Alaska businesses save money swapping goods

Posted: Monday, February 18, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- It's so Alaskan -- businesses going Dumpster-diving.

Don't laugh. Alaska businesses have saved more than $2 million by swapping goods from photocopiers to pallets to heavy equipment on the Alaska Materials Exchange since it began in 1994, said program coordinator Tee Little.

Businesses statewide post materials they'd like to jettison in the AME, a catalog put together by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. In the catalog's ''wanted'' section, businesses in Alaska and around the country solicit scrap metal, left over paint or other items.

''Some people refer to it as industrial dating,'' said David Wigglesworth, program officer with the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

Wigglesworth worked for the DEC in the early '90s, when an oil and gas pollution prevention committee was formed. A good chunk of the waste the committee was trying to prevent turned out to be perfectly serviceable surplus, Wigglesworth said.

BP and Arco gave seed money for a swap program between oil service industries on the North Slope that eventually expanded to include other industry sectors. The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce provided a home for the program. The first AME catalog went out in 1994.

There is no charge to list in the exchange, which is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state DEC office supplies the time Little spends on the program, which is only part of her job.

The AME is an environmental and economic win-win, Little said.

Last year alone AME kept an estimated 101 tons of material out of landfills, she said.

Rain Proof Roofing, a contractor in Anchorage, used to dump pallets and 55-gallon drums, said manager Brent Eaton. With dumping fees of $45 a ton, disposal of the heavy wood and metal adds up quick, Eaton said. Now, a standing listing in the exchange saves Rain Proof money on hauling, too.

''People come get it, it's great,'' Eaton said. ''We don't have to pay to dispose of them and somebody has a use for them.''

Some AME highlights from the last eight years:

--Silver Bay Logging found a taker for more than 30 used remote camp trailers it didn't need. The company saved $75,000 in shipping and landfill fees while the new owner would have had to pay $200,000 to get the same thing new, Silver Bay officials said.

--Bernard's Handling sold unneeded pallet bins to MN Co., a savings of $67,000.

--AME helped ARCO save $8,000 in disposal costs by channeling leftover garnet materials into a landscaping use.

--Girdwood Mining Co. got nylon bags for hauling ore free from a water treatment facility, saving $6,000.

--Arctic Rentals saved $6,000 in disposal costs by exchanging about eight tons of equipment through AME.

--The Alaska Center for Appropriate Technology got $3,000-worth of surplus building materials for free.

--Usibelli Coal Mine exchanged an engine with Seward Ship Drydock, saving $1,300.

Alaskans aren't the only ones who appreciate the opportunity to swing a killer deal.

Bill Lawrence is program coordinator for Industrial Materials Exchange, a similar program operating in the Pacific Northwest.

''When we first were doing research on the feasibility of starting (an exchange), there were maybe 15 in the country'' in the late '80s, Lawrence said. Today he estimates there are about 70 in North America.

Lawrence attributes part of the popularity to the Internet. After requests for catalogs grew by about 1,500 a year for nearly 10 years, demand plateaued. Now, people call and take themselves off the mailing list, saying they get the information online.

Little hopes the Alaska program will become a Web site as well.

The Internet makes a good fit with the business-to-business spirit of the program.

''The exchange is a wonderful avenue to get rid of things that don't have enough value to advertise,'' said Chris Alexander of Alaska Metal Recycling. Alexander said he doesn't list everything of value that comes through: ''I put in enough to seed the pot.''

By listing something that's a draw, people who come to peruse also run their eyes over the other goodies he's come across.

Like the map cabinets that were dropped off to be recycled at his Anchorage yard.

''Let me get a forklift,'' Alexander said he hollered when he spotted the cabinets. He lifted them carefully out of the waste stream destined for smelting, and sold some of them for $25 -- more than they'd be worth recycled, but still a steal of a deal for a buyer.

Or the aluminum boat that came filled with scrap aluminum, all meant to be recycled.

''We saw somebody creative could beat the dents out of it, weld it up,'' Alexander said. Indeed, he found a buyer enthusiastic to pay $1,200 for the damaged boat that's worth $700 as scrap but was worth $20,000 new.

And Alexander's still planning on getting that scrap value, too.

''Eventually it'll come back here to be recycled,'' Alexander said. --

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