For many of the villages surrounding Nome, properly disposing of toxic waste is a difficult task, said Kari Van Delden, service district faculty member with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension.
A lack of reliable roads out of these communities makes it difficult to drive out very far to get rid of the garbage. Many residents of these communities simply throw their trash into landfills located near the villages, and much of that refuse, especially from computer monitors and other electronic devices, will go on to pollute the water and land nearby.
To help combat this problem, Kawerak Inc., which provides services to many villages in the Bering Straits region, began a program Feb. 17 to turn Nome into a regional hub for 15 of the nearby villages to dispose of potentially toxic electronic and "white" waste, which includes household appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines, according to a written press release from air carrier Everts Air Cargo.
The garbage will make its way to Nome from these surrounding villages by way of carriers Bering Air and Ryan Air, which will offer discounted rates for the hauls.
Wilfred Ryan Jr., president of Ryan Air, said his carrier recently received a proposal for the project and is still working out the details of the program with Karewak and other nonprofit organizations involved.
Everts will offer discounted rates for transporting the garbage out of Nome; the carrier's normal rate of 25 cents per pound dropping to about half of that amount, said Susan Hoshaw, the airline's director of ground services.
The carrier doesn't plan on profiting from the venture, but it also won't take a hit. The planes flying into Nome will transport goods into the community from Anchorage before backhauling the garbage to their point of origin, meaning they'll profit from the initial trip out and help offset the cost of gas and maintenance with the backhaul, Hoshaw said.
After transporting the garbage to Anchorage, much of it, especially old electronic devices, will be handed over to Total Reclaim, a Seattle-based recycling firm with an office in Anchorage.
Workers in the firm's Anchorage office will then process the waste at a discounted rate, down from the typical 35 cents per pound to 25 cents per pound, and ship it to the Seattle center for dismantling.
Refrigerators will have their refrigerants removed, and many of them will be handed over to Schnitzer Steel's metal recycling facility in Anchorage.
E-waste, including computer monitors, computer chips and other electronic devices, will make up much of the garbage hauled from these communities.
Rainwater can cause lead to leak out of CRT monitors, said Total Reclaim Outreach Coordinator Reilly Kosinski, causing a health hazard for the community.
Total Reclaim helps negate this threat by separating the recyclable parts, such as the glass and circuitry metal, and disposing of the toxic materials safely.
Kosinski said his firm may take a hit financially, but that largely depends on the condition of the arriving trash. If extra work is required to untangle and process the electronics, the cost associated with recycling the waste will go up, and the discounted rates remove much of the cost pillow that existed under the normal rates.
Hoshaw said Everts would like to see more air carriers aiding Bush communities with toxic waste disposal, explaining that although Everts is among the first companies to take up this responsibility, it is merely a cog in a much larger mechanism.
"We are kind of a conduit, and we're facilitating others coming into the program," she said.