No More Kicking the Can Down the Road: Talkeetna Starts Recycling

The new recycling program comes online in Talkeetna. (KTNA photo)
The new recycling program comes online in Talkeetna. (KTNA photo)

Talkeetna’s Mat-Su Borough Transfer Site, often referred to by locals as “the dump,” is not the sort of place you would normally expect to find a celebration, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the community’s first recycling container was brought online.

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As the first aluminum cans were tossed into Talkeetna’s new recycling container, there was an air of celebration. Many Talkeetna residents have been waiting decades for a local, regular, reliable recycling solution. On Monday, that became a reality.

A major factor that makes this iteration of recycling in Talkeetna different than previous attempts is borough involvement. Borough contractors will pick up the recycling container just like any other dumpster at the transfer site. Instead of taking it to the landfill, however, the contents will go to the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions.

Butch Shapiro, the borough’s solid waste manager, says that there is an economic incentive for his department in diverting recyclables away from the landfill.

“That’s the big thing for us. The more we can keep out of there, the more we can save, the longer we can make a cell last. And that’s huge, because it costs between $3.5 to $5 million to build a landfill cell.”

Shapiro estimates that the Mat-Su Borough saves about twenty-five cents for every pound of material that is recycled instead of dumped in the landfill.

He says that the current program, which includes plans for recycling in Talkeetna, Willow, and Big Lake, could save the borough $100,000 in the next year. He says adding more recycling communities would increase those savings over time.

While the borough is handling the transport of the recycling container, the community had to come up with the funding for it. The final cost to refurbish a retired trash container and make it suitable for recycling is between $8,000 and $10,000. Butch Shapiro says a new container with similar capabilities could cost three times that much.

“Quite a savings, there. It really brings it within the realm of possibility. It’s been a long time coming.”

The Talkeetna Recycling Committee had little difficulty in raising funds in short order. Grants for $10,000 each from the Mat-Su Health Foundation and Matanuska Electric Association, as well as local fundraisers and donations, meant that the committee was able to bring the first container online this week, with a second already undergoing refurbishing.

Talkeetna resident Katie Writer organized much of the fundraising. On Monday, she told the gathered crowd of more than thirty people why she took the leadership role for the project.

“I’m really honored to fill those shoes, because the Earth is the most important thing to me. And, being here in Alaska, we need to be able to honor the Earth and take care of our trash in a better way.”

Mollie Boyer is the Executive Director for the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions in Palmer, the facility where Talkeetna’s recycling will go for processing. She says VCRS was founded with the initial goal of establishing reliable recycling options. Now, she says the establishment of recycling programs in individual communities helps her organization move toward its long-term goals.

“…To provide a permanent recycling facility and opportunity for the Mat-Su…This bin here represents the fulfillment of that long-term goal.”

The container is not the end of the story, however. The Talkeetna Recycling Committee is actively seeking volunteers to help guide local residents in what can be recycled and how it should be prepared. For the moment, aluminum cans, steel cans, and #2 plastic jugs, such as milk jugs, are accepted.