Friday, November 6, 2015

Fall Sustainability: 6 Ways to Not Feed the Landfill

Feel like your trash is constantly overflowing? Try these tips to scale down your waste and limit your trips to the trash can in the pouring rain.

1. Retrain your Brain

Preventing waste from entering landfills starts with making conscious decisions as consumers. Thinking about what you purchase and how you deal with the leftover waste is the first step in identifying what changes you can make to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Step one, think before you buy. As you shop, ask yourself: Do I really need this item or do I just want it? Is this item disposable? Is there a reusable or more durable option I could choose? Can I borrow this item or find it at a second-hand store instead? Does this item have a lot of packaging waste? Can I instead buy it in bulk or find an alternative with less/recyclable packaging?

Step two, pause before you toss. As you head to the trash bin, ask yourself: Can I reuse or repurpose this item in some way? Is all or part of this item allowed in my curbside recycling? Is there an agency nearby that accepts this item to be recycled, repurposed, or donated?

2. Be Prudent with your Perishables

From farm to fork, almost 40% of the food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten. On average, the American family throws out a staggering 25% of food and beverages they’ve purchased. Instead of sending a quarter of your delicious food to a landfill, consider the following: 

Shop smart. Integrate meal planning into your weekly routine and only buy what you need. Don't forget to plan time to eat leftovers! Limit spoilage by designating one or two days a week for quick grocery trips to buy perishable items when you're ready to eat them. Measure out ingredients from the bulk section will allow you to get exactly the amount you need (bonus points for using your own reusable container!).

Store perishables correctly (with this easy A-Z guide) so they last the longest. Your meal planning should include having weekly leftover meals, to use up the bits and pieces you have left from the week. If you have time, learn how to can, pickle, or ferment to quickly and easily store fruits and veggies you can't use right away.

Compost, and turn your organic waste into nutrients for building healthy, productive soil. Vermicomposting (having your own worm bin) is a great option for your deck or porch, and it's a fun chore for the kids. Composting systems and passive compost piles are great if you have yard space and regularly toss more than a couple pounds of organic waste each week. If you aren’t interested in maintaining a compost system or don’t need the finished product, both Nooksack Valley Disposal and Recycling and Sanitary Services Company provide yard waste and food scrap collection services at your home. You may also haul your own yard waste and food scraps to our local composting company, Green Earth Technology, which is open year-round.

3. Ditch the Disposable Lifestyle

The 50s are over, and disposable is no longer the cool thing. Cutting disposable items from your life is one of the easiest pledges you can make to reduce landfill-bound waste. Just keep your reusable items in a ready-to-go shopping bag or in the trunk of your car. 

Swap out everyday items with their reusable counterparts. Start simple: switch to reusable water bottles and coffee cups (and help reduce the 38 billion water bottles in landfills each year), and keep reusable grocery bags with you (halting the 1,500 plastic bags your family brings home each year).

Start bringing your own to-go containers when you go out to eat so you don’t get stuck with the eternally wasteful Styrofoam box. 

Reusable coffee filters, straws and utensils can go a long way in reducing waste, especially when you consider that the United States uses an estimated 500 million disposable straws a day

Try to pack a waste-free lunch using reusable lunch boxes, local food, reusable utensils and beverage containers. 

Using cloth diapers and wipes for the little ones (who on average will use 8,000 diapers by the time they’re potty-trained), will drastically reduce your year's landfill contributions.

4. Know your Local Second-hand Services

Buy and donate your used items locally, and reduce packaging, transportation pollution, energy and water use. And, you get to support local businesses, farmers, and community members who rely on your patronage for a healthy local economy.

Focus on consuming seasonally and locally. Make it easy on yourself by shopping at your local farmers market. Picking your own food is always an option - spend a day with the family at on
e of the many u-pick farms around Whatcom and Skagit Counties. And don’t forget, if you’re looking for a night out, eat and shop where local goods are featured using the Whatcom Food & Farm Finder.

Shop and donate to second-hand stores. Check out 
Whatcom Recycles! list of where you can recycle or donate. Our own program, The RE Store, is the go-to place for reclaimed building materials and vintage d├ęcor (or we'll come to you for pick up), while large appliances can be put to use by the Appliance Depot (both organizations also run amazing job training programs to provide employable skills to residents). Donate unwanted books to our local public library or most local thrift stores

Bicycles can be donated via the Recycle your Cycle program at SSC, which are in turn donated to The Hub Community Bike Shop to be rebuilt and reused. Your regional drop of for household hazardous waste can be found through Disposal of Toxics. Fabric, Yarn, and Sewing Supplies will be creatively reused by Ragfinery.

Know it can’t be salvaged? Check in with your nearest disposal company - SSC, RDS, or NVD – for pickup and drop-off services.

5. Take Care with your Chemicals

Many cleaners, paints, automotive, lawn and garden products that you use around your house contain harmful chemicals that should not be thrown in your trash. These chemicals are considered household hazardous waste (HHW) and can have significant health risks for humans and the environment. When purchasing or disposing of these products, follow these simple steps to protect yourself and the environment:

  • Make sure any HHW you have in your home and garage is stored properly
  • Always handle HHW with care. Before you purchase HHW, read the labels thoroughly and understand what the cautionary labels mean, and follow the instructions for careful use.
  • Follow proper disposal procedures. Whatcom County Solid Waste Department has information regarding proper disposal of household hazardous waste or you can contact the Disposal of Toxics Facility at 360-380-4640 to learn about their HHW recycling locations.
  • The simplest way to deal with HHW is to avoid them altogether. Start by transitioning away from hazardous products as you finish them off and switching to all-natural and/or environmentally-friendly cleaners and paints. If you feel up to the challenge, start making your own using just a handful of common household ingredients – you’ll be amazed at what hot water, vinegar, and baking soda can do.

6. Share your Successes

Inspire others with things you've found helpful and successful in reducing your household waste and impact on our environment. Send your success stories to

RE Sources is committed to promoting sustainable communities and protecting the health of people and ecosystems in our glorious little slice of NW Washington. 

If you’re familiar with our organization, you know that we take waste prevention seriously – whether we’re salvaging construction waste, leading beach clean-ups, or educating students across Whatcom County – we’re devoted to reducing the waste that leaves our homes, overflows landfills, and contaminates the environment.

Students around Whatcom County have been taking our Green Classroom Pledge to change one habit in their daily classroom routine to reduce the waste they send to landfills. Join them and the Sustainable Schools team by committing to follow one (or more!) of the following tips. Have questions or want to share your favorite tip? Contact us at

The Sustainable Schools team at RE Sources applauds you for every step you take toward a more sustainable lifestyle. What will you start doing today? Stay tuned for the next blogs in our sustainability series – energy efficiency and water conservation

For more information, please contact us at

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Kids in Action, Learning about waste

by Haley Mountain, RE Sources Green Classrooms Coordinator

It was quite a squirmy morning for all the Kendall 1st graders last week when we helped them complete their Green Classroom Action Project - building a worm compost bin. With the help of our friends Beth and Amberose from Washington State University - Whatcom County Extension, the students received a hands-on introduction to their newest classroom residents, a pound of red wigglers. 

The red wigglers added to the compost bin will be in charge of breaking down food scraps left from the 1st grader's snacks and lunches. An important part of the lesson from Beth and Amberose was learning what the worms like to eat - things like paper, pretzels, fruits, and vegetables - an what can make them sick - products that contain meat or dairy and, of course, any non-organic items like plastic or metal. 

Before the worms were added to their new compost container, the students were able to personally welcome each new wiggler and observe them up close at every life stage. Most students observed that their new friends would much rather be tucked in dark, moist bedding than squirming around on their dry hands in the fluorescent light.

"Bedding" for the worms was created by soaking newspaper, paper bags, and egg cartons in water overnight. The 1st graders helped squeeze out the excess moisture and fluff the bedding in the new compost container. At the end of the school year, the worms and the nutrient-rich soil they created will be added to the school garden and the compost bin will be ready to begin anew this Fall. 

Interested in creating a worm bin for your classroom? Contact us today to get started. Click here to learn more about creating a personal worm compost bin.

Want your children or students to participate in a Green Classroom action project? 
Schedule a brief info session for your next staff, PTA, or teacher meeting to gain a better understanding of how you, your students, and your school community can take the next step in greener education. Contact us at or call (360) 733-8307 to set up a presentation today. 

Green Classroom Certification is a program to help teachers integrate conservation education into curriculum and initiate positive action in the classroom. More at

Friday, February 6, 2015

Clever students take their intelligence to the next level

Local 3rd graders share important messages with their schools 

Third grade students at Parkview Elementary weren’t quite sure what was in store for them when they began the Green Classroom Certification Program. The first step – a workshop on water conservation – left them with enough information to creatively devise a corresponding action project. The “action project” allows students to take the information they’ve learned during the workshop, deepen their understanding through hands-on experience, and share their ideas with their school or community. 

Marca Kidwell-Babcock and Jill Cofer are 3rd grade teachers at Parkview Elementary. Killing two birds with one stone, these clever instructors integrated their existing curriculum – presenting information through videos and PowerPoint – into their students’ action projects.  Their crafty kids created videos and presentations depicting how easily we can – and must – conserve water. Some students recorded themselves watering the garden with collected rainwater and turning off faucets while they suds hands or brush teeth. Others wrote, directed, and edited videos on preventing waste with water fountains and flushing toilets. Scroll down to see some of their genuine creations. 

These brave stewards will present their masterpieces to a broader audience within their school, encouraging other classrooms to take on the Green Classroom Certification challenge.
The certification program, offered by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities’ educators, is one part of a multi-faceted approach to help Whatcom County schools reduce their overall footprint while empowering students to become responsible stewards. “We want to see families living satisfying lives in accord with the ecosystems we depend on – now, and for generations to come,” says Haley Mountain, AmeriCorps Green Classroom Coordinator at RE Sources. “At RE Sources, we believe education and action are instrumental vehicles in seeing this vision come to life.”

The Green Classroom Certification program offers materials and professional support to teachers at no cost, helping them incorporate action-based conservation education into their curriculums while meeting academic state standards. 

Elementary teachers are encouraged to participate in the program any time throughout the school year, receiving free support to integrate fun into meeting state standards. Interested teachers, principals, or PTA members can contact RE Sources today for more information,, (360) 733-8307.

Click here to sign up for RE Sources’ monthly educators’ eNews, with educator-focused events, resources, and helpful information. 

Presenting Parkview Third Graders

by Osiris, Kegan, Miriam, Ava, and Addison

by Rory, Charlie, Alora, James, Griffin

by Keagan, Talia, Lillianne, Jack, Trinity

Hi, I’m Shen and I’m going to show you how to save water when washing hands.” - Shen  No Water was wasted during this video.” – Caleb, Molly, Luna, Destiny, Astrid
We need to conserve water because it’s a waste if we don’t.” Kegan 
Conserving water is good because some people in different countries don’t get to use as much water as we do. So maybe if we save it they can have more water, too.” - Osiris 
Conserving water is important because there is only 2% of it on the whole entire planet that we can drink!” - Alora
Why should we conserve water? “Because it will help sea creatures.” - James 
 “Don’t you know not to flush garbage down the toilet? Don’t flush it down the toilet, put it in the garbage!” – Alora 
This is a rain barrel and it is used to catch rain and then with this faucet it comes out and we fill our water buckets to water all the plants in this garden…You put it right under the gutter to catch the rain.” Keagan 

Watch more videos from Parkview third graders.

Check out Parkview PowerPoint presentations and other ingenuitive action projects. 

Learn more about RE Sources' Green Classroom Certification challenge.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Better Way to Manage our Resources

Sanitary Service Company celebrates 25 years of city-wide curbside recycling

Over 30 years ago, a group of Bellingham citizens—too many to individually name here—had a dream of city-wide curbside recycling. In 1982, using a borrowed truck, these dedicated volunteers began collecting recyclables curbside in the Birchwood neighborhood. Other neighborhoods soon joined, including Samish, Sehome, Happy Valley, Fairhaven, and Columbia.

Over the next few years, these avid recyclers and others would establish the non-profit, Bellingham Community Recycling (BCR). Under BCR, curbside recycling expanded to more neighborhoods, a truck was purchased, and a collection crew was hired.

In 1989, citizen efforts resulted in the implementation of a city-wide curbside recycling program as part of the City of Bellingham’s contract with SSC. Stacks of red, white, and blue recycling bins full of material waiting at the curb or alley became a common a sight in Bellingham.

This summer, SSC celebrates the 25th anniversary of city-wide curbside recycling. Those early pioneers believed there was a better way to manage our resources than landfilling or incinerating them and they were confident the people of Bellingham (and subsequently all of Whatcom County) were ready to accept the challenge. Accept the challenge they did! Participation, diversion, and the quality of Whatcom County recyclables are among the highest in the nation.

No surprise that along the way, BCR and some of those same pioneers evolved into a group known today as RE Sources, whose programs and staff continue to shape and inspire the conversations over how we may respect and live lightly upon this place we call home.

Thank you for continuing to challenge yourselves—and us—to keep Whatcom County green and growing.

Paul Razore, President
Sanitary Service Company, Inc

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Community Leaders, Students Rally Against Coal and Oil Projects, Investments

Hundreds of students join forces with community leaders to highlight opposition to local coal and oil projects, climate change

Photo by Paul Anderson
A large crowd of students, alumni, and Bellingham residents rallied behind leaders of the Lummi Nation at Western Washington University (WWU) in a demonstration Saturday intended to protest the school’s approximately $2 million investments in fossil fuel companies. The demonstration followed a presentation by Bill McKibben at the WWU Performing Arts Center.

The unexpected turnout highlighted the diverse community opposition to fossil fuel projects, including recent expansions of local crude-by-rail facilities and the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal. Students collected over 500 pledges from alumni and community members to withhold donations from the WWU Foundation until it commits to ending its investments in the coal, oil, and gas companies pursuing these projects.

“Where the coal port is being proposed is on top of a sacred village of ours called Xwe’chi’eXen,” said Jay Julius, a member of the Lummi Indian Business Council and fisherman, addressing the crowd. “For us, we are at ground zero … Our fishing grounds are protected under the United States Constitution. As indigenous, fish is our main source of food.”

Julius focused his remarks on the impacts of coal terminal proposal, water quality concerns, and climate change. “The consequences that future generations are going to suffer are at least something we could’ve at least stood up to, put our fists up, and took a stand for the human rights for us today and future generations.” Julius said.

Tribal leader and fisherman Jay Julius addresses the crowd.
“It was obvious from hearing our local community that the impacts of fossil fuels go beyond climate change,” said Eddy Ury, a Western senior and member of the Students for Renewable Energy, a campus group that organized the event. “I hope the university will stand with community leaders who are speaking out against the proposed impacts of coal and oil trains.”

The WWU Foundation decided this week to take up the divestment proposal, which has previously secured support from WWU’s student government. The decision will be followed with a series of meetings in the coming weeks between students and administration officials to further consider the proposal to end fossil fuel investments. On June 3rd, WWU Foundation representatives will meet with students leading the campaign and begin planning for action at their summer retreat.

“It really shows how if you come together as a community, and demand your institutions stand with you, it can have a meaningful impact,” said Jenny Godwin, a Western student who also participated in the demonstration. “It just doesn’t make sense financially to double down on a business plan dependent on building coal terminals and causing climate change.”

The Power Past Coal program is part of a regional coalition working to oppose coal exports along the west coast. Power Past Coal is a program of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities , a local nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the health of northwestern Washington’s people and ecosystems through application of science, education, advocacy and action. 

Power Past Coal has been working with student organizers since 2013 to support their effort to end Western’s investments in coal and other fossil fuels, and to highlight the impact the projects funded by fossil fuel investments have on communities like ours.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spotlight On Mr. Herndon-Schepper’s 1st Grade Class

a Certified Green Classroom

As a part of RE Sources' Green Classrooms Certification program, this stupendous first grade class decided to take on a waste prevention project.

The Green Classroom Certification program is a FREE program that provides teachers a meaningful, simple way to integrate conservation education into the curriculum and initiate sustainable changes in the classrooms and beyond.

Mr. Herndon-Schepper’s class at Carl Cozier recently made a pledge to start composting in the classroom. He said his class didn't have any issues with adopting the new habit and that it was actually very easy to integrate into their daily routines. For their Action Project, the class is making an informational video that they’ll show to the rest of the school in hopes of getting other classrooms to join them in their efforts. Currently the video is under production with filming completed and editing underway. Alex, our AmeriCorps member serving as the Green Classroom Coordinator, was able to join the class during filming. Students were having a ton of fun learning about how to compost, the difference between trash and a compost bin, and the role of worms in the process. Stay tuned for the release of this adorable, inspiring video. 

Did you know…? 

In their lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times his or her  adult weight in garbage. This means that, on average, each adult will leave a legacy of 90,000 lbs. of trash for his or her children.

Teachers, looking for action project ideas?

Consider the following possibilities:
  1. Do a litter clean up around a nearby park 
  2. Do a Waste-Free Lunches Campaign in your school 
  3. Host a rainwater catchment or backyard composting workshop for parents and teachers 

Contact the Green Classroom Coordinator if you want your class take on any of these ideas or would like hands-on help with another Action Project you have in mind: or call (360) 733.8307.

What does it take to become certified?

The program starts with hosting a workshop in your classroom, which concludes with your class making a pledge to improve some habit or behavior related to your chosen topic. Then the class completes an Action Project, something that works on a slightly larger scale regarding your topic and ideally has a positive effect upon the school or community as a whole.

Finally, your classroom can obtain official certification by sharing your story of certification and the results of your Action Project with the Sustainable Schools Team. Super easy, lots of support throughout, and lots of fun for students!

If you’re an elementary classroom teacher and are interested in participating in this new and exciting program, contact the Sustainable Schools Team at (360) 733-8307 or at

We look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bellingham Bay in Distress; Neighborhood Project Works Toward Solution

by Wendy Steffensen

The rains have returned to Whatcom County, signaling the warmer weather of spring and reminding us of what it takes to makes our region so lush and green – water. We can hear it tapping at our windows and rushing in our rivers, lapping on Lake Whatcom’s shores and trickling into storm drains. The cloudbursts of spring bring us more than flowers and seedlings; as the water falls on our roofs, lawns, and streets it carries with it all the chemicals and grime on those surfaces. Metals are eroded from our roofs, pesticides collected from our lawns, and oil and brake pad dust washed away from our streets.

For decades, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities has worked to protect the Salish Sea from the harmful contaminants in our stormwater with our North Sound Baykeeper program. The Baykeeper Team is charged with protecting and enhancing the marine and nearshore habitats of the northern Puget Sound region. At the end of last year, the Baykeeper Team conducted sampling at stormwater outfalls that drain to Bellingham Bay. Unfortunately, we have discovered high levels of metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (or PAHs) in our stormwater.

Why is this important? Metals, like copper and zinc, are common in stormwater but are toxic to marine life.  According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, copper is toxic to many of the organisms in the fish food web and disrupts salmon sensory systems. PAHs, also common in stormwater, are complex organic pollutants that are found in fossil fuels, and are formed by incomplete combustion of wood, coal, and diesel fuels. They are carcinogenic to laboratory animals and acutely toxic to some fish species. 

The content of our stormwater is not unique to Bellingham. Urban areas throughout the developed world struggle with similar issues. The difference for Bellingham is that our stormwater is discharged to Bellingham Bay. As we learned in January’s Bellingham Herald article, “Decline in Bellingham Bay marine life eludes quick diagnosis”, a recent study of the health of our bay showed that this water body is in serious trouble. The causes are still under speculation but the metals and PAHs in our stormwater may be contributing to a decline in diversity of species and contamination in sediment.

We all agree that the health of Bellingham Bay is important to our community. That’s why RE Sources is launching the Neighborhood Clean Water Project to coordinate the neighbors of Lower Whatcom Creek and Squalicum Harbor watersheds to identify the sources of pollution and find ways to remove contaminants from our stormwater. The kick-off meeting for this project will be Tuesday, March 18 from 6:30-8 pm at RE Sources’ Sustainable Living Center above the RE Store. This meeting is free and open to the public.

During the project’s first year, we will focus on data collected from the C Street and Broadway Street outfalls on Whatcom and I & J Waterways, respectively. These outfalls drain portions of the Lettered Streets, Columbia, and Cornwall Park neighborhoods.  RE Sources will work with watershed neighbors to identify the sources of this pollution and, where possible, attempt to fix some of these sources.  We also hope to expand this project to include other watersheds in the years to come.

Over the years, we have learned that the more people know about a water quality problem, the more empowered they are to fix it. We developed this project because there are things we can do as a community to improve water quality and we know there are people in Bellingham that want to help. We can’t control the rain falling from the sky, but we can make the stormwater it creates cleaner before it reaches Bellingham Bay.

For more information, visit


Wendy Steffensen is RE Sources’ North Sound Baykeeper, responsible for protecting and enhancing the marine and nearshore habitats of the northern Puget Sound region.  North Sound Baykeeper is a program of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. RE Sources promotes sustainable communities and protects the health of northwestern Washington’s people and ecosystems through application of science, education, advocacy, and action.