My friend Mike and I were visiting a beach in Japan many years ago when we spotted tiny things all over the sand. Hundreds of plastic fish covered the ground, empty soy sauce containers blowing around and drifting out to sea. We gathered as many as we could and threw them in the garbage. There was no recycling those fish.

It was fine to collect the plastic, but what then? There’s so much plastic in the environment and, as this issue’s feature on plastic waste notes, only 9 percent of plastics gets recycled. While we may call it an insurmountable problem, Washington State University chemical engineer Hongfei Lin sees an opportunity; he and his colleagues have developed a method to convert some plastic waste into jet fuel and other high-value products. Other WSU researchers are helping identify how much plastic is in soil, how different types react in water systems, and how biodegradable plastic alternatives can be used in agriculture.

Unlike accrued plastic waste, WSU hosts other collections of great value. Tucked away in secure library vaults are Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s books, ancient papyrus fragments, first-edition Jane Austen novels, and much more. But they aren’t just locked up. Scholars come to Pullman from all over the world to study the works.

Sometimes people at WSU shine new light on old collections, too. Seattle photographer Irwin Nash captured the lives of migrant workers in the Yakima Valley from 1967 to 1976, but the pictures had very little identification. WSU librarian Lipi Turner-Rahman has been using social media to crowdsource connections between the images and names.

Pulling together stories like that has been the work of WSU’s student newspaper, the Daily Evergreen, almost since the founding of the college. There is a rich history of training the collectors of news and documenting the life of Washington State.

It’s not just about collecting, though. It’s how one uses the collected items, whether they’re stories, plastic water bottles, old books, or even syrup from Washington bigleaf maples.

For 20 years, Washington State Magazine has been providing you with WSU’s stories, too. We truly appreciate our readers from across Cougar nation throughout the last two decades and look forward to many more years.


P.S. If you’d like to collect some photos from the magazine, check out our 2022 calendar. Proceeds will help the magazine continue to tell WSU’s stories.


Like the Winter21 cover? Try your hand at stacking rocks.