NeedLESS Plastic, by John Strathman

NeedLESS Plastic, by John Strathman

Photo: John collecting beach debris on an Ocean Legacy expedition


In a 2016 survey, The Pew Research Center reported that 74% of Americans said: “the country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment." But only 20% said that they make an effort to live in ways that help protect the environment “all the time.”


It’s really tough to be environmentally conscious when it comes to plastic. Plastic is a ubiquitous workhorse and a seemingly essential component of our way of life. It’s everywhere, in almost everything we use, for many good reasons. Plastic is light, strong, durable, and cheap. Try to get everything on your grocery list and avoid plastic. Good luck. Try to go a day without using anything plastic. Not gonna happen. But, there ARE many opportunities to reduce our use.


The problem with plastic is that we produce, use and discard far more than we can manage. Much plastic waste is mismanaged. Worldwide, 8 million metric tons of plastic finds its way into the oceans every year. That’s a garbage truck every minute. By 2050, there will be as much plastic in the oceans (by weight) as fish. A million sea birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles are killed by plastic trash in the ocean every year. Microplastics (bits of plastic less than 5mm) have been found in bottled drinking water, shellfish, finned fish, sea salt, even in the air in the Pyrenees mountains, 100 miles from the nearest town. And, yes, it is found in human poop. We eat, drink, and inhale plastic every day. It is believed to be toxic.


In 2018, China stopped accepting plastic waste from other countries. That was a game-changer. Much of the plastic we dutifully deposited in our blue bins was baled up and sent to China. They don’t want our trash anymore. So, recyclers like Waste Management are scrambling to find other markets for plastic (somewhere else to send it). Much is sent to developing countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and India where 80% of plastic is mismanaged – incinerated, land-filled, or illegally dumped. Recyclers in the U.S. are forced to landfill or incinerate plastic they can’t find a market for. Six times as much plastic is incinerated in the United States as is recycled!


My interest in plastic pollution was triggered on a trip to the gorgeous islands of Raja Ampat in West Papua, Indonesia in 2016. Before that, I didn’t think much about my own plastic consumption. I used whatever I wanted, figuring it was okay as long as I tossed my plastic into the recycling bin when I was done with it. In Sorong, a city of 100,000, I saw plastic containers all over the streets and canals so choked with plastic garbage it was hard to see any water. There were discarded plastic water cups and bottles everywhere. There are no blue bins there, no big trucks to collect the waste and take it away. On the beautiful island where we stayed, home to some of the most biodiverse coral reefs in the world, resort staff cleaned the beach of plastic debris early each morning before guests arose to see it. I kayaked to the other side of the island only to find a beautiful beach covered with plastic trash. It was a shocker!

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

I’ve started to look for ways in which I can do my small bit to deal with plastic pollution. I’ve educated myself by reading articles online and visiting websites. I discovered a non-profit called Ocean Legacy, based near Vancouver, B.C., that collects marine debris from remote beaches and recycles as much of it as possible. My wife Deb and I visited the Ocean Legacy warehouse last November and spent a day sorting tons of plastic trash – everything from rope, floats and other fishing gear, drink bottles, plastic barrels, disposable lighters, straws, tires – you name it. I kept in touch with the organization and in June I joined them on a beach cleaning expedition near Bamfield, B.C. on the west coast of Vancouver Island. For 6 days, I boulder-hopped and crawled under salal at the high-tide line to recover plastic trash that had washed ashore. We filled at least thirty 2-yard “super sacks” with junk. The days were long and exhausting. But it was also quite inspiring to hang out with a dozen fearless millennials who love the ocean and hate to see it trashed.

Beach debris example from Ocean Legacy expedition


"Super sacks" loaded with beach debris. Photo credit: Ocean Legacy


Of course, plastic is not just a problem in far-away places. I've picked up plenty of plastic bags, water bottles, and miscellaneous plastic waste from Guemes Island beaches. So, in my small way, here are a few things I'm doing to reduce plastic waste in my little corner of the world:

  • Working with others to help ban lightweight plastic shopping bags in Anacortes and at the state level.
  • I feed wild birds. I’ve accumulated a pile of colorful woven polypropylene bags that once contained sunflower seeds. Friends give me chicken feed and other bags.  They aren’t recyclable.  So, I repurpose them.  I watched YouTube videos, learned how to operate a sewing machine and have made at least 50 reusable, strong, washable grocery totes.  You may see islanders carrying them on the ferry or around town.
  • Deb and I try to avoid single-use plastic packaging whenever possible. Of course, we bring reusable bags to market, refusing wasteful, needless single-use plastic bags.  We try to buy stuff packed in glass bottles or jars or in steel cans (big sigh… unfortunately, cans are usually coated with plastic on the inside!) or wrapped in paper.  I was buying food for our little dog, which came in small polypropylene containers.  I switched to dog food that comes in steel cans. I found ketchup in glass bottles (remember those?) at Smart Food Service Warehouse Store (formerly Cash and Carry). I buy olive oil in gallon steel cans to avoid plastic jugs. We take reusable, washable small bags to the supermarket to put produce in, or don’t bag produce at all.
  • If I see a product that is packaged in plastic, I sometimes write the producer and ask them to consider ditching the plastic. I won't buy until they do!
  • We take a stainless steel container with us to restaurants and fill it with leftovers instead of taking a polystyrene carry-out container provided by the restaurant.
  • I take a reusable cup to Starbucks for coffee. They give me a $.10 discount.  To-go coffee cups are plastic-lined paper and not recyclable around here.  The disposable lids are polypropylene plastic, also not recyclable.
  • I don’t buy bottled water or soda. At best, those bottles are “down-cycled” to make carpeting or fleece, but ultimately are destined for the landfill.  I use a refillable water bottle.  Lots of places will allow you to refill it for free (Starbucks is one). Plastic drink bottles are a top item found on beach cleanups.
  • We don’t use single-use plastic drinking straws.
  • Deb makes re-usable beeswax wraps which we use instead of plastic film for food storage.
  • We used to buy ice cream in plastic tubs. A friend gave us an ice cream maker so now we enjoy ice cream without the plastic waste - and we don't have to worry about it melting in the ferry line!


I’m old enough to remember when plastic wasn’t nearly so pervasive. Pop bottles were heavy glass, returnable, and as kids we collected them and returned them to the store for money. Milk came in a paper carton without a stupid plastic spout on the side. Meat was wrapped in butcher paper, not sitting on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic film. We had drinking fountains and steel canteens, not plastic water bottles. I dunno, maybe we were dehydrated all the time?


That’s my plastic story. What’s yours?

There's so much we can all do to help reduce plastic waste. The world needs LESS plastic!


We invite you to tell us your story/share your plastic reduction tips. We'd like to compile tips from islanders and share them (anonymously) on our website. Taking action to reduce plastic waste begins by raising awareness and re-thinking our purchases. You can help!

Adventure to Vendovi – Sept 7

Adventure to Vendovi — Sept 7


Vendovi has rich history, beautiful scenery and great walking trails which allow for island exploration. On the ride out, you'll hear a brief account of Vendovi history and what you might experience on your visit. On the return trip to Guemes you'll hear some of the history of Eliza Island, Vendovi's neighbor to the north.


Save the date: September 7th, leaving from Young Park on the north tip of Guemes beginning at 11 am. Your boat, the Voyager, is a 34’ landing craft and carries 6 passengers at a time. The Voyager is scheduled to depart Young Park each half hour until 2:30 pm. Departures from Vendovi back to Guemes will be every half hour as each new group arrives. Plan on spending 1/2 to 2 hours exploring the island. The last trip back to Guemes will leave Vendovi at 3:45 pm.


Cost: A donation of $90 per person includes the boat ride to and from Vendovi and a catered picnic lunch from Gere-a-Deli of Anacortes: sandwich, salad, chips, drink and a treat.


Payment: Cash or check (payable to Guemes Island Historical Society) at the event—before sailing.


Reserve your ticket(s) for this wonderful outing. Click here to sign up online:

• Click on the link above
• Go to September 7 on the calendar
• Click on the sailing time you desire
• Click on “New Reservation”
• Add your name and phone number (we need to get in touch to confirm your reservation)
• Click "Create Reservation"

You may also reserve your spot by emailing the Guemes Island Historical Society at: or phoning Tom Deach at 360-708-2582 — be sure to leave a message if unanswered! If you cannot make the event, please remove yourself from the online schedule so your spot will be available for someone else.


Gather your friends and prepare for a leisurely get-a-way trip to truly unique Vendovi Island. Hope to see you on September 7th. We have a limited number of spaces, so act early!

Think Pink

Think Pink


Who can look at a flock of pink flamingos, real or plastic, and not smile? This flock recently descended on the GICCA Stage site at Schoolhouse Park, much to the delight of the volunteers working there. We hope this is a prelude to the fun times and community celebrations to be enjoyed on the GICCA Stage in the very near future. The flock may visit again as work progresses.


For the latest Stage Updates, see this site or contact GICCA Project Manager, Rick Norrie at 360-661-5770. Volunteers with all skill levels are welcome. Stop by the site when Rick is there and visitors can see first-hand the work being done. Donations to GICCA are always appreciated and can be designated to the Stage Project or one of the other GICCA projects. Online donations can be made on our Donate/Volunteer page. Mailed donations to GICCA, 7549 Guemes Island Road, Anacortes, WA 98221.

GICCA Stage Project Update

GICCA Stage Project Update



NEW: Stage documents shared at 9/19/19 GICCA public meeting


Summer has been a busy and productive time for the Guemes Island Community Center Association (GICCA) Stage Project at Schoolhouse Park. We are excited about our recent progress and renewed momentum!


Here’s a summary of our progress:

  • The site has been cleaned up and secured with a construction fence.
  • The deck has been completed.
  • Donated logs have been inspected, graded, peeled, and sanded.
  • Where possible, rot and insect damage are being repaired, and replacement logs have been acquired for those logs that were not salvageable.
  • Donated timbers have been milled into dimensional lumber.
  • Six of the eight main upright logs have been through-bolted in place.
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Island Phone Directories Now Available

Printed Phone Directories Now Available

Get yours now — while they last!


The new Guemes Island Phone Directory is now available for purchase at the Guemes Library during business hours. Listings are printed from the Guemes Directory on this website (see menu at top of page). Directories are $5.00 each. Cash or checks made payable to GICCA.


Library hours:

  • Monday, Wednesday – 2 to 4 and 6 to 8
  • Friday – 2 to 4
  • Saturday – 2 to 4

eBooks & Audio Books Available From Library

eBooks & Audio Books Available From Library


The Guemes Island Library has been welcomed into Washington Anytime Library, a consortium of small (although I'm sure we're the smallest!) libraries. Through this service, islanders can now download eBooks and audio books from a library with thousands of titles—absolutely FREE!

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