Katie Fleming is about to celebrate two years as San Juan County’s Solid Waste Coordinator. But with an entire career centered around environmental education and stewardship, she’s already built a legacy of lasting change for the betterment of the islands.
What does a Solid Waste Coordinator do?
“In short, I manage the County’s solid waste program. This means I do everything from working with our facility operators who run the islands’ waste facilities, to helping to increase consistency with our recycling systems at our County parks and fairgrounds, to serving as an advisor to the Friday Harbor High School Eco Club, to coordinating hazardous waste collection events, and planning for a large-scale composting program. Education and outreach are a big part of my job, along with coordinating our litter program which includes the bi-annual Great Islands Clean Up.”
“My main goal is to divert as much waste as possible from landfills and move our county towards a ‘zero waste’ goal. This means working on projects like organics recycling and reuse opportunities, managing a plastic film recycling program, and updating our County’s Solid Waste and Moderate Risk Waste Management Plan.
“The policy piece of my job entails working with local and state-wide groups to form policy and collaboration opportunities to make our state more progressive on what we do with our waste.”
How did you get involved in waste management?
“I graduated with my M.Ed. from Western Washington University and immediately started working for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, which is a non-profit that was founded on recycling and waste reduction. My job was to go into the schools and share about waste reduction tools. It got me excited about getting other people engaged in reducing our trash.”
What brought you to the islands?
“I grew up in land-locked Kentucky, but saw a documentary about the Southern Resident Killer Whales when I was 12 and that immediately engaged me and got me interested in someday living in the Pacific Northwest. So, I moved to Bellingham for graduate school to learn about environmental education and the Salish Sea and eventually moved to San Juan Island to work at Friends of the San Juans as Community Engagement Director. I have been so fortunate to have jobs that make a positive impact for the SRKW and the amazing ecosystem they depend on.”
What do you enjoy about your job?
“I love helping our community address environmental issues through waste solutions. I also enjoy working with the awesome team that is the Department of Environmental Stewardship. We have all sorts of different programs that address some big issues. I like that in our Solid Waste division, we have concrete steps. Climate change, for example, is such a big challenge, but solid waste is one topic that, if we do it right, we can make a big impact.”
What upcoming projects are you excited about?
“There are so many exciting things happening! I just finished working with and training the San Juan Island Youth Conservation Corp to be our ambassadors and trash team to help Fair participants understand where their waste goes.”
“We also completed an Organics Recycling and Implementation Plan in March that would create composting systems on Orcas and San Juan Island. Now we’re waiting on funding opportunities to make it happen. I’m proud of keeping our momentum going from diverting organic waste from the landfill and using it in a positive way here to enhance our soils.”
“My colleagues and I are also planning the next Great Islands Clean Up which will be on September 30th. Join us! Visit plasticfreesalishsea.org/events for details.”
What do you do for fun?
“I explore our awesome land and sea with my two young boys, my partner, and our dog. I love this place that we live, and we enjoy hiking, boating, and playing on the beaches.”
This profile is part of a series spotlighting San Juan County employees, the work they do, and the difference they make. Follow along each month to meet the staff responsible for making the Islands a wonderful place to live, work, and play.