Plastic can take up to 1,000 years to “biodegrade” in a landfill (it never really decomposes, just breaks down into tinier pieces of plastic). Aluminum cans: 200-500 years. Tin: 50-100 years. Styrofoam: 5,000 years. Tinfoil: Never.
We have already filled up one landfill here in Homer, and while it’s easy to just forget about it now that our trash is being trucked up the road, the fact is that space will run out there, too. Future generations will have to give up more and more beautiful Alaska land for garbage dumps unless we try to minimize the amount we throw away.
Unfortunately, there are some items which we cannot recycle here in Homer, but we can recycle quite a bit. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Solid Waste Department has modified some of the rules about recycling and is in the process of making new signs to educate the public about these latest recycling opportunities.
ALUMINUM: We can now recycle all aluminum containers and lids, not just beverage cans. This includes pet food cans.
TIN: We can recycle all tin containers and lids.
With aluminum and tin, it is best if you rinse out the cans, but it’s not imperative. Labels do not need to be removed. Just make sure they’re empty and relatively clean. But please do not put tin in the aluminum bin or vice versa. It can be confusing to tell which is which. The best way to test for sure is with a magnet. A magnet will stick to tin, but not to aluminum.
NO. 1 PLASTIC: We can recycle any and all plastic with a “1” on the bottom. It used to be we had to “check for the neck” — meaning we could only recycle plastic bottles, but that is not the case. Now any plastic (such as the plastic containers you get at the salad bar) can go into the No. 1 plastic bin. And the newest development is you can recycle the lids. That used to be a big no-no, but now you can leave the lids on.
NO. 2 PLASTIC: Same as above. We can now recycle the lids of any container which has a “2” on the bottom. Please make sure you are putting No. 1 and No. 2 plastics in the correct bin, and make sure they are empty and relatively clean.
PAPER: We no longer have to separate newspaper from mixed paper. They are all being recycled together. Newspaper must be loose, can include inserts and ads, but no plastic wrappers or bags. Mixed paper includes magazines and catalogs (glossy OK), phone books, junk mail (windows OK), egg cartons, copy paper, shredded paper, and paperboard (cereal boxes, cracker boxes, beverage boxes, paper towel/toilet paper rolls, etc.). Paperboard is a bit confusing to people, but if it is not corrugated, it is paperboard and it can be recycled. Staples and glossy paper are OK. Please remove paperclips and metal clasps.
CORRUGATED CARDBOARD: Make sure it is corrugated (with the ridges — like shipping and pizza boxes) and flatten the boxes. No waxed cardboard or paperboard. If it has a heavy wax coating, it unfortunately cannot be recycled.
GLASS: Glass is used as a road base in certain conditions. It is not being shipped out, but it is still re-used and thus it is worth recycling. Labels are OK.
The biggest obstacle for processing the recycling is when people throw plastic bags full of recyclables into the bins. Please do not throw plastic bags into the recycling bins. Just empty the items out and recycle the plastic bag in its own designated bin, or bring it back home and use it again. Plastic shopping bags go into the “Misc. Plastics” bin which also accepts shrink wrap and newspaper wrappers.
Little things can make a big difference.
Reduce: Seriously think about the purchases you make and how necessary they are. Do you really need to buy something that comes in a big No. 5 plastic container (which we unfortunately cannot recycle here in Alaska)? Can’t you drink your coffee or soft drink without the plastic straw?
Reuse: Reuse plastic shopping bags as garbage bags (instead of buying Hefty bags) or reuse No. 5 plastic for leftovers (instead of buying Tupperware or using tinfoil). Even if these items are eventually thrown away, by using them two or three times instead of just once, you have minimized your garbage.
And, of course, recycle: As noted, we have more and better recycling opportunities now. The main motive for recycling is space, land.
On a global scale, many urban communities have completely run out of landfill space and are willing to pay top dollar for a place to ship and stash their trash. It is possible that Alaska, with its vast land area and need for revenue-creating opportunities, might become a potential global landfill.
It sometimes can be a logistical hassle to separate and store recyclables, but it is worth it. Throwing away a significantly reduced amount of garbage and knowing that you are reducing your footprint is a good feeling.
Go for it.
Diana Sedor is a 20-year resident of the Homer area. She works as a medical language specialist and freelance writer and editor. She says she annoys as many people as she can about the importance of the three Rs: reducing, reusing and recycling.