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Resolving rural trash trouble: for rural residents, it's not so easy to take out the garbage.

For Port Alsworth resident Glen Alsworth, taking out the trash means triple-bagging his family's refuse and heaving it into his twin engine Beechcraft 18 cargo plane for the trip across Cook Inlet. "I fly it all to Anchorage," says Alsworth. "That's where we buy it from, so it only seems fair to return it. I think several other residents are doing that, too."

For the air taxi operator and lodge owner, flying 100 to 150 pounds of garbage to his Merrill Field office each week is just another cost of doing business. Besides, there's no landfill in Port Alsworth, a small community of 55 residents on the eastern shores of Lake Clark. Those who don't fly their garbage out are forced to deal with it any way they can, which for many, Alsworth suspects, means tossing it out the back door and into a pit on their own property. "It's all private land around here," he says. "Everyone wants a landfill, but they don't want it on their property."

For Alsworth and the rest of the Lake & Peninsula Borough's 1,700 residents, dealing effectively -- and safely -- with everything from disposable juice containers and aluminum cans to scrap metal and dead car batteries is a growing concern. And although Alsworth and others reuse, recycle, burn, crush, compact and compost what they can, there are still certain things that simply won't go away. On occasion, Alsworth has flown as much as 1,000 pounds of trash into Anchorage in order to help his neighbors dispose of their refuse.

No Programs for Solid Waste. "One of the things that hit me when I first came out here and began visiting the communities was that they really don't have much way to take care of solid wastes," says borough manager Glen Vernon. Most of the communities have trash troubles -- where to put it, how to reduce the amount of it and how to deal with hazardous materials that, if improperly handled, could have a dangerous affect on the town's drinking water.

"It was a really serious situation," says Vernon of the borough-wide problem. "There's a high level of concern." As a result, figuring out how best to deal with the region's trash has become a top priority for the borough.

In an attempt to get a grasp on the problem -- and to come up with workable solutions that could help other rural communities -- the borough received a $50,000 matching grant to study all aspects of solid waste, including everything from recycling to landfill management. The money, administered by the nonprofit Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, (SWAMC), made it possible for solid waste consultants Annalee McConnell and Brett Jokela to spend the summers of 1990 and 1991 visiting 14 of the borough's 17 sparsely populated communities to assess their solid waste problems.

"We found a wealth of interest on the part of the communities in wanting to do the right thing," says Jokela. Many expressed a desire to extend the life of existing landfills -- which are costly to design and construct properly -- while others were concerned with protecting ground water and other natural resources. Others simply wanted to tidy up their communities. "I just don't want to see our village trashy" was a sentiment McConnell says she heard time and again.

McConnell, an attorney and an avid recycler, founded Resourceful Management in Anchorage in 1991 to help businesses find ways to recycle and reduce their waste. Her clients range from large retail chains to hotels and entire communities. Jokela, who works with McConnell on the Lake & Peninsula project, is an environmental engineer with James M. Montgomery Consulting Engineers Inc., and a specialist in landfill management and design.

In a related project funded by a separate grant, McConnell also visited fish processing plants in Dutch Harbor and Dillingham in 1992 to look at solid waste conditions and to suggest methods for reducing, reusing and recycling trash. She hopes that her suggestions will be implemented by area processors so they can reduce their solid waste, and in turn, reduce labor costs and fees paid for hauling and dumping the waste.

A Handbook of Solutions. Research for the borough project was completed late last year, and a regional handbook and individualized community action plans were distributed in January. A primary concern of borough residents, says Vernon, was that the handbook have specific, realistic suggestions for recycling and reducing the amount of trash each village generates and that the action plans have workable ideas. Vernon says residents won't be disappointed in the handbook. "It's very usable," he says. "We're really quite happy. It's quite comprehensive."

In addition to reducing the amount of trash they generate, borough residents also want methods to better manage and extend the life of existing landfills. Many of these sites, says Jokela, are not well managed and do not meet current regulations. The handbook addresses this concern with training and reference material for landfill operators.

New government regulations for landfills and solid waste mean that "We're going to have to comply at a higher level than we have in the past," Vernon says. Compliance could prove costly in a region that has a limited tax base and a largely subsistence economy.

Because the region is so far flung and sparsely populated, some recycling methods may not be economically feasible, says McConnell. Other methods, like hauling scrap metal, may only work on a regional basis and then only every few years. "It's going to take some imagination to put these pieces together in some communities," she says. Vernon adds that hauling scrap metal, dead car batteries and other large items are projects the borough can help coordinate and find funding for.

Jokela echoes many of McConnell's suggestions for landfill reform. Simply reducing the amount of trash you toss in a landfill is a good beginning.

Marjorie Dunaway is SWAMC's solid waste project coordinator based in Dillingham. In the last few years, Dunaway says people have become more aware of the problems associated with solid waste and seem willing to work toward regional solution. "Everybody's trying to figure out what's the cheapest, easiest and best way to deal with it," says Dunaway. "I think the communities are real interested in it, but they're just not sure how to go about it...I think they're real eager to find solutions that work."

Bush Basics:

Annalee McConnell, a solid waste consultant, offers the following suggestions for reusing, reducing and recycling waste in the Bush -- or anywhere else.

* Buy individual juice drinks in recyclable aluminum cans rather than in bulky boxes.

* Try and reduce or reuse plastic wrap that shrouds most everything shipped into Bush Alaska.

* Bundle large quantities of cardboard and see if it makes economic sense to send it in for recycling.

* Use junk mail as scratch paper.

* Reuse manila envelopes and reduce or eliminate the use of Styrofoam cups.

* Burn scrap lumber.

* Scour old machinery for usable parts.

* Ask a colleague or neighbor if they have a use for something you're prepared to pitch.

"It's kind of fun to see how many ideas you can come up with," says McConnell. "That expression 'one man's trash is another man's treasure' is really true."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:rural waste disposal
Author:Hill, Robin Mackey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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