Contributed photos/Great Islands Clean-Up Islanders collect trash during a past Great Islands Clean-up.

Great Islands Clean-Up returns on Earth Day

When you start picking through trash you never know what might show up.

If you are a volunteer for the Great Islands Clean-Up, you might find a $100 bill or an entire chainsaw.

“It was broken, but was quite easily fixed,” said Lori Stokes, who helped start the effort to clean up the islands.

The 2017 Great Islands Clean-Up, now in its seventh year, is an annual county-wide spring-cleaning event held on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, from 9 a.m. to noon.

“Volunteers will collect litter from public beaches and roadways come rain or shine,” say organizers.

According to a press release from the clean-up crew, “during last year’s event, approximately 450 islanders collected almost 5,000 pounds of litter. And things looked pretty spiffy! But sadly, sometimes our refuse continues to end up as litter. Thoughtless tossing of bottles, cans, food wrappers, or cigarette butts; accidental ‘blowing away’ of debris from unsecured loads on boats and trucks; or deliberate dumping of tires, etc., all contribute to the need to make litter pick-up an ongoing effort.”

This effort began years ago when David Dehlendorf and Stokes founded a grass-roots group called the San Juan Island Anti-Litter Initiative. Their mascot was a pink pig named “Capt. Pick-It-Up.”

According to Stokes, the group’s intent was to try to figure out ways to prevent litter from happening in the first place, rather than simply to pick it up after it was on the ground.

“We spent lots of time identifying the various sources of litter, including putting a big tarp down on the ground at the transfer station after one of the regular monthly pick-ups of litter on Roche Harbor Road, done by the group called the Trash Masters, and sorting everything we found so that we could analyze the probable sources,” she said.

The simple task of picking up other people’s refuse turned into the Great Islands Clean-up.

Prior to that, the Soroptimists organized annual Earth Day clean-ups.

Organizers also want to thank many businesses who participate – San Juan Sanitation always provides collection for the event. This year multiple organizations have joined the effort – including the town of Friday Harbor, Washington State Ferries, the Orcas Chamber of Commerce, San Juan Islands Leave No Trace and Friends of the San Juans.

All islanders are encouraged to help pick up the accumulated trash so residents and visitors alike are treated to a litter-free island where clean roadsides and beaches are the standards.

Want to help?

Free bags, grabbers, safety vests and gloves will be available on San Juan Island at the county Public Works office at 915 Spring Street during the week before the event, and on the other islands the day of the event. Pick-up of collected litter will be at various places on each island; check with your island’s organizer for that information.

Please connect with your business, school, non-profit, service or neighborhood groups, family and friends and volunteer to help. Join a group that has already been formed, or organize a group of your own!

Find out all the details on Facebook at, and contact your island’s organizers directly.

San Juan Island:

For roadside clean-up, contact Lori Stokes (378-4643 or

For beach clean-up, contact Jana Marks (378-2319 or

Orcas Island:

For roads or beaches, contact Pete Moe at Orcas Recycling Services (376-4089 or

Lopez Island:

For roadside clean-up, contact Nikyta Palmisani (468-2555 or

For beach clean-up, contact Nick Teague (468-3754 or

Shaw Island

For roads or beaches, contact Stephanie Buffum (472-0404 or

Local Earth Day clean-ups were originally organized on San Juan Island by the Soroptimists. The Great Islands Clean-Up, an outgrowth of these efforts, was started in 2011 by a group of enthusiastic litter-picker-uppers on San Juan Island, Friends of the San Juans, and San Juan County Public Works. Orcas Recycling Services got involved in 2014, and the Lopez Solid Waste District joined up in 2015. This year, Shaw has become an official participant. San Juan County Public Works Department provides funding for the event with Washington State Department of Ecology litter control grant dollars.


Contributed photos/Great Islands Clean-Up Islanders collect trash during a past Great Islands Clean-up.

Contributed photos/Great Islands Clean-Up Islanders collect trash during a past Great Islands Clean-up.

Contributed photos/Great Islands Clean-Up Islanders collect trash during a past Great Islands Clean-up.