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Recycling is getting easier in the Valley

Bales of plastic recyclables from the Anchorage Recycling Center after being sent and sorted at...
Bales of plastic recyclables from the Anchorage Recycling Center after being sent and sorted at the MRF site in Washington.(Laurel Andrews)
Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 7:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In the Mat-Su, recycling used to be a harder thing to get done with few places to take materials. Almost all materials went through the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions facility, but now Alaska Waste offers a curbside program.

Spokesperson Laurel Andrews said the program rolled out in early April, and so far 75 homes have signed up. People can get a 96-gallon cart for just under $24 a month, which is cheaper than trash collection for a cart of the same size.

Andrews said Alaska Waste takes it to the Anchorage Recycling Center to be baled and sent to the Lower 48 for sorting. She said that about a third of their calls in recent years from the Valley have been inquiries about getting a curbside program set up, so the demand is there.

By offering the service, Andrews said the hope is to cast a bigger net to collect more recyclable material.

“By bringing recycling to people’s homes, we know that we can capture a lot more of these materials that are going to local landfills,” she said.

At VCRS, executive director Steven Brown said he thinks it’s great that Alaska Waste is offering the service. However, he said curbside recycling can come with problems that still leave materials going to the landfill.

“If it comes in single source, there’s a lot of contamination as a result,” Brown said.

Andrews and Brown said contamination in recycling can be a lot of things. Plastic bags, non-recyclables, substances that ruin recyclable materials like paint or oil, organics — anything that isn’t supposed to be recycled.

With the big cart for curbside, Andrews said users put all their recyclables in one container. At the Anchorage Recycling Center, she said they bale up the material “as is” and send it to a sorting facility in the Lower 48.

There are no sorting facilities in Alaska, but there are operations that recycle specific materials like glass and paper, according to Andrews and Brown.

When it gets from the Anchorage Recycling Center to the sorting facility down south, Andrews said contamination is discovered there.

VCRS is not a sorting facility. However, Brown said they are different than the ARC in that they organize the materials before the baling process. Plastics in one bale, cardboard in another, and so on.

Andrews said the ARC consistently reports about a 10% contamination rate, whereas Brown said VCRS doesn’t have more than 2%.

While Brown believes that their methods are superior in keeping more recyclables out of landfills, both agree that by making recycling easier for people in the Valley, the people there will be more inclined to recycle.

Brown added that they have a partnership with a small business, Allrich Recycling, which offers a curbside service for homes within 20 miles. Distance dictates the price of the service there. He said another company, R&R Recycling, is in the process of starting up and will be their partner as well.

Andrews said Alaska Waste is planning to expand the program further into the Valley this summer. She added that Alaska Waste recently came to an agreement with the City of Palmer to roll the program into the actual city.

Some important tips for reducing contamination and increasing safety at home from Brown and Andrews: know what you can and can’t recycle, clean organic material off recyclables, keep glass out of curbside bins because it can break and make a safety concern for workers, the same goes for the tops of steel cans.

It’s recommended to put the top of the can securely in the bottom if you put it in the curbside bin.

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