I remember in the late 80s and early 90s bringing materials home from elementary and middle school with the words Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. I remember the Earth Day promotions and how it was important to take care of the environment. These types of messages trickled away when I reached high school, but I never lost their meaning or their focus. If anything, I think it might be these early teachings and messages I was embedded with as a kid that caused me to end up on the career path I find myself now. In complete honesty, its one I still try to follow to the best of my ability, granted, I could definitely step my game up better when it comes to the three Rs.
These types of memories started coming back to me, while I was doing some informational research for this entry. Not to mention, catching myself humming the tune to Captain Planet (‘he’s our hero, going to take pollution down to zero’), back when cartoons actually tried to impart a moral obligation to an impressionable and youthful audience. As an adult now, I can understand the importance of reducing our waste and making the best use out of something you already own or have and I find myself appreciating some of those youthful fascinations. I’ve lived in a variety of communities since I left home, and each had their challenges when it came to the concept of recycling. To narrow my focus, I’m going to talk about things closer to my current home, interior Alaska and some of the challenges that comes with trying to do the environmentally responsible thing.
Recycling initiatives are not a new thing here. It wasn’t until recently (within the last year) that there’s been any success in establishing something that the community could use, a singular recycling point. Years before that have had several startups that worked well for a few years, but eventually struggled to stay in operation. This is partly due to location and the limited services and demands for creating products out of recycled materials. We don’t have an actual industry here that can create a recycled product, so most of those things had to be shipped outside of the community, either to Anchorage or to the continental United States (Oregon and Washington depending on what the material was). When I returned in 2014 as a Solid Waste Compliance Manager, I had the privilege of participating on the Recycling Commission Board and was awestruck in learning that it was nearly $600 per ton to ship recyclable material. When you’re trying to make a budget work, typically you want to find a balance between costs and recovery of those costs. Tipping fees at the landfill at this time were only about $90 a ton. So, how do you sell this to your employer and show fiscal responsibility?
These are some of the types of things that the community still faces, but despite all of this, where there is perseverance and patience, you can eventually establish something that could be useful and if established long enough, may be able to break even, especially if a community demands it. So, locally, we do have a recycling center, with limited capabilities. They have started small and are working towards building up to being able to handle more through establishing markets and such. I believe all the materials are currently shipped out at this current time because there is still no industry here to create recycled products at home. We still have a long way to go, but we are definitely taking the right steps forward. As an example, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, it took them nearly 20 years to establish curbside pickup for recyclables. That process started when I was just a senior in high school. I suspect that this will be a similar timeline here in the Interior.
I’ve held off in participating at the recycle center because one of my biggest fears is it turning into another failed enterprise down the street from us. Some have tried to establish recycling as a business, end up becoming more like a junk yard because of the exorbitant shipping costs. So instead of shipping things off to recycle them, they hold them for long periods of time until the trash is literally overflowing passed gates and fences. That is not something I want to contribute towards. As the center slowly grows into its own though, I have started outline ideas for how to separate our recyclables out more so we can start to delivering them regularly to the collection point.
So, while I keep an eye on the recycling situation, I try my best to do other things. I donate things I’m not longer using to charitable causes. I donate food to the food bank. I find locations online where I can ship and recycle electronics and other gadgets I’m no longer using (typically free of charge too, despite my location). I repurpose and reuse things at home and try not to throw something out if it has a secondary use. I try to remember to bring reusable shopping bags. This week, I didn’t even put fresh vegetables in plastic bags before checkout, a habit that’s been ingrained into me since I was a kid.
Its with small steps I hope to move forward with doing better for the environment. One thing that’s definitely nice? Having a supporting partner who is interested in doing the same thing!
If you are curious about other information, feel free to check out these resources: