Editor’s note: The event’s after-party at San Juan Island Brewery was originally going to offer volunteers pints for a penny. They are now offering volunteers pints for a dollar.
Like the ebb and flow of the tide, the culmination of trash on San Juan Island fluctuates.
For years, residents have been cleaning the island’s beaches and roads, but what’s picked up one day, is often replaced the next. Jana Marks, the program assistant at Friends of the San Juans, said the answer isn’t just picking up the litter, but preventing waste.
“It’s about building a community that manages their garbage and … consumes less stuff that needs to be thrown away,” she said.
Marks has coordinated volunteers to pick up litter at San Juan Island beaches for the nine years of a countywide Earth Day event called the Great Islands Clean-Up. She’ll man South Beach during this year’s event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on Sunday, April 22, while islander Catherine Kenney will co-ordinate volunteers for road cleanups.
Despite the long-time effort to pick up litter, said Marks, waste remains.
“We’ve always been a society of stuff,” she said. “There’s so much garbage out there.”
Beaches, she explained, are overrun with tiny pieces of plastic that typically come from the degradation of items, like bottles and straws, that are known as microplastics.
A 2016 report on plastics by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that 78 million metric tons of plastic packaging were created in 2013, worldwide; 40 percent of that was thrown away, while 32 percent ended up as pollutants on land or sea.
“What a waste,” said Katie Fleming, community engagement director at Friends of the San Juans. The waste isn’t just on the material, she explained, but money companies spend to essentially create garbage.
“We need to minimize our single-use plastic use,” said Fleming. In conjunction with the San Juan County Solid Waste Department, Fleming is launching a campaign to help San Juan Island businesses stop using plastic straws and utensils.
Organizers are also hoping to lower the use of plastics during the Great Islands Clean-Up. San Juan County Solid Waste Program Administrator Mark Herrenkohl said county staff will provide volunteers with reusable burlap sacks donated from the islands’ grocery stores, as opposed to using plastic garbage bags. The owner of San Juan’s King’s Market and Marketplace donated 24 burlap bags, said Herrenkohl.
The county staff also provides reflector vests, gloves and litter pick-up sticks for volunteers.
Marks estimates around 100 San Juan Islanders will volunteer at the beaches during the Great Islands Clean-Up. Past helpers have included the K-8 students of Paideia Classical School at beaches, Browne’s Lumber employees on roadways and Rotary Club of San Juan Island members at beaches.
To participate, Marks suggests contacting island coordinators for a designated area to clean or simply start cleaning at any location. An after-party will be held at the San Juan Island Brewery from 3-5 p.m., where volunteers, who show a photo of their trash collection, will receive a pint of beer for a dollar. The event is sponsored by the brewery and the Stewardship Network of the San Juans.
Working together, said Marks, can clean the island on Earth Day, as well as the entire year.
“We take more care of our community when we serve it,” she said.
SJI Clean-Up Contacts:
Beach: Jana Marks, 360-378-2319, firstname.lastname@example.org