Recycling in Alaska: A long way to go
ALASKA : Not all waste is wasted, some is recycled. However, Anchorage is located more than 2,000 miles from the nearest large scale recycling facility. That means the majority of items tossed into your recycling bin travel from your driveway to the lower 48. From your refrigerator to the curb to the lower 48. Items you recycle in Alaska have a long way to travel. Some residents wish it didn’t have to go so far.
“Yeah it would be great if we could do it here,” said Jana Kennedy, an Anchorage resident who recycles. Waste management officials in Anchorage say the law of supply and demand stands in the way. “I don’t think we’re going to get to the point, where we’ve got plastics, and aluminum’s and these materials that need a larger infrastructure, and also need a lot more feedstock that we just don’t produce in quantity in this state,” said Donna Mears with Solid Waste Services.
ust because there’s few recycled materials put to use in Alaska don’t be mistaken, there is recycling here, and plenty of it. About 50% of Anchorage residents participate in curbside recycling programs through Solid Waste Services and Alaska Waste. “Oh it’s easy. It’s second nature, especially with this thing because we don’t have to sort anything. You know. You can just toss everything in there and make enough to separate cardboard from newspaper or anything like that. Like the old days. So it’s really easy,” said Andy Leboan Anchorage resident who recycles.
If you’re an SWS customer like Andy, you put the acceptable items in the blue cart and it’s collected curbside on the same day as regular solid waste. other people not in the recycling program can drop it off on their own time at the Anchorage recycling facility RockTenn. SWS Foreman Brian Vanderwood said, “We can take it to the landfill or take it to the recycling plant either way the process is the same.” No matter the collection method, most recycled waste in Anchorage goes to RockTenn, a national recycling company with over 22-thousand employees. 11 workers operate the facility in Anchorage and while it might look like a massive amount of recyclable waste, it’s only a fraction of whats seen in the lower 48. In 2010 Americans generated nearly 65 million tons of waste and recycling according to the Environmental Protection Agency. RockTenn sends out about 22-hundred tons each year.
By the tons items are dumped off at RockTenn then compacted and baled. The bales are then shipped by land and sea to various recycling plants in the lower 48. Over 1,000 truckloads are sent out every year. “There’s been a lot of growth in the recycling industry, said Mears, “It’s ramped up overtime especially in the last four years. It’s grown significantly and it’s very wonderful to see all of these materials instead of ending up in the landfill becoming feedstock for business that are able to make useful products for us locally.”
While recycling has come a long way in Alaska you could say, it still has a long way to go…much like recyclable waste itself.