Where do recycled items go?

Posted: Monday, October 21, 2002

The journey recyclable materials take from the Kenai Peninsula is a long one.

In Soldotna, the recycling begins with Peninsula Sanitation, owned by Waste Management Inc., which is contracted by the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The company picks up the recyclable materials from borough transfer sites, or recycling boxes located throughout the peninsula, then takes them to the Central Peninsula Landfill in Soldotna, where the materials are stored until they are bailed into cubes, put into semi-vans and hauled to Anchorage Recycling Center, owned by Smurfit-Stone Recycling Company.

"What I've wanted to know -- is it worthwhile to recycle here (on the peninsula)?" Borough Mayor Dale Bagley asked.

For Peninsula Sanitation, it costs more than what is made. However, the contract the company bid on with the borough requires the firm to haul a certain quota or be penalized by having the amount deducted out of the contract price.

The contract requires Peninsula Sanitation recycle 1,800 tons per contract year. The borough compensates the company $5 per ton for each ton that is recycled and not buried in the landfill. If the company does not meet the quota, $5 per ton for the difference between the contract amount and the actual amount recycled is deducted.

"Is it worth it to do it?" asked Jack Carver, Peninsula Sanitation manager at the landfill.

"No."

Carver said the prices being given for recyclable material currently are low.

Peninsula Sanitation pays for aluminum on Saturdays at its shop on Marywood off Kalifornsky Beach Road. It pays 17 cents per pound and makes 30 cents a pound at Smurfit. The current market price on scrap aluminum is more than double outside of Alaska at 71 cents per pound, according to the Recycler's World Web site.

The money Peninsula Sanitation makes off recyclable material pays for the shipping to Anchorage, but it does not cover the cost of the labor used to sort, bail and haul the materials, Carver said.

Peninsula Sanitation deals with a much higher quantity than the borough does at the Homer Bailing Facility.

The borough transports the Homer recyclable materials to Anchorage a couple times a month, costing about $300 a trip, not including the temporary employee hired to help with the sorting, according to Cathy Mayer, borough solid waste director.

Recycling helps the borough save money by not having the recyclable materials dumped in the landfill, she said. It helps decrease the cost of burying the material and slows the need for landfill expansion.

The borough requires documentation from the contractors by way of receipt to prove the materials were delivered and not just disposed of. The borough likes to know the weight of each material and who delivered it.

When the market prices on materials are low, it can be to costly to recycle them.

The prices on scrap metal currently are low. The borough was unable to get contractors to come to the peninsula from Anchorage and recycle the junked cars in Homer and ended up burying more than 150 vehicles at the Homer landfill.

"We hope not to do it again," Mayer said.

The borough would have had to spend a lot of money per vehicle, she said. However, now they have a place to store junk cars until the prices go back up.

Kenai Peninsula Borough landfills are some of the few landfills in the state to accept vehicles.

However, Peninsula Sanitation is continuing by contract to recycle the junk cars; cars have not been buried in the Central Peninsula Landfill recently, Mayer said. Peninsula Sanitation has expressed concerns regarding the time and cost of recycling the vehicles, she said.

In some cases the borough has held on to materials until market prices were better.

The market prices Smurfit pays for the materials is substantially less than the prices in the Lower 48, because it has to make up for the shipping costs. Smurfit pays approximately one-half cent per pound for newspaper and one cent per pound for cardboard. However, market price is more than double, according to Recycler's World Web site.

"The cost of getting it out of Alaska is expensive," said Guy Barton, Smurfit plant manager.

It is an added cost most places in the contiguous states do not have, he said.

Barton said the recyclable materials end up going to mills in the Lower 48 and overseas. These might be aluminum mills where the product can be manufactured back into cans and other products.

In some cases an aluminum mill also will manufacture paper, as well as there being mills for each individual recyclable material.

After newspaper is baled and shipped to a paper mill, it will first be pulped into a liquid, "de-inked," and then spread on felt to be dried. The finished product is used to make newsprint.

Other mixed paper can be made into secondary paper products that range from paper towels, bathroom tissue and cereal boxes to drywall facing and composite shingles.

Smurfit will weigh the cost of getting the materials to the destination with what the mill offers to pay for the material, then chooses which will be the biggest moneymaker for the company.

The company deals mainly in paper, but its biggest moneymaker is nonferrous metals, such as copper, brass and aluminum. These metals are the smallest tonnage the company receives.

Recyclable materials do not always have to travel so far -- people can recycle within their own homes and businesses. Reusing materials that already have been used will save money, Mayer said. People can save by using both sides of paper or turning off lights, she said.

There is the financial incentive as well as environmental reasons for the community to recycle, she said.

There are no Alaska mills or facilities that use the state's recyclable materials, so the materials must travel far in order to benefit the environment. But in most cases, they do not benefit peninsula people's pockets.

"It would be great if someone could think of ways to use recyclable material locally," Bagley said. "It would be great to utilize it here."



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