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Friday, January 15, 2021

Bellingham: A town where nothing goes to waste?

By Miranda Roberts

The Zero Waste movement is budding in the City of Bellingham.

Local organizations are reaching out into the community to inform residents and business owners about the efficiency of reducing waste in homes or businesses and they’re getting a positive response from a town known for its environmental awareness.

Sustainable Connections, a local nonprofit, launched the Toward Zero Waste Project in 2007 to help businesses come together and transition to using more sustainable practices to take care of their waste.

Founded in 2002, Sustainable Connections’ mission statement is “to educate, connect and promote local businesses to build strong communities,” according to their website.

Mark Peterson, sustainable business manager at Sustainable Connections, has been promoting better waste practices in Whatcom County for over a decade.

Peterson is a certified project management professional and has worked on a variety of sustainability projects including Toward Zero Waste and B-Corp certifications.

A B-Corp certification can be earned by a business if it passes a rigorous environmental impact assessment. The certification immediately tells the consumer that the business or product they are supporting has been proven to be environmentally conscious.

“It is heartening to see the Toward Zero Waste movement picking up steam,” said Peterson.

He said the majority of the sustainability conversation in Bellingham has been about less accessible options, like solar panels.

Although there has been a lack of discussion on the less glamorous side of going green, waste reduction remains an important conversation to have.

Peterson discussed the long history that Sustainable Connections has had working with businesses in Bellingham and credits that to the close relationships they’ve managed to build.

“It is heartening to see the Toward Zero Waste movement picking up steam,” 

Mark Peterson, sustainable business manager at Sustainable Connections, said. 

Along with building business relationships, Sustainable Connections is now starting a project, the Food Recovery Initiative, to help those in need in the Bellingham community.

“The Food Recovery Initiative will actually help businesses redistribute their edible prepared food to those in need instead of throwing it away,” Peterson said, adding that Sustainable Connections will be setting up deliveries to communities in need.

Along with TZW, Sustainable Connections Membership Coordinator Becca Weathers heads her own campaign “Think Local First” to encourage community members to shop at independent businesses and buy locally made products.

“The Zero Waste movement is coming out of our generation because it is trendy and cool,” said Weathers.

Weathers said that oftentimes, the first thing a business has to think about when opening is their waste.

“It’s a part of Bellingham culture,” she said.

Weathers said Sustainable Connections runs five separate programs including food and farming, green building, smart growth, energy and the smart business program, each targeting a different aspect of environmental consciousness.

Along with targeting businesses, the Towards Zero Waste project reaches out to the broader community by involving the public and local businesses in promotional games and advertisements.

Throughout the year, there are several community events and informational opportunities to spread the word about the importance of waste reduction. These include sending out holiday gift guides for buying locally, Earth Day volunteer work opportunities and Independence Day “Support Independent Businesses” promotions.

Membership with Sustainable Connections works in a mutually beneficial way, Weathers said. Local businesses get to promote their sustainability and efficiency while simultaneously helping the environment through their efforts.

“The businesses pay a fee for membership and get to reap all the benefits, such as workshops and advertisements,” said Weathers. “Regardless of peoples’ outlook on climate or environmental issues, we can always win people over with efficiency of sustainable practices because it saves them so much money.”

Membership with Sustainable Connections now includes between 400 to 500 businesses, according to Weathers, but she said around 2,000 businesses in the community are helped through volunteer work and networking that Sustainable Connections provides, even without an official membership. 

The zero waste movement continues to grow and be supplemented by organizations like Sustainable Connections who strive to make businesses more efficient while still producing the product or service that the community is familiar with.

Weathers said the best way businesses are beginning to reduce waste is by being mindful of the waste they are producing, and that in order to continue cutting down on waste, businesses will need to get creative with how they take care of it.

Some of the businesses in Bellingham that are certified by Sustainable Connections include Aslan Brewing, the Community Food Co-op, Boundary Bay Brewing, Ragfinery, Haggen, Inc. and Whatcom Farmers Market.

The ReStore, a sustainable Bellingham business that resells hardware and homegoods. // Photo by Roisin Cowan-Kuist

The sign outside of the Sustainable Connections office welcomes visitors. // Photo by Roisin Cowan-Kuist

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