Add this to the long list of problems caused by COVID-19: more garbage.
Pandemic precautions and shutdowns have upended routines. Even waste-conscious people have piled up takeout containers from restaurants, bulky packaging from online shopping and — gasp! — plastic bags from grocery orders. Residential trash volume increased 25 percent in spring 2020, according to the Solid Waste Association of North America.
Clark County’s annual WasteBusters Challenge invites participants to reassess their habits. To join the 22-day competition to reduce trash, go to www.wastebusters.green online. Participants earn points by attending virtual events, completing weekly challenges and answering questions. Prizes include an iPad and an Instant Pot.
The competition kicks off on Sunday with an online event featuring Alex Luna. She’s owner of Kindred Homestead Supply, a new Vancouver store where you can fill reusable containers with soap, shampoo, detergent and other bulk products.
Luna plans to talk about “some of the easy changes people can make that don’t require a sacrifice of immense size.” One of those, she said, is choosing to buy items packaged in glass jars instead of plastic, and then reusing the jars. (And she’ll share a surefire way to remove stubborn jar labels.)
This year’s WasteBusters Challenge asks participants to commit to one of three pledges:
• To eat up or freeze all fruits and vegetables before purchasing more produce.
• To enroll two accounts — such as a credit card, banking or utilities — in paperless billing.
• To repair, swap or buy secondhand clothes instead of purchasing new ones.
The third pledge takes aim at textile waste. This new initiative excites Shannon Hunter, an AmeriCorps member helping Clark County’s Green Neighbors team organize this year’s WasteBusters event.
“I really enjoy fashion and style, but at the same time, the fashion industry is considered the second largest polluter in the world behind the oil industry,” Hunter said.
“I was able to show self-expression through style while also reducing waste and saving money,” Hunter said.
Those who register for the challenge will be able to attend a virtual event March 1, an upcycling show-and-tell with Terra Heilman, coordinator of Repair Clark County. The program, housed at the environmental education center Columbia Springs, taps volunteers to repair broken household items for free as a way to keep items out of the landfill.
“I do a lot of upcycling in my personal life, and I’ve done it for many, many years,” Heilman said.
As a child, she learned from her thrifty mother to “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
Heilman didn’t know how to sew before she started upcycling, but has taught herself along the way. She began when her 15-year-old nephew, then 8, wanted to dress up as bacon for Halloween. (Yes, you read that right: breakfast meat.) Heilman took on the challenge, creating the costume from used items.
In one of her recent projects, she cut up a pilled angora sweater to make a hat and arm warmers, and hopes to use what remains for a scarf.
Both Heilman and Luna stressed that even small actions can help reduce waste and environmental damage.
“I want to let people know you don’t have to be perfect,” Luna said.
“We’re all bumbling through this together,” Heilman said. “We don’t need a few people doing minimalism perfectly. We need all of us doing it imperfectly, taking whatever steps we can.”