The concept of recycling revolves around keeping certain things out of the landfill.
But on the Kenai Peninsula, officials and local recycling advocates say they’d prefer one particular rumor be buried for good.
That rumor is that recycling on the Peninsula is a hoax — that bins labeled as recycling drop-offs scattered around the area are just a ruse, a wily subterfuge aimed at making environmentalists feel good about themselves.
However, Jan Wallace, Soldotna resident and current secretary of the local recycling advocacy group Re-Group, believes the opposite is true.
Where some skeptics see a hoax, Wallace has decades of hands-on recycling experience.
“We’ve been around for 20 years and the urban myth issues and things have been around about as long,” she said with a laugh.
Wallace said Re-Group formed in 1989 when recycling trends became popular and the need became apparent. At the time, residents had only an empty trailer parked behind the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration building to fill with a limited amount of materials, she said.
“You could haul your recycle there, volunteers would go and try and keep it somewhat clean and when it was filled they would haul it back to Anchorage,” she said. “There was no other recycling other than that.”
Borough Solid Waste Director Jack Maryott said it is a common misconception his department hears all the time.
His response? The proof is in the numbers.
“I say that you are more than welcome to come in to our facility or our admin office and we can go over our records because we keep very accurate records of our tonnage, what we pay for shipping, what is received at the recycling center and what revenue we receive back,” he said. “We really have proof that this stuff isn’t getting thrown away.”
So why then do the rumors keep cropping up? Wallace said residents might not want to believe the borough spends the time to gather and ship its recycling to a market in Anchorage because they might not want to feel obligated to participate.
“Psychologically if people believe something, then they don’t have to be personally responsible,” she said. “I don’t know if that has a play in it, especially if they are not personally accepting of environmentalist activities, which I’m not sure how recycling falls under that but it seems to.”
Wallace also wondered why the borough would purchase expensive containers, keep recyclables separate and bail them up if only to toss it out with the rest of the garbage.
“Obviously that’s not logical,” she said.
Other than that particular rumor, Re-Group has been fighting bigger battles, Wallace said.
“We’ve been doing this for 20 years and there are still people in our community that have no clue that we recycle,” she said.
Wallace and other Re-Groupers — numbering about 20 or 30 regulars with a newsletter list of about 400 subscribers — continue to push information about the number of ways to recycle in the area.
“Our main purpose is to educate and inform people of the new stuff we are doing, where you can recycle and what you can recycle,” she said.
On Saturday, Wallace said the group manned a booth at the health fair at Soldotna High School. She also said the group will be present for the Kenai Peninsula College’s Earth Day Celebration on April 19 and will host an electronics recycling event on May 19 at Central Peninsula Landfill.
“It’s not glamorous,” she said with a laugh.
But it is important.
“I personally believe that resources are valuable no matter what form they are in,” she said.
Wallace mentioned electronics as a new focus in the recycling-conscious community as a way to get as many products reused as possible.
“Just when you think of the world’s situation in resources, as a community of people for us to want to be wanting to use more electronics, which most of us do … that any in any of the older stuff that we are not using are valuable resources … including gold, cadmium, lead and all the rare earth minerals,” she said. “The logic financially, energywise, timewise, it seems more logical to mine materials out of things we already have than out of the ground.”
And for all the work the group, the borough and countless others have done, more can always been accomplished.
“It’s encouraging just from the fact that we started with one van behind the borough building to tons … that we recycle total out of the borough,” she said. “If we could recycle 25 percent of what we can, we would be doing better than average, but I doubt we are there.”