Anchorage curbside compost pilot picked up by private waste company, likely to expand

Alaska Waste’s Curbside Organics pilot route begins in the Bayshore-Klatt neighborhood in Anchorage. (Photo by Amy Mostafa, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Virgo Banks is backing his truck up a ramp at the Anchorage Regional Landfill in Eagle River.

The truck belongs to Alaska Waste. Right now it’s filled with a little under a ton of grass clippings, fruit and even some salmon — which isn’t supposed to be in the compost.

Banks picked up compost from about 60 homes that’d signed up for the company’s pilot program in Southwest Anchorage.

“Basically this truck is not meant for this,” Banks said. “They thought it was going to be a ressie truck. So this is what I got to do, clean up after myself. (laughs)”

The ground where the dumpster meets the ramp is littered with grass and other compost. 

Banks says the truck doesn’t work quite right with the dumping spot, which is a designated roll off currently shared with the municipality’s own curbside program. He uses a shovel to scrape the ground clean before leaving.

“We’re basically here at the landfill, and this is where the public dump, and all the other garbage companies dump,” Banks said. “And this here is the designated area for the organic green waste — however we want to call it. And this here is what they use to grind it up so when they bury garbage they can cover it up with this so it don’t smell as much.” (Photo by Amy Mostafa, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This is Banks’s third run for the new program, out of a total of six. So it makes sense the company is still working out the kinks. 

Alaska Waste’s spokesperson Laurel Andrews says the private waste company has been doing commercial composting for stores like Carrs and Fred Meyer since 2010. 

Now they want to see how many of their residential customers are interested in something similar and how it would work. 

“Is it just one person on a street or is it a whole street?” Andrews says they’re trying to gauge, “because that really affects the costs of business and how are you going to make this a program that’s affordable for everybody.”

Andrews says they’re starting with 200 customers for now at a fee of $10 a month. 

“Most of the stuff we collect as recycling ends up getting shipped outside of Alaska, but we’re always looking for ways that we can keep stuff close to home,” Caldwell says. “And there are several folks here in the south central region that can take this stuff and turn it into compost.” (Photo by Amy Mostafa, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

She says they decided to launch the pilot after hearing from customers it was something they wanted. They also saw how the municipality’s own pilot curbside organics program — launched by Solid Waste Services last year — capped out.   

The city’s program ran from July through October and included nearly 300 homes.  Now in its second year, it’s got nearly 900 homes participating. 

Recycling Coordinator Suzanna Caldwell says she wants to see the program expand even more, but bring composting to Anchorage remains a learning process. 

“We have a landfill, so we have a system in place for dealing with trash that’s pretty well established,” Caldwell said. “We don’t have something that’s as well established for organic material. And you can’t just co-mingle the trash with organic, so right now we’re really trying to figure out that infrastructure piece.”

Caldwell says the EPA estimates about a quarter of all residential waste is organic material.

She says if the city’s residential waste is composted, it can be incorporated into construction projects and used to improve soil. 

It can also help extend the life of the Anchorage landfill. 

“Those landfills are only so big, right? And so we can only put so much stuff into it. And when it fills up we have to close it,” Caldwell said. “And if we have to close it, we have to look at building a new one. And we really don’t have any locations in Anchorage to build a new one.”

“Right now, we have about 35 years of life left at the landfill,” Caldwell says. Pictured: Curbside Organics route driver Virgo Banks dumps the compost he’s collected at a spot for designated for Alaska Waste and Solid Waste Services’ pilot programs at Anchorage Regional Landfill. (Photo by Amy Mostafa, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Caldwell says when the landfill was built in 1987, the municipality had also considered spots like Kincaid Park and Campbell Tract — large chunks of land that have homes on or near them today. She says they wouldn’t be able to build there now, and wouldn’t want to. 

She’s happy to see Curbside Organics catch on with private companies like Alaska Waste instead, who serve a wider area than the municipality’s collection arm does. 

But will the pilot expand city-wide? Andrews says, personally, she hopes so.

“Logistically, that remains to be seen,” she said.

“If we had tried to roll out to 15,000 homes it would have been a lot more difficult, so starting small was in my opinion the right choice and we’ll be able to see if we can grow it,” Andrews said. Pictured: Alaska Waste’s Curbside Organics bin. (Photo by Amy Mostafa, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

For Andrews, the next step is continuing to gather data, streamlining the process, and educating residents on what qualifies as compost. 

The pilot runs through the end of October. 

The company has several spots remaining for qualifying residents.