Recycling programs in Alaska: starting locally at the individual level.

Author:Sommer, Susan
Position:SPECIAL SECTION: Environmental Services

Reduce, reuse, recycle. We've eard the refrain for years and ecognize what has become the universal recycling symbol--the three arrows folded back on themselves in a triangle of continuity.

Recycling experts in Alaska agree there are no numbers to be found on what percentage of businesses or residents recycle. There are, however, more businesses collecting recyclables in Alaska than ever before, according to Donna Mears, a recycling coordinator with the Municipality of Anchorage. Numerous recycling programs across the state collect many products that have come to the end of their original useful life. Larger communities have more options than smaller rural communities. Most materials collected for recycling, regardless of what part of the state they come from, get shipped south to national or international markets. Very little material actually gets recycled right here in Alaska, though a handful of Alaska success stories exist.

Recyclable materials can be dropped off for free at many collection facilities across the state. Some landfills charge a fee to drop off recyclables. Curbside pick-up of recyclables requires that customers pay a monthly fee. Recycling programs are typically funded through memberships, grants, and the sale of recyclable materials to various markets.

Urban Programs

Most companies that provide recycling services are from the private sector. A handful of conservation organizations around the state also have recycling programs, some of which provide education on where and how to recycle various materials. City governments in larger communities offer information about this as well. Most, but not all, recycling services in Alaska only provide collection services rather than actual recycling.

Mary Fisher, executive director of the nonprofit ALPAR, or Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling, says, "Recycling always starts with each and every person. One has to decide whether they want their waste materials to become resources or long-term liabilities. We all have that choice."

She says that recycling tends to be volume-based, so smaller communities are more challenged to make it cost-effective than large ones, and distance from markets is an issue as well.

"There are logistics and costs that are challenges just as there are in remoter areas of the Lower 48, but it's more a question of figuring out the most cost-effective ways to recycle in a given community," Fisher says. "Because recycling starts locally, every community in the world is challenged with setting up the most cost-effective system. It's how a community meets that challenge that determines the level of recycling."

In Anchorage, curbside recycling provided by AlaskaWaste and paid for by the consumer seems to have increased participation in recycling programs, according to Kit Persson, a coordinator with the State of Alaska's Solid Waste Program. "The increased convenience and attention on the benefits of recycling appears to make recycling at the household level more popular," she says. Some products can't be mixed in the curbside recycling bins and must be dropped off at the Anchorage Recycling Center located on Rosewood Street. Although not as convenient as curbside pick-up, it does provide free recycling to households with the initiative to separate recyclable waste.

The majority of recycling in Anchorage (and thus Alaska, since most materials are funneled through Anchorage) is done by three companies and each has its own niche.

* Alaska Metal Recycling, owned by international metals recycler Schnitzer Steel, has been operating in Anchorage since 2007 and recycles metals from cars and trucks...

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