Recycling the Alaska way

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.

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.

fashion blogger over 40 in joggers with striped sweater
Jeanne Pierre sweater with silk scarf, Vince leather joggers and Puma sneakers (all own)

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.

fashion over 40 woman in leather joggers and a motorcycle coat
Side view of outfit with Burberry motorcycle coat over Vince leather joggers with Puma sneakers, and Camel bag (all own)

Alaska production

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 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.

The Alaska trash and recycling problem

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!

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 invisible for them, but not necessarily for people driving by.

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.

fashion over 50 woman in winter outerwear
Front view of outfit with Burberry coat, Jeanne Pierre sweater, silk scarf (thrifted), Vince joggers, Puma sneakers and gloves (all own)

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 24-7-365 so their “pet” earthworm stay in the compost. 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 owls, hawks, bald eagles, lynx, foxes, and wolverines in your back yard.

Recycling that works

The easiest way of recycling in Interior Alaska is burning paper to enlighten the wood stove, fashion consignment, thrifting and dumpster diving.

Do you recycle? What do you recycle? Is it easy to recycle where you live? I am curious. Send me an email.

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Photos: G. Kramm

Copyright 2013-2017 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved