Pick up litter during Great Island Clean Up

Join fellow Earth enthusiasts in a day dedicated to making the islands sparkle.

Participants on Orcas, Lopez, Shaw and San Juan will pick up litter during the Great Islands Clean Up on April 20.

“We hope to make this the biggest one yet,” said Pete Moe, executive director of Orcas Recycling Services. “There is a core group of 30 to 40 people who show up every time because they are bugged by litter. It’s a very San Juan County thing to do. We live in a beautiful place, and people want to keep it clean.”

The sixth annual event is scheduled for 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Bags, grabbers, safety vests and latex gloves will be provided at pickup/drop-off stations located at the Village Green, Deer Harbor Community Club and Olga Energetics. A public works grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology funds supplies for the day.

Teams and individuals are welcome to participate. If someone chooses to clean up their own neighborhood, make sure to check in with Moe at the Village Green to record the number of miles covered and tally the pounds of refuse collected. Afterward, from 4-6 p.m., all volunteers are treated to a free beer at Island Hoppin’ Brewery. ORS holds a litter pickup event in the fall and spring in order to “bookend” the tourist season.

Moe says Island Market traditionally brings one of the largest teams and this year is challenging other entities or businesses to beat its number of volunteers. If that happens, it will donate $1,000 to ORS.

The first year, Orcas volunteers covered 21.5 miles and picked up 2,000 pounds of garbage. That number has grown annually, and in 2018, participants traversed 37.75 miles and collected 2,100 pounds of garbage. San Juan Sanitation helps ORS with hauling the bags of litter off the island. The most common items found are Corona, Modelo and Rainier cans and bottles.

“The amount always varies but generally we are getting ahead of it,” Moe said. “The first year we picked up items that had been in the ditch for years. Now we are picking up litter that is on the surface. That’s a good thing.”

Typically, the cleanup only includes garbage because most items are too contaminated to be recycled. But this year, ORS staff and volunteers will clean glass bottles and aluminum cans because the four participating islands have challenged each other to collect the most pounds of recycling.

ORS is currently fundraising for a baler that will allow ORS to crush recyclables, which is the most cost-efficient way to ship it. The county has agreed to purchase the equipment, which ranges in price from $75,000-$100,000, and ORS will build a concrete pad, roof and loading dock with a price tag of about $200,000. Moe says he hopes to start site prep by this summer with the project completed in a few years.

For more information about the Great Island Clean Up, contact Moe at pete@exchangeorcas.org or 360-376-4089.