UAF Cancels Popular Recycling Program

Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC - Fairbanks.
Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks.

In June, the University of Alaska Fairbanks will discontinue its recycling program.  It’s a cost cutting measure, but it also comes in response to what the University sees as a lack of action by the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

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For years, borough residents have deposited their recyclables in a handful of different colored dumpsters in one of UAF’s parking lots.

Sharon Alden had just finished emptying a box full of bottles into one of those dumpsters when a truck came by to collect the glass.

“I don’t always bring my recycling here.,” she says.  “I actually try to take it other places, because I had understood last year that the university does pay, so I try to spread it around and take the paper and the aluminum to the rescue mission.”

The recycling program was set up exclusively for the University in 2010, but today, roughly 90 percent of what UAF collects in paper, plastic, aluminum and glass comes from Borough residents.   It’s all waste Chancellor Brian Rogers says the University isn’t responsible for.

“We’ve told the Borough for a year that this is a problem for us to continue to provide a community service that is part of the Borough’s mandate and not the University’s,” says Rogers.

Last month, he sent a letter to faculty and staff to say that the University faces a 4 to 5 percent budget shortfall next year.  This week, Rogers also sent a letter to Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins to explain that the University plans to discontinue its recycling program as of June first.

“Certainly, the budget environment we’re going into makes it much harder for us to carry the cost of the Borough,” says Rogers.

The University has offered several alternatives for the Borough to consider, but Chancellor Rogers says he hasn’t seen much action.

“I think the bottom line is we have shown in proof of concept that the Fairbanks residents really want recycling and I hope the borough will respond to that,” he says.

Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins says he knows borough residents support a recycling program, but he says it’s been hindered by a slow moving funding process.

“The funding needs to be appropriated for the borough to do it,” says Hopkins.

He says the wheels are already in motion to set up an area for residents to deposit their recyclables just across the street from where the University’s dumpsters sit overflowing with cardboard and plastic bottles.

“Last September I started an action to get a wetlands permit to expand the transfer site right next to the university,” he explains.  “So, we just recently received that permit, now we can expand that site, but that will take the summer to build, so we’ll probably be ready with that next year.”

The Assembly is currently grappling with next year’s budget.  During public hearing last week, nearly half the testimony came from residents who do not support a proposed $46,000 cut to Recycling Commission funding.

Hopkins says he’s confident that money will be restored.  He also plans to add an amendment to the budget that would defray the cost and allow the University program to continue.

“Yeah, I’m gonna ask the assembly to consider an amendment that would add a line item for that to the budget,” says Hopkins.

As for Sharon Alden, she says with the University’s program in question, she’s looking for other alternatives.

“Coming here makes me want to work on not creating as much trash or even as much recyclables,” she says.  “I don’t think we have too many other choices.  I mean I don’t like throwing things away.”