Outside a cynic's imagination, horse manure and sensitive state documents actually do belong together.
For the past three months, Abby Madsen has been collecting shredded paper from state offices and using it as horse bedding for her business, GreatLand Stables. It's a free alternative and supplement to $30 bales of straw, $13 bags of wood shavings and $6 bags of wood pellets.
"It's really warm, very absorbent and free," Madsen said.
One horse goes through about four bales of straw a month, Madsen said, so with 11 horses, the potential savings add up quickly. Unfortunately, she hasn't found enough sources to rely on it entirely for her horse bedding needs.
When Madsen learned that the Juneau Assembly is considering suspending collection of paper and cardboard because commodities prices have crashed and driven up the cost of recycling, she figured it was a good time to find more suppliers. Madsen's horses aren't a solution for all of the paper in city trash, but she said there are hundreds more horses in town that could use it and divert significant amounts of paper bound for the landfill or the costly recycling market.
And just like traditional horse bedding materials, soiled paper shreds go to the compost pile, where Madsen said it actually breaks down faster and with less mess than sawdust or straw.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists clean paper, cardboard and shredded newspaper among materials recommended for composting. Marion Simpson, an active composter and gardener with several local clubs, said she would have to do some research to figure out the most effective ways to compost large quantities of paper or cardboard, but said smaller amounts can be shredded and mixed into regular compost piles. Simpson said she knew of at least one local who effectively composts large quantities of paper products with a technique involving worms.
Elfrida Nord, treasurer of Juneau Garden Club, said layering several sheets of newsprint in gardens once a year is an effective way to control weeds.
Officials said these cottage industry-level efforts are promising alternatives, but were unsure about the feasibility of scaling them up to a formal commercial or governmental operation because of possible policy hurdles and financial barriers.
"The problem we have, it needs to be a proven recycling or beneficial use of the product," said Eric Vance, a Waste Management district manager who oversees Juneau's landfill and recycling center. "If someone wanted to take it and burn it as firewood, I don't think that would work. ... But it's good to get people thinking."
City Public Works Administrative Officer Judy Harvey had similar concerns, but said she hoped to keep recycling alive in spite of the turn in the commodities market.
"Like any other program, we need the money to run it. These are hard times," Harvey said.
The Juneau Assembly's Committee of the Whole is meeting at 5 p.m. Monday in Assembly chambers at City Hall to discuss the possible suspension of paper and cardboard recycling. Vance has said the city could raise its waste management fee that supports recycling and other programs from $4 a month to $5 a month to keep paper and cardboard recycling going.
Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at firstname.lastname@example.org.