Nancy Vandenberg directs the correct sorting of waste Saturday afternoon during the Everett Food Truck festival on August 26, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Nancy Vandenberg directs the correct sorting of waste Saturday afternoon during the Everett Food Truck festival on August 26, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Waste Warriors help community learn about recycling, composting

EVERETT — The Waste Warriors brought their campaign for recycling and composting to the Everett Food Truck Festival late last month.

Volunteers helped people sort through their trash, answering questions about what can and cannot be recycled or composted. They hope families took that knowledge home with them.

Waste Warriors is a branch of the Sustainable Community Stewards, a program run by WSU Extension Snohomish County that emphasizes education and volunteering to help the environment. Other examples of the stewards’ work include the Don’t Drip and Drive campaign and the Green Cleaning recipe book with directions for making environmentally friendly house cleaners.

The Sustainable Community Stewards started as the Carbon Masters in 2010 but was rebranded in 2013, coordinator Stephanie Leeper said. Stewards get 34 hours of training during a seven-week program and volunteer at least 34 more hours.

There are about 45 active stewards working on projects, including the Waste Warriors.

“They learn the ins and outs of what makes something compostable, what makes something recyclable, and why some things still need to go into the trash,” Leeper said.

She tells people that anything recently alive, including food waste from plants and meat, can be composted, as can disposable dishes that are certified for composting.

Carreen Rubenkonig came up with the idea for the Waste Warriors after participating in the stewards training. Her husband is a member of the Edmonds Rotary Club that puts on the Edmonds Waterfront Festival.

“The people we were most likely to be able to educate about recycling and what I call food-cycling are families, and we’re most likely to find families at a festival,” Rubenkonig said.

This summer marked the Waste Warriors’ fifth year at the Waterfront Festival.

Over the years, they’ve gotten more gigs.

They’ve been to Taste of Edmonds, the Arlington Fly-In, Focus on Farming in Monroe, and the Country Living Expo in Stanwood, among other events. The Everett Food Truck Festival is a new addition.

Kathryn Bowman of Everett became a steward in 2014 because she was interested in how to recycle Styrofoam. Most recycling services won’t pick it up, but it can be dropped off at locations in Everett, Bothell, Kirkland and Shoreline. Her interest in Styrofoam recycling grew to include overall recycling through the Waste Warriors.

Bowman and Rubenkonig agree that an important part of recycling and composting at festivals is the materials vendors use. More events are requiring or requesting disposable dishes that can be composted.

“Last year, we had a lot of plates with the shiny designs on them, and those all go to the landfill,” Bowman said. “This year, there were a lot more compostable plates, and that made a huge difference.”

When people learn about recycling and composting, and have time to get comfortable with it, they can change their habits and reduce waste, Rubenkonig said. It’s a slow process, but she’s optimistic.

“Garbage is very interesting, and how we handle it as a society is interesting,” she said. “Many people have serious concerns about the Earth, and this gives you an outlet for expressing your concern and being able to do something … I’m a waste warrior. That’s my thing.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

Become a steward

The next training is Sept. 20 to Nov. 8. Applications are accepted until Sept. 13. The classes are 6-9:15 p.m. Wednesdays at McCollum Park, with two Saturday field trips.

There’s a $35 fee for materials, but waivers are available for those who can’t afford the cost. Participants must be at least 16 years old.

To get involved, contact Stephanie Leeper at 425-357-6027 or

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