Out There

recycling in the bush – is it worth it?

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on December 6, 2008

Another new change is some recycling is happening right now.  There are a couple of people in our village who work on recycling, collecting used batteries, pop cans, bottles, etc.  It must be grant funded.  They drive over to our school from Akula by boat or snowgo (1.5 miles each way), sort out the tons of nasty candy wrappers, spit cans, and other trash that gets placed in the recycling container, put the recyclables in huge plastic alpar bags, drive them back over to akula, later drive them to the runway and put them on a Hageland Aviation plane, which takes it 25 miles to Northern Air Cargo in Bethel, which flies it 400+ miles to Anchorage, where it is picked up by a Smurfit-Stone recycling company truck (the people who run the recycling center behind napa auto parts on Dowling).   I think it gets crushed and semi-processed there, and then a lot of it gets barged over 1,000 miles to Seattle or somewhere for further processing.  Now, all of these planes and barges are carrying the stuff for free or at a steep discount because it is all “back haul,” going the direction in which the vehicle is usually empty (NAC planes fly from ANC to BET stuffed full, and fly back nearly empty, so prices to send freight from BET-ANC is cheap), and because it is a “good cause” and because it is usually light (bags of pop cans are light).  Finally, we actually get a check from the Anchorage recycling people for $.35 per pound of cans we sent in.

SO.  My question is, can it possibly be worth it to go through all of those steps?  What is the benefit from a single recycled aluminum can or plastic juice bottle?  In terms of CO2 emissions and global warming, can this process be mathematically justified? I doubt it, but I really don’t know.  I do know that shipping is expensive out here, and each pop can is going through a lot of shipping.  Now, I’m all for recycling.  I want it to continue in our village just to raise the awareness level, as more of a social consciousness exercise than for the practical feasability.   And I like the idea of less trash in the landfill and on the ground outside the school (see my old entry on the styrofoam lunch trays we use).  In fact, I’ve been pushing for our student store to start accepting used cans in exchange for a 5 cent credit at the student store (which would only really cost us like 2 or 3 cents per can).  The staff member running the store is concerned that we would be inundated with cans from people all over, cans not sold from our store.  I kind of doubt it, but even if so, great we’re recycling even more!  It’s ok, we’ll just agree to disagree on that one.  : – )  Of course the best recycling is just reusing something locally.  Like in Anchorage they use the crushed glass in some local factory.   Anyway, I just had to bring up that whole recycling issue.