Recycle effort reaches into rural Alaska

Posted: Sunday, February 11, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Taking out the trash in Alaska is taking on a whole new meaning, as millions of pounds of junked vehicles, computers and more are being packed off for recycling, rather than heading to the dump.

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Larry Zirkle of Total Reclaim Inc. of Alaska says his company is now hauling about 160,000 pounds of recyclables a month out of Anchorage. The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, which works with communities up and down the Yukon River in Alaska, hopes this summer to top last year's haul of more than 3 million pounds of solid waste backhaul, said spokeswoman Anna Pratt.

"People are very concerned about managing waste," said Zirkle, who participated in a panel on solid waste at the Southwest Alaska Economic Summit in Anchorage Jan. 25.

"My job is to get the word out to get the stuff out," said Zirkle, who works with the watershed council and others to encourage and organize recycling. "We need to look at it as a business with attainable milestones and return on investments."

A more immediate payoff has been cleaner communities, said Pratt, the solid waste backhaul training coordinator for the watershed council.

"It's been what we've expected and gone beyond," she said. "Our program is pretty popular. They are cleaning up some of their dumps of lead acid batteries and old vehicles."

In 2005, the watershed council backhauled about 1.5 million pounds of solid waste. Last year the intertribal group backhauled more than 3 million pounds, and this summer they hope for more, possibly including heavy equipment, she said.

The nonprofit organization gets donated backhaul service from companies that do business on the Yukon, including Northern Air Cargo, Everts Air and smaller carriers.

The effort has rid several dozen Yukon River community dumps of everything from junked vehicles and appliances to tire rims, electrical transformers and piles of 55-gallon fuel drums.

The watershed council is also training people to remove Freon from discarded refrigerators and freezers, so they can be shipped out by barge, she said.

Total Reclaim's facilities in Anchorage deal mainly in computers and computer monitors, plus televisions, mainframe computer equipment and switch gears, Zirkle said. The most unusual recycled item has been animal tracking collars, brought to Total Reclaim because they have batteries inside them.

Zirkle, through a contract with Totem Ocean Trailer Express, sends materials to be recycled south to Total Reclaim's main facilities in Seattle. The firm specializes in environmentally sound management and recycling of CFC refrigerant gases and refrigeration units, plus other hard-to-handle materials, including fluorescent light bulbs and lighting ballasts.

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