Whidbey Island knows how to throw a celebration for Earth Day.
From north to south, there were activities all over the island embracing conservation, sustainable resources, recycling and going green.
Proclamations were passed early in the week by Island County Commissioners and the Oak Harbor City Council, officially marking the observance of Earth Day on April 22 and activities were planned at various locations.
A gathering was held under the cottonwood trees at Greenbank Farm to commemorate the day, and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island celebrated the annual event with a morning full of coordinated activities. Members of various commands around the base kicked off their day by patrolling the grounds with trash bags, picking up litter and garbage.
For the first time, an official tree planting ceremony was held at NAS Whidbey Island, with new commanding officer Capt. Geoff Moore wielding a shovel to help plant a Sitka Spruce in front of the Nor’wester building. The planting was sponsored by the NAS Whidbey’s department of Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Tracy Schwartz, one of the event’s coordinators. “We hope it will become a regular thing.”
“This whole day’s events are actually a great way to symbolize the support the Navy has for the environment,” said Moore, who said he had helped work to optimize fuel burning at his last duty station to help save Navy consumption of fossil fuels.
One of the Navy’s most familiar events, its annual dumpster dive, was moved this year to the Rocky Point recreation area, where NAS Whidbey Recycle brought in huge dumpsters filled with trash for teams to sort through.
“We call it a waste stream characterization,” said Rusty Elam, assistant manager of the Navy recycling center. “It teaches them just how much recyclable material ends up in the trash.”
“It’s an educational tool,” agreed Mike Grant, recycling operations manager.
“This is a great, fun way to show how we can increase our efforts in recycling,” said Melissa Haley, MWR community recreation manager.
Currently, NAS Whidbey’s recycling center has a 70 percent diversion rate, meaning it recycles 70 percent of the overall trash collected, rather than sending it to a landfill. Solid waste disposal costs the Navy $267 a ton, so by diverting 70 percent of it, the Navy saves money. The recycling center, in turn, sells back anything that will bring in money, such as cardboard, aluminum cans, newspapers and metals. That money helps buy new and upgraded equipment.
“We have the premiere recycling center between all the Navy installations in this area,” Grant said.
But the Navy’s expertise in recycling actually impacts all of Island County.
“We’ve been working with Island County on presenting the same message,” said Grant. “We’re working as a team on the island to promote recycling. We offer things the county can’t, and the county offers things we can’t.”
Grant said it makes sense for the county and the Navy to present similar messages.
In the end, of the teams participating, FRC Northwest won the award for the most volume. Winner of the Most Enthusiastic award went to teams from Electronic Attack Squadron 137 (who were joined by one member of VAQ-130).
New this year was a yard art competition, the brainchild of both MWR and Navy recycling. Entries were to be made from items found in the recycle bin. Unfortunately, the first year only garnered two sculptures put together as examples by Navy recycling. Organizers hope more people will enter as they become aware of the contest in years to come.
All in all, it was a good way to show what everyone can accomplish with just a little extra effort, according to Moore.
“Thank you for coming out and thank you for emphasizing we can still do better,” Moore said. “I hope this is something you can all take back to your work stations.”
Additional Earth Day activities were held Saturday, including the Whidbey Island Earth Day Festival from at Bayview Corner in Langley, a planting party at Deception Pass State Park, and a meet and greet with the author of “Saving Wonder,” a children’s tale with an environmental message at the Langley Library.