So You Think You're
Most of us in Anchorage who recycle have been under the impression
that the bottles and jars that we carefully rinse out and haul to the
recycling center are being processed into a product that is being used in
Alaska by Alaskan businesses, including the Alaska Railroad. With the
exception of some glass processed into sand blasting media, nothing
could be further from the truth. In a series of installments, the real story
behind glass recycling in Anchorage will be told. We invite your
comments, questions, disbelief, whatever. We extend our hand to you and
your neighbors to join in this journey. Once you've read an installment,
please comment on the What Do You Think? page for others to read. We
think you will find the story provocative at least.
Although there are uplifting recycling realities in Anchorage, as we will be reporting, the
current glass story is probably not one of them. You be the judge. The permit for use of
the land occupied by the Glass Recycling Facility expires at the end of this month. If
there is no extension granted, there will not be even a pretense of glass recycling in
Anchorage on January 1, 2009.
The reality is the story told to our community over the past few years may be fraudulent.
We will be better off if the current situation ends, the current actors are reformed or
replaced, and a true and transparent, sustainable glass recycling process is created
that can be backed by the community. Together, we can easily accomplish that goal,
but first we have to deal with the truth.
For the last several years glass has been collected from bins located at Smurfit Stone,
Northway Mall, Brown Jug Warehouse in Midtown, and the Anchorage Regional landfill
in Eagle River, and trucked across town to the Glass Recycling Facility adjacent to
Anchorage Regional Composting Facility at Pt. Woronzof, behind Ted Stevens
International Airport. The vast majority has then been reloaded on trucks, taken back
across town, and clear out to the Anchorage Regional Landfill in Eagle River, where it
has been forever buried in garbage. For some of this glass, this is a round trip.
Although labled community wide as "recycled" most of the glass seems to be merely
How much "recycled" glass was dumped at the landfill? The last year of available,
complete data is 2007, where somewhere between 3,146,660 and 5,190,740 pounds
of glass was treated in this manner. The proof lies in Solid Waste Services own data.
This includes glass we carefully washed and transported to the recycling center
collection sites and were told was recycled into traction sand, glass tiles, and other
exotic items all in an effort to help our environment and employ local workers.
As you can see from the proof, our honest efforts of washing, storing and transporting
glass was largely a waste. We have been deceived. Deliberately.
The glass involved is almost entirely alcohol bottles, with a few juice bottles, food jars,
and, on rare occasion, plate glass from a window. Common industry figures peg the
average weight of beer, wine, and liquor bottles at eight ounces each or two per pound.
Assuming that is correct, we then thought at least 6,293,320 of our bottles were being
used to keep Alaska Railroad trains from slipping around on the track or being
transformed into decorative tile.
Over the past few years the bottles have accumulated from a small pile awaiting
almost daily processing to hundreds of thousands piling up and spilling over into the
woods. The pile would grow sometimes to more than a million bottles stacked higher
than a tall man and stretching half the length of a football field. Steadily, heavy trucks
would haul away from a few hundred thousand to a half million bottles directly to the
dump. In one month alone about 3,000,000 "recycled" bottles were taken. A steady tide
of incoming liquor bottles continually replaced the ebbing flow out to the landfill.
The glass alcohol containers have multiplied the way bunnies would if free from
predators. Even with the land permit due to expire within days and the recycling
machinery unused for more than a month, big trucks continue delivering a steady
stream of incoming glass. It has filled all the traditional storage space and spilled over
past the compost lagoon and onto the compost pad itself. We think this must stop
There are approximately 80,000 cubic yards of quality compost and composted
blended products under threat by the invasive flow of broken booze bottles. Bottles that
will never be recycled. Literally millions and millions of them. How many are yours?
After 15 years of steady work, the compost facility achieved a system of sturdy roads to
replace the previous mud trails. They are hard packed, aggregate based, well drained
and until recently, free of dangerous debris. Now the glass bearing trucks rumble up
and down the roads delivering heavy loads of glass to places within the compost
facility. Places they have never before been allowed. Now there is far more broken
glass lying on the roads where only compost was before. A Municipal agency director
testified under oath in September of this year that the official plan was to prepare the
site as a safe place for people to walk their dogs and other non-motorized uses. You
be the judge as to whether this practice compliments such a use.
In fact, broken glass by the handful falls off the trucks all over the Anchorage road
system. It is dangerous for people to walk on. Not long ago, someone slipped and fell
on broken glass at the recycling center off Dowling road . They cut themselves so
badly, it cost the recycling center over $600 to pay the medical cost of stitching the
In sum, we think that public funds are being purposefully mis-spent with one of the
results being this sordid story. Not just regular public funds, but funds specifically set
aside every year to foster sustainable community recycling here in Anchorage. In
installment two of the glass story we will reveal our perceptions of the actors involved.
Combining facts and a bit of defined opinion together with your input we may be able to
see why the situation is so poor today.
We feel that if you do not think what you've read today is acceptable, and are willing to
read more, and to participate in this community journey with your neighbors, then we
are confident that nothing can stop us from change. Change away from a pathetic
recycling rate held back by unchecked and unbalanced pursuit of money, personal
power, and political capital.
Change toward achieving at least the national average recycling rate which means a
100% improvement over Anchorage's rate today. The good news is that if we help each
other and take off our blinders, that goal is very easy to achieve. With a little extra
energy over time we could show even Portland, Oregon our recycling tail lights as we
pull past them.
Improvement will come almost entirely from using materials here in Alaska in an
environmentally sustainable economy using local workers with a significantly lower
There is no valid reason for dishonesty or forcing change or higher cost on anyone. It
is actually quite easy to achieve voluntary, cost free recycling exceeding 45%
participation right here in our Anchorage community. The only painful part is shining a
bright light on the current recycling situation.
Truth, as has been said, will set us free. Free to achieve our recycling and
environmental potential. Truth must come from community. No one person or small
group owns the truth.
|Installment I - by Pete Kinneen
|Just how much glass is 3,146,660 pounds?
To Recap: Glass bottles in Anchorage travel a lot. Inconsistent figures provided to us
make the situation less than clear. Despite the lack of clarity, it is evident we are
discussing no small amount of glass. Contamination of Anchorage roads and the
compost facility with glass shards is ongoing and must stop immediately. The only
market for processed glass is one developed by Environmental Recycling in the early
1990's. Other markets, while claimed, are not evident.
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