She’s the go-to person and key organizer of the Green Team volunteers who are trying to make the Paddle to Squaxin 2012 canoe landing in Olympia and subsequent potlatch protocol celebration at the tribal complex in Kamilche as close to a zero-waste event as possible.
The goal is to recycle 75 percent of the waste generated at the canoe landing and potlatch. If successful, it will easily top the 50 percent recycling rate achieved by the Swinomish Tribe during the 2011 canoe journey.
All week long you can find Kaas, 26, working 12 hours or more a day to ensure the solid waste generated by the thousands of tribal guests and non-native visitors is segregated, sorted and recycled before it leaves the reservation.
On hot summer days, it’s not the best job in the world. But the 50 or more Green Team volunteers helping out each day appear up to the task.
“It amazes me to see people so exited to do such a gross job,” she said about Green Team volunteers pulling recyclables out of the garbage. “People are doing it because they want to; it’s not a chore.”
Here are some of the nuts and bolts of this practical exercise in sustainability:
• Compostable cups, utensils and plates are being used in the 19,000-square-foot dining hall where thousands of breakfasts and dinners are being served. Inside the dining hall are four stations where diners can recycle food waste, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, napkins and tableware, with help from volunteers at meal time.
• Forty waste-recycling stations are scattered around the compound, including nine in the campsites occupied by canoe families and their support teams, and volunteers.
• An additional 100 smaller cardboard recycling containers are strategically positioned around the tribal complex.
• The recycling effort extends to the private food vendors at the celebration, including pickup and recovery of used cooking oil.
• Silver Springs Organics near Rainier is taking the organic waste and Wilson Recycling of Shelton is handling all other things that can be recycled at no cost to the tribe. Mason County Garbage and Recycling also is lending a hand.
Wilson Recycling is even prepared to take broken camping gear, Styrofoam coolers and other odds and ends left behind when the celebration ends Sunday.
“The 75 percent recycling goal is optimistic,” said Wilson Recycling executive director David Baker. “But the tribe and Kaas have done a great job getting ready for the event.”
The Green Team plan has been a year in the making and coincides with the launch of the tribe’s long-range solid-waste-reduction and recycling program, which Kaas will manage.
“This is a great way to kick off the tribal program,” Kaas said.
• Laundry soap, body wash and cleaning supplies used during the celebration are supplied by Earth Friendly Products, noted Kaas, a Washington State University graduate with a degree in environmental science. Even the lip balm and bug spray dispensed at the first aid station are organic.
• During the canoe journey, canoe families grabbed water samples from the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound as part of a United States Geological Survey study that began with the 2008 canoe journey. The samples are tested for salinity, temperature, pH, turbidity and dissolved oxygen.
Canoes make great water-quality-testing platforms because they aren’t powered by gas or diesel boat engines whose emissions can potentially foul a sample, USGS geologist Eric Grossman has said about the partnership with the tribes.
The Green Team and canoe journey-USGS water quality study are consistent with environmental values of the tribes and first nations of the Pacific Northwest, said Zolton Grossman, an Evergreen State College faculty member professor. Grossman, along with some of his students, is among the 1,200 volunteers signed up to help the tribe in a variety of ways during the event.
While the number of volunteers have far exceeded what the tribe expected – they originally hoped for 800 – Kaas has a nagging fear that they might all leave the site Sunday before the final cleanup is complete.
So it’s not too late to sign up as an end-of-the-event volunteer. For more information, click here.