Difficult logistics don’t stop efforts to ‘e-cycle’

Despite difficult logistics, rural communities across Kachemak Bay participated in last month’s Electronics Recycling Day with more than 5,000 pounds of e-waste collected and recycled.

Since 2006, Homer has benefitted from electronics recycling opportunities each April, providing local residents a cost-effective and convenient way to ensure that their potentially hazardous materials would not be placed in the ground, or trucked to another landfill to be dumped with regular household trash. Cook Inletkeeper, a local non-profit environmental organization based in Homer, has taken the lead in organizing the annual electronic waste (e-waste) collection events since 2011, and recently hosted the 10th annual Homer Electronics Recycling Event on April 25.

In 2011 and 2012, with assistance from Cook Inletkeeper, e-waste from rural communities within Kachemak Bay, including Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek, was collected and shipped to Homer via landing craft.  In 2011 and 2012, more than 2,600 pounds of e-waste was collected from the three villages, demonstrating strong need, desire, and support for e-waste recycling. 

As you know, all of these communities are relatively close by to Homer, but only accessible by boat or plane. The efforts — and expense — of these chartered boat trips made it difficult to continue. In subsequent years, Cook Inletkeeper was able to accept e-waste from rural Kachemak Bay communities and transport it up to Total Reclaim, but only if tribal environmental staff was able to get their community’s e-waste over to Homer during the annual e-waste recycling event. By fortune of fund-raising success, the support of staff living and working in Homer, and by the fact that Seldovia is on the Alaska Marine Highway system, Seldovia Village Tribe (SVT) was able to continue participating in the e-waste collection events in 2013 and 2014, collecting an additional 2,400 pounds for recycling.  Port Graham and Nanwalek were unfortunately not able to participate.

Despite the difficult logistics, there remains a desire and need in all of these communities to have e-waste collected, removed and recycled annually, especially in Port Graham and Nanwalek which have very limited landfill space.  This is not a service that is currently provided by the Kenai Peninsula Borough.  

The constraints of funding and logistics that are hindering participation of rural Kachemak Bay communities in e-waste recycling are common issues for many rural Alaska communities that must backhaul e-waste at great expense. To help address these issues, and build tribal capacity locally, SVT applied for and was awarded an EPA Tribal Hazardous Waste Management Grant to coordinate and work with tribal environmental staff of Nanwalek and Port Graham, so that all three tribes could participate in the 2015 e-waste collection event in Homer. 

We are happy to report that 5,368 pounds of e-waste was collected from the three villages in 2015. This is more than has been collected in the previous four years combined. In addition to coordinating collection and transportation of the e-waste to Homer, the EPA grant was used to develop e-waste recycling plans; develop educational materials about e-waste recycling; and provide totes and other supplies needed to properly store and package e-waste for collection.

SVT hopes to continue collecting e-waste from area communities for safe disposal. Items such as unwanted computers, monitors and TVs are the fastest growing waste stream in the United States and when simply discarded into landfills, open dumps, or burned, these electronics end up releasing hazardous toxins into the environment. In addition to helping protect human health, “e-cycling” these materials reduces the need to extract new materials, helping to conserve natural resources.

For more information on this program, please contact Michael Opheim at 435-3247.

Michael Opheim is the environmental coordinator for the Seldovia Village Tribe.

 

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