Empire Editorial: Juneau should look into curbside recycling program

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2007

Juneau has a looming problem. Right now the city's mountain of garbage towers six stories tall, is visible to drivers along Egan Drive and has become a magnet for ravenous seagulls.

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But in 30 years, when the dump is maxed out, it will be twice as high.

This is a stinking mess without a simple solution. Richard Hertzberg and Chris Bell, two consultants hired by the city, found options such as shipping our waste to Washington, creating another landfill or setting up an incinerator are far too costly for the relatively low volume of garbage we produce.

Any attempt to rein in the problem, then, requires our city government to cooperate with private business to slow the growth of this hulking heap through recycling.

Currently, the city recycles only 4 percent of its garbage. We as a community can do better.

Curbside recycling is one key to slowing the growth of our garbage tower. Some communities cited in the consultants' report - such as Mercer Island, Wash., with a population of 22,000 - recycle as much as 1,000 pounds per customer annually through a curbside program. That's about 10 times the amount Juneau residents recycle.

Though the city doesn't have jurisdiction over the privately run landfill, it can enter into agreements with the dump's owner, Waste Management, and its operator, Arrow Refuse, to institute a curbside program.

Curbside recycling is an added expense, but small communities throughout the country have been able to make such programs work. Two examples of cities with some form of curbside service: Old Town, Maine, population 8,500, and Paradise, Calif., 26,408. Paradise is an interesting case because there isn't a city program. Instead residents are encouraged to contact a charitable organization that collects recycling free of charge.

A curbside program isn't the only way for Juneau to combat this problem. And we shouldn't rush into an expensive program without first seeing if it will truly reduce the amount of trash filling our dump.

There are other actions the city can take. It could encourage composting, build a new recycling center and educate the public about recycling.

The city needs to lead the way, but it's going to take efforts by Juneau citizens at large to minimize the tower of trash in Lemon Creek.

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