Challenges of recycling plastic

The 25th America Recycles Day happens Nov. 15. While great strides have been made in recycling awareness and technology, challenges remain. On San Juan Island, a budding plastic film recycling project has begun. Dry plastic bags, plastic storage bags such as Ziploc® brand bags, plastic grocery and produce bags, plastic shipping envelopes, and other flexible plastic film are accepted. According to Katie Fleming, Solid Waste Coordinator in San Juan County’s Department of Environmental Stewardship, the experience has highlighted the overwhelming amount of plastic film generated by even the most conscious consumers.

“It demonstrates the need for change from manufacturers to refine their strategy for packaging. Some states are acting on the issue of producer responsibility, and Washington will address the topic in the upcoming 2024 legislative session,” Fleming said. “Stay tuned for more from Plastic Free Salish Sea on opportunities to get your voice heard.”

The Town of Friday Harbor began a pilot program. Islanders who live in town may now put film with their curbside recycling every fourth Wednesday of the month. Beginning July 28, a site was set at Market Place for residents outside the town to bring their plastic film. Ideally, to keep the system from becoming overloaded, people should try to limit their load to one soccer ball-sized bag a week, according to Fleming. To provide perspective on the amount of film waste produced, in approximately three months, 2,249 pounds have been collected in the bin at Marketplace alone. That number does not include what has been collected from town residents.

“This material is being diverted from the landfill and will be recycled at Merlin Plastics in British Columbia,” she explained. The program has been a partnership with San Juan County’s Department of Environmental Stewardship, the Town of Friday Harbor, SC Johnson and Lautenbach Recycling.

Fleming also encourages islanders to continue to be cautious during the holiday season not to overload the Marketplace bin.

For more information about San Juan County’s program – including more specific instructions on how to participate as well as accepted vs. not accepted materials – please visit You may also contact Katie Fleming by email at or by phone, 360-762-5821.