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Making Green Choices: Recycling to save landfill space

Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 2:39 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Solid Waste Services officials are looking into recycling to expand the life span of the city’s regional landfill.

The Anchorage Regional Landfill is about 34 years old and it has another 44 years and 28 weeks before it will close, according to a calculator on the municipality’s website. While creating a new landfill seems like a viable option, it is said to be too expensive of a proposition.

“We end up collecting about 300,000 tons of trash a year,” said Suzanna Caldwell, recycling coordinator with Solid Waste Services. “It works out to about one ton per person per year.”

That’s all going into the landfill. One of the ways to extend the life of the landfill is recycling. Caldwell admits there are some challenges when it comes to recycling in Alaska.

“We don’t have any manufacturing, it’s very limited, and you know the whole point of recycling is you collect the materials and you turn them into new things,” Caldwell said. “With no manufacturing, that does make it challenging in terms of recycling the traditional commodities people are familiar with like paper and plastic and aluminum and that sort of thing.”

Most of Alaska’s recycling has to be sent to the Lower 48, with a few exceptions. Glass is recycled locally, as are organics such as food scraps and lawn trimmings. The rest gets sent south on backhaul, using the empty cargo ships that bring up most of Alaska’s goods.

“Depending on the material, it is going all over the Lower 48 to different mills, whether that’s cardboard mills or aluminum plants,” Caldwell said.

There has been some concern in the past that what is sent out as “recycling” really just becomes trash somewhere else. Caldwell is confident that isn’t happening.

“We spent a lot of time and money on the system to make sure this material does get recycled,” Caldwell said. She agrees plastics can be confusing.

“Here in Anchorage, we only accept No. 1 and No. 2 plastics,” Caldwell said. “There are lots of places that can take that plastic and turn them into new materials. With the other plastics, there are basically no outlets for it anywhere throughout the country, so we don’t accept that because we know that stuff might not get recycled.”

Even little steps can help.

“That’s the thing about recycling,” Caldwell said. “Individually it doesn’t seem like much, but when you think about 300,000 people here in Anchorage, all recycling all of their cans and bottles. That amounts to a lot of material that is going into our landfill. So if people just made the choice to recycle all of their cans and bottles, we could save years of life in the land fill.”

According to the landfill calculator, if everyone recycled their aluminum cans, the life of the landfill would be extended by two years. Mandating curbside recycling would extend life of the landfill to 55 years.

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