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Going Green on Whidbey Island

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Waste Wise Events

February 7th, 2013 at Thu, 7th, 2013 at 6:27 pm by maribeth crandell


Earlier this month over 550 people invaded OHHS for the annual Sound Waters Conference.  They spent the whole day attending classes, viewing displays and networking.  When people registered for the conference they were asked to bring a reusable cup.  As they arrived and checked in they were given an actual brownie, as in brownie points, for bringing their own cup.

The 4-H kids served cookies and scones, tea and coffee for a donation.  If you didn’t have your own cup, you’d get beverages in biodegradable cups they got through Whidbey Coffee.

At mid-day, a delicious lunch was served.  A few volunteers, including myself, stood by the recycle stations to help people sort their waste. Besides the garbage can and recycle boxes, we had compost bins and orange buckets to collect liquids which can add a lot of weight to garbage.  The food was served in biodegradable boxes with utensils made of corn starch.  All of it could go into the compost bins.  The only things served that could not were little slips of foil in some of the lunches and the tiny bits of tinsel on the end of the toothpicks holding the sandwiches together.

Of course some people brought their own snacks with non-recyclable foil or plastic wrappers so it wasn’t a completely “Zero Waste” event.  But it was pretty darn close.  At the end of the day we gathered the waste and weighed it.  There was 132 pounds of compost (which includes liquids), 25.5 pounds of recyclables and 7 pounds of actual garbage.  Seven pounds of garbage after over 550 people spent a day together, ate lunch, had snacks, etc.  Amazing.

They also collected reusables such as 8 pounds of folders and 4 pounds of plastic tubs the scones came in.  An art teacher wanted the tubs and the folders will be used in the next conference.

Congratulations to the WSU Extension Waste Wise Program and the Island County Beach Watchers who coordinate the Sound Waters conference each year.  It was the first event to be certified with the Whidbey Green Seal for Events and continues to set a high standard.  In past years the garbage weighed roughly 20 pounds.  So this year they substantially beat their own record.

When I worked for the City of Oak Harbor I tried to bring this waste reduction element to the Grand Opening of Pioneer Way in October of 2011 where over 1,000 people were served a salmon dinner.  Arnie Peterschmidt took this picture of the event.  Again at the Whidbey Marathon in the spring of 2012 Waste Wise volunteers staffed the recycle stations and helped people sort the waste.  Here’s what we learned.

People don’t read signs.  If you have several containers for waste (say a garbage can, recycle bin, a compost bin and bucket for liquids)  tape the stuff you want them to throw inside on top of the container.  At the marathon, venders offered yoghurt tubs, fruit and beverages in paper cups, aluminum cans, juice boxes and plastic bottles.  We taped examples of each container on the lid of the appropriate receptacle.  We also had volunteers who offered help and support.

Take steps to reduce waste while planning the event.  If you can, serve food on compostable containers. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive.   Paper plates and cups will do, as long as they don’t have a waxy plastic coating.  If you can get away from using utensils you’ll save money, too.  I went to a conference last month where they served wraps, chips, fruit and cookies on paper plates, no utensils necessary.  Encourage people to bring their own cup or offer biodegradable paper cups.

The compostables we collected were taken to a commercial composter on the mainland.  Because most Whidbey Islanders get their water from our sole source aquifer, we have to be very careful with our organic waste.  The compost collected at these events contained meat and dairy, not something you want to add to your grass and leaves in the compost pile in your yard.   Your backyard compost pile wouldn’t get hot enough to burn up the harmful pathogens and bacteria in animal products.

To learn more about reducing waste at events, “Google” Whidbey Green Seal for Events, or contact Janet Hall at or call 360-678-7974.


Maribeth Crandell has a green thumb. Most of the rest of her is "green", as well. She's worked in city, state and national parks as a naturalist, educator and guide, on ships and on shore from the Columbia River to Southeast Alaska. She offers presentations for 6 year olds to seniors. She publishes articles, sings songs, plays the banjo and hikes trails. In fact, in 2006 she hiked the 2,000 mile long Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. She's been an educator for many organizations on Whidbey Island and for 5 years worked as the Environmental Educator for the City of Oak Harbor. She's been a consistent voice on Whidbey Island leading the way toward sustainability. Because Maribeth has a green thumb, along with the rest of her.

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