Friday, November 15, 2019

It's America Recycles Day!

Free multimedia toolkit helps cities, counties, and schools reduce contamination in recycled material

Happy America Recycles Day! Today is your opportunity to recommit to reducing, reusing, recycling, and purchasing products made from recycled material. It's important to recycle, despite current challenges. Our Nov. 12 blog provided useful tips and resources to help you do it. But did you know that The Department of Ecology has a contamination reduction resource available for cities, counties, and schools that is proven effective at reaching Washington residents?

The Recycle Right Partner Toolkit is an easy and free way for cities, towns, and counties across Washington to help their residents clean up the recycled material they collect. The toolkit contains a variety of drag-and-drop multimedia resources in both English and Spanish that will kick start a contamination reduction outreach program or supplement existing material in order to take advantage of the popular statewide Recycle Right education campaign.

This past June, Ecology’s Recycle Right statewide education campaign reached Washington residents more than 32 million times with universal messages about the importance of household recycling being empty, clean and dry. This is a fact no matter what is accepted into your local system. The campaign’s success led us to develop a toolkit that will help our local partner agencies reduce contamination at the first step in the recycling process: when residents put materials into their recycling bin.

The toolkit is an assembly of short radio spots and videos, printed documents, and web banners. And there are Spanish versions of nearly everything. It is available for download only at Ecology's Partner Toolkit webpage. Easy-to-follow instructions direct visitors to a page where they can download the entire toolkit or just the material they need.

“A clean recycling stream is a sustainable recycling stream,” says Ecology’s Solid Waste Management program Manager Laurie Davies. “Educating our residents is proven to be the fastest and easiest way to reduce contamination in our recycled material.”

Cleaning up the state’s recycling stream has taken on new urgency as we implement our response to China’s crackdown on recycling contamination. Because more than 60 percent of Washington’s recycled material was shipped to China, the effects of this recycling crisis were felt especially hard here.

The Recycle Right campaign was created to educate Washington residents about the basics of recycling, focusing on reducing contamination and increasing the quality of materials in the state’s recycling stream. Over the course of three weeks, Washington residents experienced television and radio ads, and digital videos across a variety of platforms, and in both Spanish and English languages.
An example of a Spanish language web banner available in the Recycle Right partner toolkit.

An example of a English language web banner available in the Recycle Right partner toolkit.
Many Recycle Right partner toolkit materials are provided
in both English and Spanish languages, including these
web banners.
The campaign was very effective, focusing on television and radio audiences, as well as digital advertising on a variety of platforms like Facebook and Pandora. There was even a Recycle Right billboard in Tacoma. In addition to the 32 million views; 26,000 people clicked through to the Recycle Right website for more information. And the more than 500 comments we received on social media sparked impressive conversations about recycling.

View all the Recycle Right campaign videos at Ecology's YouTube channel.

Ecology is offering the Recycle Right Toolkit to our municipal and county partners, and now schools and other organizations, to supplement and streamline their growing efforts to educate Washington residents about the value of maintaining a clean recycling stream. Toolkit materials are plucked directly from the Recycle Right campaign and formatted for easy use. Some of the tools can be customized so that Ecology partners can make them work for their unique needs.

The toolkit was developed by C+C, the same company that developed our Recycle Right education campaign. And while it is intended to meet the needs of Ecology’s partners, the agency will make it available to other organizations, associations and schools, or individuals who believe it would be useful to their recycling contamination reduction efforts.

By Dave Bennett, Solid Waste Management

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Despite challenges, recycling is still the right thing to do – for the environment and the economy

This is an image of a King County transfer center over laid with the recycling logo and text that reads #BERECYCLED
The nation will celebrate America Recycles Day on Friday, Nov. 15. This is your chance to recommit to reduce, reuse and recycle. As you investigate ways to accomplish this for yourself, remember to check social media for recycling tips and tricks, and to find out what others are doing to take their recycling to the next level. 

Quickly search your social media channels by using the hashtag #BeRecycled.

November 15 is America Recycles Day!

Over the last few years, the recycling system in Washington and across the United States has been under siege, with low commodity prices and restrictions on overseas exports of recyclables leading some people to question whether recycling is really worth it anymore. Well, we’re here to tell you that recycling is absolutely still the right thing to do. Even with the new challenges, recycling makes economic and environmental sense.

As the nation prepares to celebrate America Recycles Day on Friday, Nov. 15, the Ecology is reminding residents of our state about the environmental and economic value that recycling brings. With all the changes going on in recycling today, it’s not always easy to find reasons to continue down a sometimes difficult path. So let’s take a moment to go over why recycling matters as much today as it ever has.

Recycling matters

Recycling protects our environment by conserving natural resources and reducing the need to extract and process raw materials. Using fewer raw materials by recycling protects air and water, which keeps our environment healthy for people and animals. It also saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Many of the environmental benefits of recycling are commonly known. Recycling creates less landfill waste and reduces contamination risk to groundwater supplies. Recycling paper saves trees and forests. And recycling plastics means making less plastics to pollute our landscape and oceans. Recycling also benefits the economy. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Recycling Economic Information Report from 2016, there are 1.57 jobs, $76,030 in wages and $14,101 in tax revenues created for every 1,000 tons of material that is recycled.

The biggest challenge facing the recycling system today is eliminating contamination. Contamination happens when a material enters the recycling system that does not belong, or when the right materials are prepared the wrong way, such as recyclables stuffed into plastic bags or food left in containers. Contamination can also occur when potentially recyclable items are put into local recycling streams that can’t handle them. Common contaminants include glass, garden hoses, plastic bags, lithium batteries, food or liquids.

It might not seem like a big deal, but imagine a worker trying to pick shards of broken glass out of a conveyor belt loaded with mixed paper and other materials. It quickly becomes far more effort than it’s worth – meaning that more material that could have been recycled – and should have been recycled - ends up going to the landfill.

Avoiding contamination doesn’t take a lot of work: Simply make sure all of the material you recycle is empty, clean, and dry.

Waste less, recycle better with Ecology's online resources

Recycling is a hobby for many Washington residents. Emptying a container until it is clean, and then sorting that dry recyclable into the appropriate bin so that it can be collected and turned into a valuable commodity is a process undertaken by millions of Washingtonians every day.

But even the most ardent recycler can get stumped once in a while. Can you put old Christmas lights into your commingled recycling bin? (Hint: No). Can your broken tablet be recycled at the electronics center along with computers and televisions (Hint: Yes).

For these questions and many more, Ecology has a variety of online recycling resources that can connect you with information and services to support your recycling habit:

1-800-RECYCLE is both a hotline (1-800-732-9253) and an online tool that connects you or your business to recycling services across Washington. This tool can help you find where in your community you can recycle everything from used appliances to leftover paint.


E-Cycle Washington is a free program that makes it easy for Washington residents to recycle their broken, obsolete or worn-out electronics. Electronic products contain valuable materials that can be recycled and toxic chemicals that should be kept out of the landfill. Items accepted include televisions, computers, laptops, monitors, tablets, E-readers, and portable DVD players. To date, E-Cycle Washington has collected almost 407 million pounds of used electronics.

LightRecycle Washington

LightRecycle Washington accepts fluorescent light bulbs – both the long tube kind and the twisty compact fluorescent bulbs – because they contain mercury, a potent neurotoxin. Washington state law requires that all mercury-containing lights be recycled, which includes both fluorescents and some high intensity discharge, or HID, lights. Although a single fluorescent light contains a very small amount of mercury, millions of these lights are sold every year in Washington state, raising the threat to harm human health and the environment if not properly recycled. Recycling these lights prevents the mercury from being released. The good news is that you can recycle these lights for free at hundreds of locations across the state through the LightRecycle program.

By Dave Bennett, Solid Waste Management

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

This creeping pedal sea cucumber might just give you the creeps!

Eyes Under Puget Sound's Critter of the Month

Creeping pedal sea cucumber, Psolus chitonoides. Photo courtesy of Dave Cowles,
Move over, bats and spiders! With its blood-red tentacles and scaly body, the creeping pedal sea cucumber might just be the next creature to haunt your Halloween nightmares.

Jeepers Creepers

The creeping pedal sea cucumber, Psolus chitonoides, is shaped like a cucumber with a flattened bottom, but it is far from a vegetable you’d eat with hummus. It is closely related to sea stars, sea urchins, and sand dollars in the Phylum Echinodermata (meaning spiny-skinned). This “cuke’s” spiny skin is covered with rows of overlapping plates, kind of like an armadillo or its armored molluscan namesake: the chiton. It grows to a whopping 7 cm — a little bigger than a fun-size candy bar.

Keep calm and creep on

Psolus chitonoides with tube feet extended in rare moments of activity.
Left: Photo courtesy of Aaron Baldwin, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.
Right: Photo courtesy of Johanna Raupe,
Although its flat bottom side is covered in tube feet, this sea cucumber doesn’t do much creeping. It is mostly sedentary, preferring to attach its soft sole to smooth, vertical rock surfaces. It moves so little that other organisms often colonize the top of its body, camouflaging everything but the red feeding tentacles.

Don’t live in fear of a surprise encounter with this creepy cuke … It is generally found in deeper water (low intertidal zone to depths of about 240 meters) from Alaska to California. In 30 years of sampling in Puget Sound, we have only collected four of them; this is probably because our sampling occurs mostly in areas with soft sediments rather than rocks.

Dark Web

These creeping pedal sea cukes are in full feeding mode with
sticky red tentacles waving. Photo by Jim Nestler,
The ten tentacles of the creeping pedal sea cucumber form a cup-shaped mesh that resembles a red spider’s web. Just like a spider’s web, these tentacles ensnare food using a super sticky substance. Each tentacle tip has little pads called papillae that secrete an adhesive material used to capture particles of detritus (dead organic matter) from the water. The tentacles may even have some chemosensory abilities, moving vigorously when they sense food is near. The cucumber then stuffs each food-covered tentacle into its mouth (note that one of the individuals in the image to the right has a tentacle in its mouth).

Bad blood

Psolus chitonoides with its tentacles retracted. Photo courtesy
of Kevin Lee,
You might think that waving brightly colored tentacles around would be an invitation for predators to come snacking, but these cool cucumbers have a nasty trick in store for anyone looking for treats. Their tissues contain toxic chemicals called saponins that are poisonous to many organisms, including fish and mollusks.

This trick doesn’t always work. There are a few predators that aren’t affected by the chemicals, including the leather star, several species of sun stars, and the red rock crab. As a last-ditch effort to protect itself, the cucumber can completely retract its tentacles into its body. This leaves it looking like an unappetizing ball of orange armored plates. Now that’s what we call creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky!

By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program

Critter of the Month

Our benthic taxonomists, Dany and Angela, are scientists who identify and count the benthic (sediment-dwelling) organisms in our samples as part of our Marine Sediment Monitoring Program. We track the numbers and types of species we see in order to understand the health of Puget Sound and detect changes over time.

Dany and Angela share their discoveries by bringing us a Benthic Critter of the Month. These posts will give you a peek into the life of Puget Sound’s least-known inhabitants. We’ll share details on identification, habitat, life history, and the role each critter plays in the sediment community. Can't get enough benthos? See photos from our Eyes Under Puget Sound collection on Flickr.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Cleaning up: An affordable housing milestone

A pair of street corners in southeast Seattle may not look like much right now, but they’re already a first-of-its-kind cleanup site for Ecology. Yet, it’s a contaminated site much like hundreds before it that have undergone cleanup and been put to new use. We’re opening a public comment period on a cleanup plan that marks an important an important step forward.  
A drawing of planned buildings, five stories on either side of an intersection.
The Maddux will provide affordable housing and street-level shops about a block from a Link light rail station.
Illustration courtesy of Mount Baker Housing Association.

A first

The Mount Baker Housing Association’s Maddux project is the inspiration for Washington’s Healthy Housing Remediation Program, which we developed in conjunction with the Washington State Department of Commerce. The program enables local governments and nonprofit organizations to obtain state funding to help offset environmental cleanup costs when redeveloping contaminated land for affordable housing.

Mount Baker acquired a cluster of lots where S. McClellan Street intersects with Martin Luther King Way S. The association plans 166 affordable units with street level retail a block from Sound Transit’s Mount Baker Link light rail station and near a variety of shopping and services.

Overcoming a common obstacle

These plans overlap with a costly problem that’s common to urban redevelopment. Previous use of the property – in this case a gas station and a dry cleaner – left contamination behind. The remediation program, building on earlier funding we’ve provided for the project’s cleanup, has enabled Mount Baker to proceed with more than $6 million in state assistance to hire consultants who evaluated the contamination, sifted through cleanup options and worked with us to propose a cleanup plan.

The former gas station at Martin Luther King and McClellan. The former dry cleaner is across McClellan at far left. Ecology photo.
We’re asking the public, as part of the state Model Toxic Control Act cleanup process, to review those studies, the plan, proposed updates to our legal agreement with Mount Baker, and environmental review documents we’ve prepared.

That comment period runs through November 26, 2019.

Historic releases from gas stations and dry cleaners are the most common types of cleanup sites in Washington. Current laws on handling cleaning chemicals and managing underground storage tanks prevent these problems at today’s cleaners and fill-up stations.

A cleanup plan that fits the project

The gas station cleanup will primarily involve excavation of soil in and around areas where underground tanks and system piping once were.

The dry cleaner’s contamination requires a more complex approach. The solvents that were used mix readily into water. Even a small spill or leak into the ground can spread over a wide area if it enters the flow of groundwater. That’s what happened here (see the map below), and the Maddux development will incorporate features that factor in a cleanup process that may continue for several years.

A map shows property parcels at the intersection of McClellan Street and Martin Luther King, Junior, Way. Shading shows areas at a former dry cleaner and at a former gas station where soil will be removed. Other shading shows the estimated location of groundwater that is contaminated with solvent chemicals.
The cleanup plan will protect people from contaminated
groundwater, shown in blue. Processes to break down
the plume’s solvents will proceed over several years.
Illustration courtesy of Mount Baker Housing Association.
Excavation of the contaminated soil under the dry cleaner and adjacent parcels will remove the source of the groundwater contamination. This will help slow or stop the expansion of the plume of solvent-contaminated groundwater that extends under S. McClellan Street, part of the former gas station and under an adjoining stretch of Martin Luther King Way S.

The rest of the plan allows the project to proceed and cleanup to continue without disrupting traffic on the two streets:
  • Because the solvent compounds can release vapor that can rise through the soil, the project will be engineered with capping, vapor barriers and sub-slab ventilation. The property deed will prohibit future modifications that change these protections without notifying us and obtaining our approval.
  • Long term monitoring will provide information on how well the cleanup treatments are working and track the breakdown of the solvents.
  • After 5 years of monitoring, the time to reach cleanup in the groundwater will be recalculated. If it is determined to be too slow, Mount Baker will inject a chemical (such as zero valent iron) into the groundwater that aids in the breakdown the contaminants. Bacteria that’s naturally present in soil also helps by feeding on the solvent chemicals, breaking them down biologically.

We will review the monitoring data and the condition of the site every five years to determine how well the plan is working and whether any changes are needed. We’ll issue a report on these periodic reviews and ask for public comment each time.

Two people operate a soil core sampling apparatus. On the left a person kneels, and on the right a person stands. Both hold parts of the equipment. Both are dressed in helmets and safety vests. They are inside a room with dry cleaning equipment.
Technicians for a consulting firm drill below the floor 
of a former dry cleaner to gather environmental samples.
Photo courtesy of Mount Baker Housing Association.

Public meeting

Along with the comment period, we’re hosting a public meeting and open house. Our cleanup experts will be there, along with representatives from Mount Baker and their environmental consultants. 

We’ll have displays about the project and the cleanup plan and will be glad to discuss the cleanup and answer questions. We’ll also give a presentation and take audience questions. Translation and interpreter services will be available in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Khmer.

By: Larry Altose, Northwest regional communications manager

More information:

The documents out for comment:
A fact sheet about the project's cleanup process is available in Chinese, English, Khmer, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Other links:

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Fecal Matters: No-contact advisory lifted for Appletree Cove, Kitsap County

BEACH Program Update

Good News! Kitsap Public Health District has lifted the no-contact advisory for Appletree Cove that was issued following a sewage spill near West Kingston Road. A follow-up investigation by Kitsap County Public Works determined all the sewage was contained on shore and no sewage reached the marine water.  

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH program manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Fecal Matters: No-contact advisory issued for Appletree Cove, Kitsap County

BEACH program update

Kitsap Public Health District issued a no-contact health advisory for Appletree Cove due to a 6,100 gallon sewage spill. Affected areas are Appletree Cove, Carpenter Creek estuary, and the Kingston ferry terminal vicinity. Signs have been posted at public access points and the public is advised to avoid contact with the water in those areas. This advisory will remain in effect through Tuesday, Nov. 12. 

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Stay updated on water quality at your beaches by following our Fecal Matters blog posts, connecting on Facebook, or joining our listserv.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.

Friday, October 18, 2019

El Estado va a tomar pruebas del agua de pozo en el valle bajo de Yakima

Agua potable es particularmente de interés en el valle bajo de Yakima adonde mucha de la población depende de agua de pozo privado. Recientemente, un grupo de abogacía independiente compartió un estudio que identificó varios químicos de preocupación en el agua subterránea que llamó nuestra atención.
En todo, siete pozos privados dispersados a lo largo del corredor interestatal 82 entre Toppenish y Prosser en el condado de Yakima mostraron niveles altos de algunos químicos, incluyendo tres pozos cerca del rio de Yakima que resultaron positivos para dioxinas.

Aunque concentraciones de dioxinas típicamente son bajas en el agua, las dioxinas y otros químicos pueden presentar riesgos para la salud de las personas.
A luz de esta información, nuestro Programa de Evaluación Ambiental está haciendo equipo con el distrito de salud de Yakima este otoño y durante el año que viene, para ayudar a los propietarios de viviendas evaluar el agua de pozo.  
“Creemos que es importante trabajar con la comunidad y ayudar a verificar contaminación potencial en estos pozos,” dijo Sage Park, la directora de la Región Central de Ecología. “Tomando pruebas del agua del pozo es la mejor manera de proporcionar a las personas la información que necesitan para asegurar que su agua potable sea segura.”
A partir de la semana del 4 de noviembre, vamos a ofrecer muestras de agua subterránea para detectar la presencia de dioxinas, nitrato, plomo, y arsénico en 15 pozos en el área de interés. Hasta entonces, estamos hablando con las personas que viven en el área del estudio para animarlos que participen para que podamos asegurar que el agua sea segura. 
Cuando las pruebas están completas, vamos a mandar los resultados a los propietarios de viviendas y explicar lo que significan. Si las pruebas indican que hay químicos nocivos en los pozos, los residentes en el área afectado pueden trabajar con el Distrito de Salud de Yakima y usar recursos alternativos de agua potable. 
Planeamos volver a tomar muestras la próxima primavera y otoño para tener en cuenta las variaciones estacionales.
Puede aprender de los efectos de los contaminantes del agua potable en la salud, y las recomendaciones de pruebas visitando los sitios de web del Departamento de Salud de Washington y la Agencia de Protección Ambiental.  
Para obtener más información sobre el estudio, pueden comunicarse con La Oficina Regional Central del Departamento de Ecología al (509) 757-2490 y pedir un intérprete.