Context of Alaska’s recycling difficulties
Imagine a place being a destination, rather than a transit location. That is what it means living in Alaska. You never come to Fairbanks by accident.
You never come to Alaska by bloddy accident. Alaska became a destination after the break-down of the Eastern Block. Back then, cargo planes from Europe to Asia fueled in Fairbanks or Anchorage prior to continuing their route to the Far East. Even the late Pope Johannes Paul II and President Ronald Reagan met on the red carpet at Fairbanks International Airport. This red carpet is now at the Howling Dog, i.e. it was recycled for a bar in Fox, Alaska.
The US’ largest state, Alaska has only seven major highways. Most of them are dirt roads. Some parts of Alaska are even off the Alaska road network and can only be reached by air plus in summer by boat and in winter by sled dog teams or snow machines.
Alaska has no land connection to the Lower 48s. No, it is not because it is that island off to Hawaii that is shown in the weather forecasts of the newletters or on TV. One always has to drive the Alacan thru Canada. This road is a dirt road over long stretches – one lane in both directions and countless potholes. It was built during WWII to bring supply to Alaska that would go to Russia within the framework of the Land-Lease contract.
Everything not grown, fished, mined, refined or harvested in Alaska has to be hauled in – either by ship, air or over the Alcan. The huge transport costs lead to much higher prices for everyday items from food to clothing or cars than in the Lower 48. Some eBay sellers and online stores don’t even ship to Alaska due to the costs and/or shipping time. Often seller have higher rates for Alaskan than to other US destinations that makes you believe Alaska is on the Moon shipping wise.
The Alaska trash and recycling problems
Now what happens with the packages, recyclables and trash from the stuff that was transported to Alaska by what ever way? In Alaska, there are no facilities to recycle. Hauling the recyclables back to the Lower 48 is expensive. Landfills are a problem because of permafrost. The frequent inversions make burning the trash an instant air pollution problem.
The Fairbanks air contains comparatively high concentrations of metals in winter as old transition oil is used to heat shops. Don’t even start thinking about what happens with old cooking oil!
Old cars in the junkyards
You can find old, read over 20 years and older, unusable cars in junk yards around the sub-skirts of the Fairbanks metropolitan area. Here yards are small when they are only 10 acres (a bit more than 4 hectare). In the outskirts, yards usually are more that 20 acres (about 8.1 hectare). Out there, land-owners often just dump their old cars on their property, invisible for them, but not necessarily for people driving by.
Weird definition of what’s broken
In the Interior, people repair broken car windows with foil and duct tape. If your direction indicator broke in an accident, you will replace the bulb and use yellow or orange duct tape to protect it from the elements and to get a yellow like color of the signal. If it is the back light, you will use red. You get the idea.
Things are only considered to be broken when you cannot fix them with duct tape.
Leftover food, etc.
Any decaying process including rusting is extremely slow in Interior Alaska because of the short warm season and the dry continental climate. Thus, these junk yards can be a paradise for Old Timer fans to find parts.
Composting takes years as there are no earthworms. Many gardeners do their composting in the garage in a big box. They lighten the box 24-7-365 and in leap years 24-7-366 so their “pet” earthworms stay in the compost. Imagine what happens when there is one of these snow storm caused multi-day outages! 😉
If you build a compost pile in your yard with your typical food leftovers, you will be the welcome feeder of a huge colony of voles (mice). In return, you will see a lot of hawks, bald eagles, lynx, foxes, and wolverines in your back yard and occassionally beautiful owls make a rare photo bomb.
Recycling that works
The easiest way of recycling in Interior Alaska is burning paper to enlighten the wood stove, thrifting and conseigning as someone’s trash is another ones treasure, and dumpster diving. Also goodwill textile recycling is big with recycle clothes bin locations in many parking lots of grocery stores.
Do you recycle? What do you recycle? Is it easy to recycle where you live? I am curious.
Share with your friends that recycling in Alaska is a challenge via twitter.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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