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ReThink Recycling: Seward Strong Kickoff Meeting

Community members met on Monday night to discuss the Seward Strong goal of recycling. Photo by Kelley Lane.

by Kelley Lane for Seward Prevention Coalition- Recycling options for Sewardites may improve in the coming year, thanks to efforts being made by a newly organized community group. At the Seward Strong event held on December 5th, members of the community adopted two initiatives to make our community stronger and healthier in the coming year. The short-term goal chosen was a recycling initiative, specifically to “increase recycling opportunities, promote compostable items and decrease plastic usage.” The group’s image of success would be that within a year’s time, Seward will have more opportunities to recycle and will practice greater use of reusable items, thus reducing single use plastic item consumption.


The Seward Strong recycling group met last Monday night in the Seward Community Library Community room. Twenty Sewardites who represented a variety of groups and interests brought their backgrounds and particular desires to the table. Among them was Kyle Nuckols of the Harbor 360 Hotel, who said that he was interested in “reducing plastic use” and cited the group’s use of plates made from potato starch as an alternative to single use plastic plates. Rob Kurtz, Supervisor of Environmental Services at Seward Mountain Haven, a long term care facility said that he was eager to “set a good example” [by implementing recycling practices] because Mountain Haven is a big employer in town.


The evening included time for each attendee to give a brief overview of their personal history with recycling as well as their hopes for Seward’s future. A common thread was appreciation for the natural beauty and cleanness of Seward and the surrounding wildernesses. Mike Stewart shared that he has been “helping out Micheley at Resurrect Art.” Stewart explained that Seward’s “seasonal nature could allow us to try out new programs” during the lower population winter months, and then upscale them for summer peak population and visitor months. The enthusiasm and optimism of attendees encouraged the sharing of ideas and solutions for future implementation. The current options for recycling in and around Seward were enumerated. Among the current recycling drop-off stations is the aluminum can drop station on the lawn of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rae Building, recycling bins at the Alaska Sea Life Center and the large containers located at the Seward Transfer Station.



An oft repeated thread among attendees at the meeting was the desire to see a decrease in plastic bag usage. People cited finding bags stuck in trees around town, and in Resurrection Bay. The desire to eradicate plastic bags was met with some resistance by some who said that plastic bag bans or taxes often create greater strain on lower income people. Education around the real cost of single use plastic bags was discussed as a potential way to decrease their usage. CJ Rea shared that Safeway will pack groceries in paper bags, if shoppers know to ask for them. Tess Tulley of Kayak Adventures Worldwide, based in Seward, shared that their company “has made steps to eliminate single use plastic from our company.” She explained that they have reusable water bottles available for their clients to use, which they wash and sanitize between users.

Many people spoke of their experience taking recyclables to Seward’s transfer station. They spoke of the overflowing containers and plastic bags that had escaped the bins. Casey Warner spoke up, saying that Alaska Waste can empty the containers more frequently, if they alerted to the need. At present, they pick them up about once per month. The materials are then transported to Kenai, then to Anchorage. From Anchorage, the recyclables are barged down to Seattle, where the processing plants are located. Warner’s lesson on how recycling works in Alaska highlighted the need for a recycling processing plant in Alaska. According to Warner, even with all these transportation costs, it’s still economically viable for most materials to make the trip, except for glass. The glass, instead, is mixed with gravel and warehoused in the central Peninsula Landfill, near Soldotna. It is stored so that it can be used in road building projects at a later date.


The evening’s meeting resulted in the creation of three initiative groups: educating businesses, a plastic bag ban ordinance work group and an education for members of the public, which includes studying and increasing public receptacles for recycling. Although many in attendance were in favor of decreasing plastic bags, they were intent on taking the process slowly, so as to allow time for education and the public to voice their opinions. Cindy Ecklund shared draft-legislation for a plastic bag ban that the group will use to develop education around the impacts of plastic in Alaska’s oceans.


The next group meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 23rd at 6pm at the Seward Community Library. The workgroups will meet separately prior to this gathering. Those interested are invited to attend to help craft the future of recycling efforts here in Seward. Among the reasons to be in favor of reducing waste, David Paperman shared that the current price for a ton of garbage on the Kenai Peninsula is $20. Compare that to New Jersey, where the cost is $450 per ton, due to the value of land and the construction costs associated with building new landfills. Paperman pointed out that “all recyclables that go into the landfill make it get filled sooner. We’re going to have to pay at some point.” Paperman would like to delay the costs of constructing a new landfill as long as possible.


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