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In honor of Earth Day 2018, we invited in a special guest expert from the community, Gary Smith from Total Reclaim Alaska, to give us the scoop on most things waste here in Alaska. They are a very environmentally driven organization and they are committed to making Alaska green in every way they can. Click on the pictures below to make them bigger.

We learned so much that we had no idea about before! This was a really epic Earth Day learning session! Many of us were really eager to share our experience and ask questions that would help us be better protectors of The Last Frontier. Check out the journey that blew our minds.



First, we began by student groups brainstorming the different types of waste we have, from metals to rubber, cardboard to oils and toxins. From there, as we shared out, we learned what can and can not be recycled.



Some key moments of wisdom followed. Can thin plastic, often used as packaging be recycled? Yes, but only some of it. Well….how can you tell? Thin plastic can be recycled (at special locations) ONLY if it is stretchy plastic (which is polyethylene film).  There are different kinds of aluminum. Aluminum which is a non-ferrous metal can be recycled and should be recycled, but in Alaska, Aluminum foil cannot be recycled.

We got a chance to share our knowledge of materials, recycling, and earth care as well. Many of us knew about the dangers of single use plastic, that pizza boxes can’t be recycled, and that some plastics can be recycled, while others can’t. We had lots of questions about ferrous and non-ferrous metals, how to recycle certain items, and the current earth friendliness of Alaska’s waste and recycling.

When it comes to what ends up in the landfill, and where the landfill(s) are even located, we had no idea what we were about to uncover. To make landfills in Alaska, a giant hole is dug in the ground, and a protective layer placed down to avoid the toxins coming out into the ground. BUT…right where Merrill Field Airport is was once a giant landfill (that was covered once it was full), and for some reason, because the protective layer between the landfill and the ground wasn’t done right, is now LEAKING (called leaching) out toxins into the ground all around it. OH MAN, that’s terrible.

De La Vega Ball Fields was also a landfill that was covered? Many of us always wondered why when being there in the summer, many for soccer, there are so many bugs and it often smells stinky! The part we learned that shocked us the most is that when snow melts and become water at the bottom of the landfill, it is pumped out of the landfill and then DUMPED OUT INTO THE BAY (our local ocean waters where people fish). One student asked why it wasn’t purified and turned back into useable water. We were informed that it is filtered out for solid waste (like poop) but the rest of it has too many toxins in it to be able to be filtered and used for anything. OH MAN! 

We learned that Alaska is behind many other states when it comes to recycling measures but that as of recently progress has been made, though we have a ways to go. It is up to us to be the generation to spread the knowledge. There are items that other states recycle that we simply cannot. Most of our recycled materials have to be carried out of Alaska on a barge, which makes it challenging and expensive.  I found this article that gives more information on recycling issues in Alaska.

One amazing thing that Total Reclaim Alaska is doing is going out to villages to teach about recycling and collecting items to be recycled, like old computers and TV’s, lightbulbs and other items so they can be sent out on the barges.

Those items are brought back to Anchorage on small planes and boats! Way to go Total Reclaim Alaska!  

Total Reclaim Alaska recycles lots of materials many of us didn’t even know can be recycled from refrigerators to lightbulbs, many types of metals, laptops to cell phones. Here are some pictures we were shown during the presentation:

Many of these materials have hazardous chemicals in them and have to processed very carefully and with the employees wearing lots of protective clothing and face masks. Who knew that recycling had to be done with such caution. We are lucky to have a company like Total Reclaim, with top notch employees, to take care of our waste and to take care of our earth.


One of the coolest things we learned is how metal is recycled. First it goes through this epic grinder and then comes out in little pieces so it can be made into something new. 


Here are all the items they help Alaskans recycle (and are eager to collect)

These informational sheets we were given are great tools for us to share with our family, friends, and community. This particular flyer is about the harmfulness of lights and when we dispose of them in the wrong way! We learned that our Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz, who cares about our environment, found out he had high levels of Mercury in his system because he eats a lot of fish (and the fish are getting this chemical in their water from us dumping waste in the water).


This other flyer we were given helps a lot because we seem to have a lot of electronics that most of us don’t know how to get rid of when they conk out! Check it out, it is super helpful.


We are so thankful to have the experts come to us, to help us become knowledgable and to help us on our mission to become Global Citizens and take action in our local community. Here is some video footage of our experience.