Recycling Gets Smarter, Simpler

Kenai Peninsula Borough Solid Waste Director Jack Maryott demonstrates some of the plastic items that can be recycled together in the Plastics #1 container. Heidi Zemach photo.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Solid Waste Director Jack Maryott demonstrates some of the plastic items that can be recycled together in the Plastics #1 container. And yes, the bottle’s cap can go in there too! Heidi Zemach photo.


By Heidi Zemach for SCN-

Do the Seward Transfer Facility’s recycling containers ever confuse you? If you’re a lifelong recycler like me, with a truckload of carefully washed and separated cans, jugs, papers and bottles, and cardboard to recycle every so often—they may. I stand scratching my head in front of the green recycling containers, under the din of the ravens, crows and eagles, wondering where to put certain types of plastic containers, and whether or not to include their lids.

Recycling is not really that difficult, once you know how it works, and it’s getting even simpler, said Kenai Peninsula Borough Solid Waste Director Jack Maryott. But, having heard my questions about the confusing, occasionally contradictory signs at the local transfer facility and containers at the South Harbor uplands area, he researched in greater depth which items may be recycled, and which may not be with representatives of RockTenn, the Anchorage recycling company where the bulk of the borough’s recycled materials are taken.

As a result, KPB, which operates the solid waste and recycling at the Seward Transfer Facility and sub-contracts with Alaska Waste Inc., is now in the process of creating new signs that will make it easier for the public to tell which items may be recycled, and which items may not. They will also create educational visual depictions of most common recyclables for those who prefer that way of absorbing information, Maryott said. They may also show some of the most common items that are unacceptable.

These signs have been ordered and are anticipated to arrive in Soldotna later this week or early next, and should be located on site by the end of the first week of May.

There are such a wide variety of containers and plastic items that these educational signs couldn’t possibly include every one of them, so people may still have to examine some of their less common plastic items for the triangular labels generally imprinted on them.

Basically, the KPB recycle containers only accept two types of recyclable plastic, PETE #1 and HDPE #2.  Each type must be separated into one of the two different containers. When these are totally filled, the borough’s waste department trucks these over to their Central Peninsula Landfill in Soldotna, about two hour’s drive from Seward, where they are dumped out, placed onto a conveyor belt, sorted, baled and compacted. It takes three to four employees at Central Peninsula about an hour to sort through each arriving load, Maryott said. Mostly, they remove any unwanted items from the load, particularly those plastic bags that recyclers carelessly toss in with the plastics, but also stray cardboard boxes, glass bottles or tin cans. Once compacted, the plastics are then trucked over to the Anchorage recycling firm, RockTenn, another journey of more than two hours. RockTenn pays the borough a certain sum for each ton of material, and then sends it to Seattle, where it is transferred along with larger loads bound for certain markets—often in Asia.

Plastic PETE #1 (Polyvinyl chloride)

These include all manner of rigid plastic containers such as berry containers. It can also include the more pliable plastics such as soda or water bottles, Maryott said. Those containers are of less commercial value to the RockTenn facility, and in the past it has in the past discouraged them from being included in the #1 recycling containers. But nevertheless, the facility will still accept and recycle them, along with the various drink containers, he said. Having straightened this out with the Anchorage recycling facility, the borough will soon be getting rid of the “drink containers only” signs still present on many of the recycling containers, Maryott said.

Can you spot which items belong in this plastics #2 container and which may not? Heidi Zemach photo.

Can you spot which items belong in this plastics #2 container and which may not? Heidi Zemach photo.

Plastic HDPE #2 (Polythylene terephthalate)

This category includes both plastic milk jugs and detergent containers.  Those stiffer bright neon-colored detergent jugs may not look like they would go in with clean white milk jugs, but they’re fine where recycling’s concerned. And although the recycling company would prefer that you do so, you don’t even have to wash them out.


Caps don’t have to be removed either, even though the jug or soda bottle may be of one type of plastic, and the cap made of another, Maryott said. Until the new signs arrive, Seward recyclers can also chose to ignore the instructions that say, “No lids.”

Businesses are starting to move toward manufacturing their caps from the same plastic material as the jugs or bottles they come with, which will ultimately make recycling simpler, Maryott said.  Many U.S. cities also are moving toward a single-recycle system, whereby consumers deposit all of their recyclables together, to be sorted out later.

Businesses are starting to move toward manufacturing their caps from the same plastic material as the jugs or bottles they come with, which will ultimately make recycling simpler, Maryott said.  Many U.S. cities also are moving toward a single-recycle system, whereby consumers deposit all of their recyclables together, to be sorted out later.

Some residents may have the misconception that Seward’s recycling containers are frequently contaminated, and that entire loads have had to be disposed of. They may conclude therefore that it’s not worth taking the time to recycle. They would be wrong, Maryott said. Food waste can indeed potentially cause contamination, and has occasionally done so, he said, and he has also seen a mattress disposed of in the plastics recycling container arriving from the Seward Transfer Facility, which had to be removed. But never in his memory has an entire dumpster load coming from Seward been so contaminated that it could not be recycled, he said. That has only happened on rare occasions at the Central Peninsula Landfill—such as the one time that someone in another community actually deposited their honey buckets into a load of recycling headed to the borough facility.

So Maryott’s main message is, Keep up the good work.

The Seward Transfer Facility also accepts glass in a dumpster near the south side of the building, and mixed paper, newspaper, cardboard and aluminum for recycling through small doors on the south side of the building. The glass of all colors and varieties, for which there is little market demand, is crushed up at the transfer facility, then thrown over the loads of regular garbage going into lined cells at the landfill as part of its cover material, so it’s not actually recycled—only repurposed. That’s why it’s not important to wash or separate bottles, or remove their labels. In other places, such as Anchorage, glass may be ground up, mixed with gravel, and used to build roads or other infrastructure.

Cardboard also is taken to be recycled. It has very little market value these days, however, although it’s a good idea to recycle as it takes up a great deal of space in municipal landfills. The transfer facility will only recycle corrugated cardboard, however—not things like pizza boxes, and Alaska Waste Inc.’s facility workers, who handle the cardboard would much prefer that customers flatten it out themselves. In the past, cardboard has been shredded and used as part of Alaska hydro seed mixtures, Maryott said. In the past, newspapers have been shredded and used as part of Alaska hydro seed mixtures.

Hazardous waste items such as paint cans, insecticide, used oil—the very worst things for the waste transfer stream as they must be even more carefully disposed of—also are picked up every few months during the borough’s “hazardous waste” days at the Seward transfer facility. There’s a schedule for these at the transfer site, and they are announced in the local media.

Florescent bulbs are recycled at the quarterly Hazardous Wasted Days and also on the first Friday of the month at the small shop north of Seward City Hall. Old medications can be taken for disposal to the Seward Police Department, or Seward Providence Medical& Care Center.

The public should take advantage of their local recycling program, and learn how to properly recycle their waste, or even better, figure out new ways to reuse and recycle them locally. It’s certainly not economical—or even great for the environment in terms of diesel or oil pollution to truck all this material clear across the Kenai Peninsula, then to Anchorage, then to ship it to Seattle, and eventually Asia, and it’s somewhat ironic that Seward, a year-round shipping port, is actually doing this.

The best idea of all, rather than recycle, is reduce your uses of things like plastics. For instance, try substituting cloth bags or baskets for shopping, and use your own reusable drink containers for water or hot drinks, rather than buying disposable water bottles, and plastic-lined or Styrofoam cups.

(Part II of this report will focus on the economics of recycling Seward’s waste to KPB.)





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  1. Omar Maxwelian Christopolis says:

    Thank you for tackling this Ms. Heidi Zemach. There’s a lot of highly educated people in town who still think they just empty the big recycling dumpsters into the landfill – glad that rumor is finally quashed. As for your economy question about trucking and shipping the material…it’s not exactly free (in dollar or pollution terms) to produce plastics starting with crude oil thousands of feet under the seafloor, so will be interested to read your part II. Also curious to know if the container near the harbor (which used to be by the chamber) is just a matter of convenience to residents, as opposed to taking stuff to the transfer facility, or if that’s run by a separate entity? It would be really swell if that held plastics too, since most downtown residents who recycle end up needing to drive to the transfer facility anyways. Also on the wish list…how much cost and effort would it entail for the City to modify or add to their trash cans downtown and by the harbor to have a recycling bin attached for drink containers? Means a bit more staff time for collection and sorting, but I doubt the cost would be very large to cover 10-20 bins. Many other cities have made that change and it would make a good impression on the tourists who come here for the beauty of our natural setting – I hear a lot of cruise shipper comments in passing about how “backwards” Seward is because they have to throw away their cans and bottles in the trash.

  2. Heidi Zemach says:

    Thanks for your comments Omar,
    First, yes, the recycling container that used to be outside the Chamber, and that now is south of the harbor near the new fishermen’s memorial is also picked up and taken to the Soldotna facility–along with those at the transfer facility, and the materials are treated the same way. I will try to find answers to some of the other questions. I agree, I have held a job by the door inside the cruise ship facility and have seen many arriving cruise ship passengers upset at the lack of plastic bottle recycling at the facility. Often, I believe, they have saved their water and soda bottles from Anchorage or Denali for that very purpose. We all should examine not only the cost of recycling, but the image it gives Seward-as a place that cares about the environment.

  3. One of the most important reasons that EVERYONE has to recycle is the effect it has on our local taxes – and therefore our local education stystem and other public services.

    While the actual value of the recyclables is very low – in some cases only paying for the transportation of the material to other facilities outside of the Borough, every ton of recyclables diverted from our sanitary landfill in Soldotna represents thousands of dollars of savings to the Borough.

    Right now it costs less than a few hundred dollars per ton to dispose of garbage in the landfill, and the landfill has a few decades of room left at current trash volumes. When it comes time to ‘cap’ the current landfill and build a new one (about the time babies being born today are getting into High School) it will cost millions of dollars for the permitting and construction of a new landfill to accept our waste.

    Every bottle, box, can, and newspaper that doesn’t end up in the landfill may not earn the borough much in sales revenue for recycling – but it will extend the life of our current landfill for a few moments – and there are a heck of a lot of items that can be divereted from the landfill.

    If you want to keep our low property tax rates – recycle!

  4. Great article Heidi. I especially like the last paragraph about making the choice to use less plastics by bringing your own bag and using your own reusable bottles!

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