Anchorage residents work to clean up trashy remnants

Each spring, volunteers join in effort to make city postcard pretty

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The moldy mattresses must go. Ditto for the worn tires, dented hubcaps, used coffee cups, fast-food containers and plastic grocery bags.

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While Anchorage is postcard pretty in the summer, it's trashy in early spring when the snow melts to reveal a bad case of the uglies in Alaska's biggest city.

The trash and junk disappears - almost like magic every year - as hundreds of volunteers hit the streets to transform Anchorage from trashy to classy, just in time for the tourist season.

The big cleanup is from this Saturday through next Saturday. It is coordinated by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the city, schools and dozens of businesses that donate their employees' time and elbow grease. The chamber has been organizing the spring cleanup since 1968.

This year, an army of more than 600 volunteers is enlisted for the Citywide Cleanup. Sponsors range from a luxury hotel to an oil field services company to a country radio station.

"It is very, very wonderful to see how the community comes together," said Christy Andresen, the chamber's cleanup coordinator. "It is important to showcase our city any way you can."

Volunteers are expected to fill approximately 60,000 garbage bags with "your standard trash" during the weeklong cleanup, Andresen said.

Then there's the other stuff found along Anchorage's roads and highways. The list includes someone's teeth, a paper bag filled with $140 and a coffin.

"It was empty, thank goodness," said Mia Nistler, the customer service supervisor with the city's Solid Waste Services.

Organizing for the cleanup begins in January when a committee of about 20 people meets to develop a plan of attack. Businesses and groups begin lining up to take on certain areas. Once that is done, organizers target where there are gaps.

The Anchorage School District joins in with the "little sweepers program" where children help pick up trash for four hours. Children will get a ticket for each bag they fill and an opportunity to get an Apple iPod Shuffle in a raffle.

The city coordinates the cleanup with free dump days, where it's normal to see up to 200 cars and trucks lined up at the city's transfer station. It gets so busy there are people on hand to direct two lanes of traffic and to keep cars flowing in and out of the transfer station.

Police also are on-scene in case tempers flare.

"You see everything on these days," said Robert Hall, director of Solid Waste Services. "Last year, we found a shotgun. It was beat up and bent. You name it and it has probably been thrown out by somebody and brought in here."

Hall said most of the trash in Anchorage - where drivers tend to have big trucks and drive fast - is due to people not throwing a tarp over their loads.

"People just aren't paying attention," Hall said. "How did that mattress blow out? It is easy for people to understand how a piece of paper blew out, but a mattress or a whole bag of garbage? We see it all."

Nistler said last year during the weeklong cleanup the transfer station and city landfill welcomed 7,925 cars and trucks on three free dump days. That amounted to 3,293,120 million pounds of junk from people cleaning out their garages and attics and sprucing up their yards.

Well, not all of it is junk, Nistler said.

"What really is a shame is it is good stuff. I have seen hot tubs come in... the Jacuzzi hot tubs," she said.

Nistler said her job is to make sure everybody else is doing their job at the transfer station on the first free dump day.

"It is crazy," she said Thursday. "If we didn't have it we wouldn't look near as pretty as we do in the summer."

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