Fall Quarterly Enewsletter

Tee’ing up for January

It may seem like a long way off, but for us, January is just around the corner. Over the summer and early fall, we have been busy working with our partners to develop background materials, factsheets and policy language to help support important legislative bills addressing plastic pollution and the recycling crisis precipitated by the China National Sword.

Building off of the amazing number of local ordinances addressing single-use plastics, it is time to take a big step and tee up for a statewide plastic bag bill (see below). This sense of timing was reinforced by the recent announcement that Kroger, the parent company of Fred Meyer, QFC and other major grocers across the US, that they are phasing out carry-home plastic bags.

China’s recyclables import restrictions spur action

Washington’s cities and counties are reeling from the major crisis that has been precipitated by China’s new restrictions on accepting recycled materials from oversees. Our local materials recycling facilities (MRFs) are no longer able to send their bales of recyclable materials to China. At first, these bales were being redirected to other Southeast Asian countries, but this outlet is slowly closing as well. Costs are rising, and in some areas, these increased costs are being passed along to residents in the form of monthly surcharges. This is forcing all of us to rethink our recycling system. Thus, we are working with partners on several major policies that would revamp the system and also bring more funds in to help support cities’ and counties’ recycling programs, including education, and litter programs.

Other zero waste issues

In addition to addressing plastics, recycling and litter, our legislative work is slated to cover other zero waste arenas:

PAINT: Old cans of old paint stored out in the garage or in storerooms are a huge problem, and often just get tossed in the trash It’s time for Washington to join the eight other states with paint stewardship programs and make it easy and free to recycle latex paint and safely dispose of oil-based paint.

FOOD WASTE: In spite of how hard many of us work to reduce food waste in our daily lives, 17% of the waste going to the landfill in Washington is food waste. About half of that is edible food. Representative Beth Doglio will re-introduce her bill to set a goal for Washington to reduce our food waste by 50% by 2030. Edible food needs to be going to food groups, not to the landfill. And spoiled food that is inedible needs to be composted.

COMPOST LABELING STANDARDS: There is a great deal of confusion about what products are truly compostable and those that are merely “biodegradable.” A statewide bill that provides standards for compostability labeling would remove this uncertainty and the potential for greenwashing.

RIGHT TO REPAIR: Finally, a bill to ensure Right to Repair was well received in the legislature last year and could advance this coming session. It would allow independent repair shops to have access to manufacturers electronic codes, parts and instructions (at cost) so they can more easily fix cell phones, computers and other items with screens. A Right to Repair law would create jobs and help us all repair rather than toss our electronic-based products.

We are looking forward to lots of policy action at the state level, starting in January!

Learn More

If you are interested in learning more about any of these efforts, please contact Heather at Heather@zerowastewashington.org or (206) 441-1790.

Getting ready for a statewide plastic bag bill, building on the success of local ordinances.

It is time for a statewide Reusable Bag Bill. We have been working with partners to get ready for session and Representative Strom Peterson is pleased to be the champion for the house bill. Rep. Peterson was the fabulous and hard-working prime sponsor of last year’s Drug Take-Back Law.

And in recent news, on September 13, Lake Forest Park became the 23rd jurisdiction in Washington to take action on plastic bags. Earlier this year, city councils in Port Angeles and La Conner passed reusable bag ordinances. Several more city councils are getting close to votes this fall.

Lake Forest Park’s ordinance is the most advanced in Washington

Not only did Lake Forest Park enact an ordinance that bans thin plastic carry home bags, they also banned foamed styrofoam food “to go” containers. The ordinance requires that containers must now be compostable in their compost stream. The city’s yard waste and food waste, including compostable food packaging, goes to a commercial compost facility. This new law will help reduce food waste because people can toss their leftover food packaging with leftover bits of food right into their curbside yard bins.

Community members in Lake Forest Park have worked on the ordinance for nine years! Exemplary actions include surveying and talking with local businesses, researching alternatives and building off of other ordinances. The final result is a terrific next-generation ordinance.

Thank you to Kyla

We were sad to say good bye to Kyla Wilson who recently left her position at Zero Waste Washington to go to graduate school in Sweden. For the past year, she was our plastic campaign coordinator, helping write our model reusable bag and food serviceware ordinances, producing other educational materials and working to support community members and council members and their staff in numerous locations around the state. We miss her and wish her well in in her graduate studies.

If you are interested in information or other support in working to address single-use plastic items in your city or county, please contact Heather at heather@zerowastewashington.org or (206) 741-1790.

Report from our first Fix-It Fair in Tacoma

By Maria Teresa Gámez

Imagine walking into a room and finding a buzz of activity. Sewing machines whirring, drills undoing screws, and people chatting. That is what our first Fix-It Fair in Tacoma felt like.

In partnership with the Tacoma Tool Library and the Tacoma Housing Authority, we hosted our first fair on September 15. Volunteer fixers repaired household items, computers and sewed up torn clothing (even a boot!).

It was fun to see the variety of items that people brought in. The event took place in Salishan, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Tacoma, and we had the opportunity to share with people from different cultures and generations who have something in common: love for their environment and an understanding of the importance of waste reduction.

Fix-It Fairs are a way to extend the life of items

At the beginning of this project, we thought the reasons driving people to come to these events were practical or sentimental. And yes, people want to save money and want to keep items that have personal value to them, but beyond that, Tacoma residents are well aware of the importance of waste prevention initiatives. The community wants to be active in this process, so people are approaching the Fix-It Fairs not only to fix their broken items but to really extend their life by donating some of the fixed items to people who are able to reuse them.

At summer outreach events, where we had booths and displays to promote the fairs, many residents asked us if we could receive their items and donate them. Thankfully, the Chaya Movement is supporting this idea and has facilitated a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound. They are going to be with us at every event to take donated (and newly repaired!) clothing, backpacks, housewares, small appliances, toys and electronics, among others.

Fairs will be spread throughout the city

We knew the repair events were a great idea and we knew people would like them, but we weren’t expecting the reception that this pilot program is having in Tacoma. For this reason, we will be hosting Fix-It Fairs all over the city. We want Tacoma to have access to these events and to share with us their ideas and opinions about them.

We hosted a well-attended Fix-It Fair in October at Centro Latino and our next repair event will take place on November 17 at Bay Terrace.  We can’t wait to share some repair time with this vibrant community. The Tacoma Public Library is also supporting this initiative. Soon we will be hosting Fix-it Fairs in other library branches and other sites around the city. We hope to see you in one of our events.

For more info

Follow us on Facebook and stay tuned for more information: Fix-It Fairs – Tacoma

Fairs will be scheduled approximately once a month through June 2019, at different locations in Tacoma. Please check the schedule at http://www.tacomatoollibrary.com

Plastic pollution efforts ramping up

By Jessica Mitchell, Zero Waste Washington Summer Intern

Three months ago, as I prepared myself for a summer of Zero Waste work and an immersive intern experience, the last thing I thought I’d be doing was taking home a bucket of used cigarette butts to count one-by-one on my living room floor.

While this process was just as smelly as it sounds, I couldn’t help but be surprised by the satisfaction of reaching that last 1,002nd cigarette butt. My work on the litter assessment project has been tedious at times, but it has also opened my eyes to the beauty of citizen science, and good old-fashioned grit. The organizations and community groups that have come together to do these cleanups are strong-headed and persistent in the best way possible. It’s not every day that neighbors work together to pick up and count “every little, itty, bitty piece of trash”, as Zero Waste Washington’s Executive Director Heather Trim would say.

Testing a new litter protocol

Zero Waste Washington has been working on the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol (ETAP) for a little less than a year now. The draft protocol was created by EPA. Groups like Zero Waste Washington are testing it, so it can be revised and then made openly accessible for all citizens to use. The goal is to compare litter data between different locations. Where are the problem areas? How are water bodies affected? Is a sufficient amount of litter near a body of water enough to categorize it impaired under the Clean Water Act? How much is a “sufficient amount”? To get to these answers, we have to start with knowing the nitty gritty details about the litter that is present in our communities.

Coming into this project, everything was fresh and new. I had never led a litter cleanup before, nonetheless I answered a barrage of sorting questions from volunteers (there were 45 categories to sort the litter into…45!): “Yes, rubber bands go in #24 Plastic: Other Food Products and Packaging.”; “yes, we are collecting dog poop–it goes in #45 Organic Matter”; “a balloon? That goes in #35 Entertainment and Recreation.”

Beaches versus urban alleys

One of the things that was most interesting to me was the difference in the amount of litter between urban areas and beaches/park areas.

As a point of comparison, we found 22 cigarette butts on Seahurst Beach and more than 1,500 butts in two blocks of downtown Burien. While this difference is jarring, it’s sad to realize that most of these cigarette butts ultimately end up in our storm drains and the Puget Sound. Another surprise was our discovery that most people do not know that cigarette filters are made from plastic, not cotton. Thus, they can take up to 500 years to degrade, and even then, they still contaminate our waters as microplastics.

This experience has been unique and exciting; it’s truly astonishing how many people want to talk about litter. Let’s keep the conversation and the hard work going!

This protocol is intensive and wholeheartedly thorough, but also fundamentally necessary to push the wheel of legislative change. I can tell that Zero Waste Washington is excited for the day when litter assessment approach will help protect our waterways.