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In search of community recycling solutions in rural Mat Su

by Lorien Nettleton ~ December 6th, 2012

The decision to recycle in Rural Mat Su borough is not an easy undertaking. Residents who want to divert recyclable items from the quickly-filling landfill and make the most of reusable resources like aluminum and paper currently take it upon themselves to separate those items and save them up for weeks-or months until they have a trip planned south to Palmer or Anchorage, where the nearest recycling facilities are.
KTNA’s Lorien Nettleton looked in to what people are doing to facilitate recycling and has this story:

Recently, the Susitna Community council sent a letter to the Borrough seeking help to establishing a recycling program a little closer to home. The task of writing the letter was undertaken by outgoing Council Member Scott Holcomb, who looked in to it and found out that there are a few things the communities could do – if they are willing to invest the time and money.

As Holcomb puts it, there’s not much money to be made in doing the right thing

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Other similar challenges have been met by the borough. Before waste was hauled to a central landfill, regional dumps were strewn across the mat su valleys. Holcomb says the decision to collect waste and remove it from rural locations is an example of the Borough identifying an environmental need.

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Once the transfer stations were established to haul waste away to a centralized landfill, people started thinking about how much waste was headed there. Currently the landfill absorbs 70,000 tons of waste annually. In the last 5 years, a new recycling site was established on Borough land adjacent to the landfill, to make it easier for items to be recycled.  Troy Smiley has long been involved in seeking a recycling solution, and helped the first recycling program in Talkeetna get running a decade ago. Smiley was also part of the effort to establish the Valley Community Recycling Solutions site on Borough land adjacent to the landfill. He says the challenge of getting transportation issues resolved ultimately doomed the first effort, which lasted for three years. He says all the pieces are in place, and all that’s needed is a few things to make transporting the recyclables easier

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Bulky, low weight items might require an on-site processor to compact and bale items like cardboard and papers. There’s a lot of that headed to the dump and it takes a lot of space. According to VCRS, Paper headed for re-use is currently America’s number 1 export. Smiley says getting all that bulky stuff down to where it can be processed and exported would require a little infrastructure at the local transfer stations.

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The borough division of solid waste currently has no funding for separate collection bins or additional equipment to facilitate recycling. Holcomb says the Borough encouraged the Susitna Community Council to put in a request for funding from the State as a budget item, and to look for other areas of funding to sustain the program. Holcomb had lots of ideas, one of which was that because the transfer site collects fees for waste disposal, perhaps they could have a lower fee for recycled items. Ideas abound on creating solutions to preventing usable items from heading to the landfill where they create environmental concerns like leechie, a toxic fluid generated by the settling effluent of the waste that must be pumped weekly and processed by a waste-water operator in Anchorage.

Smiley reiterates the concept of reduce reuse recylce as an idea that recycling an item should be the last resort. On a recent trip to Mexico, Smiley says the culture of re-use there was both intimidating and good for his wallet.

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Unless the state steps in to help reduce the tonnage of waste headed to the landfill, or local solutions can be found, individuals will continue to pack their own recycling an hour and a half down the road every now and then.

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