I first heard about Lopez Island’s unique trash collection system, last summer when visiting the island with friends. We met Kate Scott, an artist and long-time Lopez resident who, during the course of our visit, showed us photos of the Trashion Show, an annual fundraiser for the Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District. Although the show has retired along with it’s coordinator, it is evidence of the creative community on Lopez. While visiting “The Friendly Island” again this year we got a closer look at the story behind the show.
It seems back in 2011, the San Juan County Council decided to stop operating wast facilities on all of the San Juan Islands. They wanted to contract with commercial carriers on the mainland – out of sight out of mind. Lopez Island residents voted with their signatures and pocketbooks, committing to establish their own district and take care of their own trash.
Key to it’s success is SWAP – Solid Waste Alternatives Program. SWAP is a non-profit dedicated to supporting the Solid Waste Disposal District with supplemental funds. Their tagline: Reuse. Repurpose. Recycle. It serves to educate the community on “responsible waste management practices working towards zero waste.”.
We came upon the solid waste disposal site while walking along the road on our way from our boat to Lopez Village. I’ve never seen anything like it. First, they have a giant free store—“Take It or Leave It” where folks bring stuff they don’t want any more--stuff you might give to Goodwill or donation center that runs a thrift store. On Lopez people can just go pick out what they want. Volunteers accept and sort the second-hand items, all usable, clean, to-good-to-toss. “It’s been open since 2015”, the woman at the receiving table told me, “all run by volunteers.” Islanders and even visitors can pop in and select what they want and walk away. We found a sharp knife, a spatula—two items we forgot to bring on our boat—and a small boat bumper for our bow. The place was as busy as our next stop, the farmers’s market.
At the market, SWAP runs a booth that sells skirts sewn from recycled t-shirts and shopping bags made from plastic feed sacks. The booth was staffed by all volunteers. one them, Kim Norton, current chair of the Board of Directors, told me the story. “Every month I send out an email to about 40 people”. She rents space at a local church, sets out old t-shirts and patterns and people come to design and cut the skirts. “We have a design party. People come and cut the t-shirts up and design the skirts. Then we give them to volunteers to sew. All the money goes to the Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District.”
SWAP sponsors school activities educating students about zero waste, earth day clean-up, and volunteer appreciation events. Their proceeds helped purchase a backhoe for the disposal site, and equipment for a “remake lab” and fixed holes in the road at the dump. They also fund a levy to provide funds for the disposal site and provide a scholarship for a graduating high school senior.
SWAP also sells “Junk Bonds,” created by local artists that sell for $25.00 and are “not redeemable for anything”. One whose image I found through Google sums it up, “Its not just a transfer station, It's a philosophy.”