It may be too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold, or there may be too many onions or citrus peelings. They’ll come back when conditions are better.
You can feed the worms anything from a plant, including paper towels, old pizza boxes, used napkins, fruits and vegetables. Don’t put in oily or greasy food like salad soaked in dressing, or pasta coated in cheese sauce. (Cheese comes from an animal, not a plant.) You can add egg shells but no eggs, please. Make sure the can lid is on tight to keep varmints out.
This kind of bin can attract worms that come in from the ground on their own or you can jump start it with a cup of red wigglers from a neighbor. Then add fresh worm food at least monthly. In six months to a year you’ll have a rich, organic soil supplement to add to your flower beds or garden.
When the can is full, add another can a foot or two away, just like the first one. Start adding worm food to the second can. Slowly but surely, the worms will finish off the first can’s contents and “escape” from the first can into the second through the holes.
To harvest the worm castings, shovel the contents of the first can into a pile on a tarp. Leave it for 10 minutes in the sun and then scrape off the top and put it into your wheelbarrow. Make the pile into a peak again and leave it for 10 more minutes. Scrape off the top and add it to the wheelbarrow. Do this a few times and you’ll find a lot of worms (who don’t like light) have hidden at the base of the pile. Dump what remains on the tarp into your second can. Dig the good stuff from your wheelbarrow into your garden beds to build healthy soils. Yummy!
Next year you could be the one delivering a cup of worms to a neighbor.
Learn more about waste reduction or become a Waste Wise volunteer by contacting Janet Hall at 360-678-7974 or visit: http://ext100.wsu.edu/island/composting/.
Since 2006 Holmes Harbor has been closed to shellfish harvesting due to water quality issues. However, in the intervening years Island County Public Health and the Whidbey Island Conservation District have labored to turn that around. County staff went door to door conducting septic surveys until they got over 90% of the residents to inspect their septic systems and correct any issues. The Conservation District built a rain garden at the County Park which filters storm water run-off from the parking lot. Pet waste bag dispensers have been installed and water quality has improved.
Still there is an issue with the wrack on the beach. Wrack is loose sea grass and kelp that accumulates on the beach. Holmes Harbor is almost 6 miles long from Baby Island to the County Park. Summer winds tend to blow from north to south pushing the wrack up on the beach. It can form a foot thick carpet at times.
In winter the wind changes direction and the wrack is blown back out into the water.
The wrack build up at Holmes Harbor collects the toxins that wash into it from the shore, pet waste, oil and gas, yard chemicals, leaky septic systems all contribute. In addition, the narrow six mile long harbor does not flush well with the tides. So water quality will always be a challenge in Holmes Harbor. Any help from residents and visitors is greatly appreciated.
After years of testing water and shellfish in Holmes Harbor, the State Department of Health and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed to open the shellfish season in Holmes Harbor from April 1st to May 15th. This relatively short season will end before the expected wrack build up that may threaten water quality at Freeland County Park.
The 2015 clam quota at Freeland County Park is shared equally between local Tribes and the state’s recreational fishery. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) monitors shellfish to make sure the recreational harvest is sustainable. Tribes are allowed to collect shellfish within their quota as long as the beach is determined safe by the Department of Health. This may explain why you might see harvesters there when the posted WDFW season is closed.
The WDFW monitors shellfish harvests to make sure clam diggers have the proper permits and are staying within the required daily limits for each type of shellfish. The State Department of Health monitors shellfish for pollutants and biotoxins, which can quickly turn normally safe shellfish into a serious health hazard. Paralytic shellfish poisoning and other toxins (invisible to the naked eye) can be life threatening so be sure to call before you dig, 1-800-562-5632, or see the clickable map at: www.doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm Get information on rules and limits at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/shellfish_seaweed_rules.html . The two websites are linked. Signs posted at the beach will offer information and Beach Watcher volunteers may also be there to help answer questions.
WDFW surveyed this beach in 2008 and again in 2014. What they found was the population of varnish clams, which are new to Puget Sound, has boomed while the Manila clam population has dropped to one third of what it used to be. Varnish clams feed from the sand as well as the water column which give them an advantage. They grow high up on the beach and are easy for harvesters to reach. They’re also called “Savory” clams and there are many recipes online. WDFW biologists may work with Tribal managers on a small test plot to remove varnish clams and replant Manila clams during the closure period this year.
If you have any questions please visit the websites above or call the Island County Health Department at 360-678-7914.
Last week I went to the memorial service for Wilma Onan who died at 82 after a long adventurous life. When I entered the church sanctuary a violinist was playing the old Quaker hymn;
Tis a gift to be simple. Tis a gift to be free. Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be.
And when we come down to a place just right, we will live in the valley of love and delight.
I met Wilma in a garden and she became my garden mentor. She had indeed found a place just right for her here on Whidbey Island and her warm spirit welcomed many to work by her side. As we worked together I know I was benefitting from her care as well as the plants around us. Her needs were simple. Her heart was large. Her words were wise. I loved Wilma for her earthiness, simple love of life and the mischievous twinkle in her eye.
Many good friends gathered at her memorial and told stories of their experiences with Wilma. My favorite was when Leah talked about burying a dead sheep whose many legs had stiffened in different directions. She and Wilma cracked up laughing as they dug a customized grave for the deceased.
Wilma brought her pet goat, Clover, to the Island in her VW bug sitting on a bale of hay. Clover followed Wilma around the farm nibbling on blackberry vines. They often did a little dance together. Clover would rise up on her hind legs and butt Wilma’s upheld hands. We called it goat Tai Chi.
Wilma loved dahlias and carefully dug the bulbs each fall, bagged and labeled them, sharing them with friends in the community. When I had emergency surgery, Wilma brought me a bouquet of deep red dahlias that felt as healing as my blood transfusion. She distributed rhubarb and strawberry starts. Those of us who benefitted have a little bit of Wilma growing in our flower beds and vegetable gardens still. Even after a 5 way bypass and stroke left her unable to garden people still came to her for good gardening advice.
At the end of the memorial service the violin and piano rang out;
Inch by inch, row by row, gonna help this garden grow,
All we need is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground…
We all stayed to sing along before going to the fellowship hall for the reception. It was like a family reunion of old friends. We decided we should get together again at the farm this summer. Wilma’s daughter agreed and invited us to come help spread Wilma’s ashes in the garden. The garden. That’s perfect.
For every thing, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn
Leaving Wilma’s ashes in the garden will allow her to live on season after season, through flowers and fruit, through spring, summer, fall and winter, with birds and spiders, butterflies and worms, making our lives richer like compost.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” should not apply to our septic systems. In Island County roughly 70% of us are dependent on groundwater for our drinking water and 70% use septic systems to treat our waste water. We love to dig for clams and oysters. We go crabbing and fishing off our island’s shores and we swim and play on the beaches. If these things are important to you, if clean water is important to you, please, have your septic system inspected.
The law requires an inspection every three years for conventional gravity systems. If you have a pressure system or an “alternative” system (a mound, sand filter, aerobic treatment unit, etc.), you’re required to have your system inspected annually by a professional Maintenance Service Provider (MSP). Find a list of certified MSPs on our County website. (See below)
But don’t leave it all up to the pros. Become an informed island resident. Supervise the inspection, see that it’s thorough, ask questions and make sure the MSP has your correct name and address so you’ll get credit when he files his report to the County.
Septic systems are different from sewers. Most sewer systems are owned by a sub-development or a city. If you’re not on city sewer like Oak Harbor, you own your waste water treatment system and you need to know how to care for it. We offer a Septic 101 class to teach you how to protect your system and avoid expensive repairs or replacement, from what goes down the drain inside, to protecting your drain field outside. Septic 201 classes teach you how to maintain a conventional gravity or pressure system. If you complete both classes and pay a $28 fee you could be certified to inspect your own system.
Island County has a Septic System demonstration site with components above and below ground where we teach some of our Septic 201 classes.
Don’t know what kind of system you have? Get a copy of your Asbuilt (a diagram of your septic system). The septic installer was required to turn in an Asbuilt to Island County when the system was constructed. Island County has Asbuilts dating back to the 1950’s. Some of the older ones are a bit sketchy but they get better as the decades roll on. For your Asbuilt, call Island County Environmental Health at 360-679-7350 or ask at the counter at the corner of 6th and Center Street in Coupeville.
A septic inspection is different than getting your septic system pumped. An inspection is like a tune-up on your car. It will let you know if all the components are working properly. For instance you may not need to pump it, but you might need a filter cleaned
. Right now we have a Rebate Program for residents of the Penn Cove Watershed for septic inspections on a first come first served basis. Call 360-678-7913 for details. If your inspection reveals a problem Island County offers financial assistance. For more information call 360-387-3443 ext. 240.
This year we have a new class on Alternative Septic Systems. Roughly a quarter of the septic systems in Island County fit this description. You would still need to have an annual professional inspection, but you can learn about that septic system in your yard and what you can do to keep it working effectively.
Because in Island County we love clean water.
To register for septic classes online or in person, or to get a list of certified Island County MSPs visit: www.islandcountyseptictraining.com or call 360-679-7350.
There’s a buzz in the air and its not just bees.
Everyone is talking about the up-coming Sound Waters Conference 2015. It’s the 20th year for Sound Waters and the 25th year for Island County Beach Watchers who produce this comprehensive conference. I joined Beach Watcher years ago. It involved 6 weeks of training, really fun workshops, field trips and great speakers. After completing the training we were asked to “pay” for the training with volunteer hours. There were so many ways to volunteer. We worked at festivals staffing booths, or we could get into hands-on marine surveys, beach clean-ups or staff the lighthouse at Fort Casey State Park. Now there are many more ways Beach Watchers give back to the community. They’re involved in eel grass surveys, Pigeon Guillemot studies, beach monitoring, restoration projects and more. And Beach Watcher members founded other organizations like the Whidbey Watershed Stewards and the new Whale Center in Langley. Island County Beach Watchers inspired other counties to start a similar Beach Watcher program. And it all started here in Island County 25 years ago. You can sign-up for Beach Watcher training which starts in April and will take place on Whidbey and Camano Islands. Come celebrate the incredible accomplishments of this amazing force in our community. Join us at Sound Waters on Feb. 7. at the South Whidbey High School. For registration and more information visit: http://beachwatchers.net/soundwaters/wp/
On Feb. 18 there will be an Open House for residents of the Penn Cove Watershed at the Captain Whidbey Inn. Island County Public Health will offer an open house for people to learn about safe shellfish harvesting in Penn Cove and septic systems care. The County will be offering rebates for septic system inspections and if needed, grants and loans are available for repair or replacement. For details visit: www.islandcountyeh.org
Island County Public Health offers Home Owner Septic Training beginning in March. Take Septic 101 to learn how to live with a septic system, and septic 201 to learn how to maintain your simple gravity or conventional pump system. This year ‘s a NEW CLASS on Alternative Septic Systems like a mound or sand filter system. Visit: islandcountysetptictraining.com to register.
Coupeville will host the annual Mussel Fest on March 6. Bring your appetite for fun and food. The event features lots of activities including walking tours of Historic Downtown Coupeville (the 2nd oldest town in Washington), hiking and Mussels in the Kettles, a cycling event sponsored by the Whidbey Island Bike Club. Penn Cove Shellfish is the largest mussel farm in America so celebrate local food with the mussel masters! Find out more at: http://coupevillehistoricwaterfront.com/
Registration is now open for the Whidbey Gardening Workshop that will be at Oak Harbor High School on March 7 th. This annual gathering of gardeners is hosted by the Master Gardeners of Island County. You can learn about compost, soils, roots, grasses, trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, vegetables, pruning, planting, potting, greenhouses, drain fields, just about anything you need to know about gardening in our maritime climate. For details go to: http://whidbeygardeningworkshop.org/2015/
Welcome the Whales in Langley in April (http://www.orcanetwork.org) where you could catch a glimpse of the grey whales in Saratoga Passage. Bring your binoculars and watch the parade of people in town or whales in the bay.
Celebrate many other Earth Day Events that month. Both North and South Whidbey are planning events. A good place to go for information is at the Whidbey ECO-Net website. http://whidbey-eco.net/ ECO-Net stands for Education, Communication and Outreach Network. It’s an umbrella organization that coordinates the efforts of many of the conservation minded groups on Whidbey Island including WSU Extension, Whidbey Island Conservation District, State Parks, Island County, Service Education Adventure, Audubon, Tilth and others.
If you’re new to Whidbey Island attending these events are wonderful ways to get out and meet your neighbors and learn about your community. If you’ve been here awhile, it’s a way to reunite with old friends, get inspired and feel the amazing heartbeat of the Island Community.
See you there!
Americans throw away 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than in any other season. It amounts to about 1 million extra tons per week! Think about those holiday parties, the paper plates and cups, plastic utensils, wrapping paper, Styrofoam stuffing, plastic packaging, ribbons, decorations, the food waste and the tree! The holidays offer special waste reduction opportunities, but first, let’s cover the basics.
Everyone knows the three R’s, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Most people focus on recycling. Recycling is pretty easy. It makes us all feel good inside. In Island County we can take our recyclables to the recycle centers at Bayview, Freeland, Coupeville and Oak Harbor Road Recycle Centers. Curbside recycling is available in the City of Oak Harbor and on Camano Island for those with regular garbage pick-up.
Look carefully at the signs on the recycle bins to make sure you know what can be recycled and what cannot. What may be accepted in one town may not be accepted in another. It depends on the company that handles the waste. So please don’t contaminate good recyclable material with stuff that can’t be recycled here. Glass is not accepted in the City of Oak Harbor recycle bins, however, there are 5 places in town to deposit glass; Office Max, Albertson’s, the Marina, NAS Whidbey and Oak Harbor Road Recycle Parks. Wrapping paper can be recycled but foil paper, ribbons, bows, used paper plates and cups and Styrofoam packing cannot. The UPS Store and Pony Express in Oak Harbor and the Lavender Wind Farm in Coupeville can re-use Styrofoam peanuts.
Re-use is where people can become even more angelic. Take some of those natural resources that were just used once and give them another chance at life. Think of it as rescue wrapping. If every family re-used just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If each family wrapped 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. By re-using holiday wrapping and decorations, you save not only the original resources but all the energy it took to make that tree into wrapping paper, or that oil into plastic stuff. My mother used to press used wrapping paper under the couch cushions so it was flat and handy all year round.
Reduce is the most challenging. It takes forethought, which I’m told, separates us from other animals. When you’re tempted to collect more stuff, think about it before you bring it home. Do you really need that new thing? Could you borrow, share or rent it instead? If you bring it home, do you have a place to store it? Will you have to spend money or time to maintain it? Many of us have realized that we’re happier with less stuff. I love giving presents and supporting the local economy, but I often chose gifts of experience, tickets to a concert, gift certificates to a spa or a restaurant, or give edible presents, like fruitcake! And I like receiving these gifts, too, except maybe the fruitcake… These ideas aren’t holiday specific. You could make a New Year’s resolution to be more waste wise year round.
If you get a few gifts that you really don’t care to keep, our Island thrift shops may be a good place to donate them, but please don’t drop off old VCRs or other junk just to save yourself the dumping fee. You can dispose of electronics responsibly at the Coupeville Solid Waste Complex. Computer towers, laptops, monitors, E-readers, TVs, portable DVD players that have a screen will all be accepted for free. Other electronics may be accepted by BARC, just inside the gate, for a nominal fee that benefits the Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation.
Live trees, void of decorations, flocking and tensile, may be taken to the County recycling facilities at Bayview, Coupeville, Oak Harbor Road, and Camano for free disposal through January. Check the Island County Solid Waste website for hours and locations including Holiday closures. http://www.islandcounty.net/PublicWorks/Solidwaste/
How much more energy efficient could you become if you were in the running for a $5 million dollar prize? Georgetown University has engaged cities and counties across the country to compete for the title of Most Energy Efficient Community. Their intention is to “tap the imagination, creativity, and spirit of competition…” which sounds like fun!
Bellingham, Anacortes, Bellevue, Walla Walla and San Juan County are competing with 48 other communities across the country that made it to the quarterfinals. To be eligible communities have to have a population between $5,000 and $250,000 people. Judging is based on energy reduction, innovation, community outreach, sustainability and replicability. In the two years of the competition, these communities have the potential to save more than $1 billion in energy costs and cut millions of CO2 emissions. In that sense, everybody wins.
Participating communities from Florida to Fairbanks are already winning.
They win by building collaborations between businesses, non-profits, schools, churches, homeowners, local governments, electric and natural gas utilities all working toward a common goal.
They win with a healthier environment in which to live and raise their families.
They win notoriety that will attract new businesses, residents and visitors that will promote economic development and community stability.
And even though our town may not be in the competition, we will all win by noting what works for them and adopting it to our own homes, neighborhoods, businesses, schools, churches, towns and counties. The Semifinals will be held in 2015. It’s worth tracking.
We can start now by visiting their website http://guep.org/home-launch and clicking on Resources for Competitors. Click on What you can do to reduce your energy use. There are easy to understand guides on Lighting, Windows, Insulation, Heating/Cooling, Appliances and Outdoor Space. They also have an online calculator for your home which is a fun way to measure your progress as you take steps to conserve energy, live better, save money and clean up the environment.
If you’re part of a local organization with a physical address, you could work toward earning your Whidbey Green Seal. The certification involves 7 categories including waste reduction, transportation, water conservation and energy use. Over 40 organizations including churches, libraries, county and city offices, businesses and the Whidbey NAS Fleet have all qualified to display the Whidbey Green Seal on their door. Find them on Facebook or link up to http://www.sustainablewhidbey.org/ and click on Whidbey Green Seal.
Visit: http://pse.com/Pages/default.aspx for the latest rebates and energy saving tips from Puget Sound Energy. You could qualify for grants, rebates or free offers. In recent years I got a rebate for installing a new ductless heat pump, another for a new dryer and fridge saving almost $2,000. I got an energy audit and a house full of energy efficient CFL bulbs installed for free. And now I keep benefiting with a lower energy bill.
In this season of wind, rain, chills and darkness, it makes cents to reduce our energy consumption. Let’s follow the leaders to a healthier, happier future. It’s a win win!