Landfills: Alaska begins its future of solid waste management

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Courtesy of Waste Advantage Magazine

It seems only fitting that the state earning the moniker as the last frontier might be slightly behind the times when it comes to managing solid waste. Alaska celebrated 50 years of statehood last year, and while many gathered at picnics and other events to lionize improvements to the state’s scant matrix of roads, and the construction of schools, airports and medical facilities, solid waste professionals continued in the resolve of making slow but steady gains in the way Alaska handles its trash.

Extreme Reaches
When it comes to infrastructure necessary in getting that trash to proper handling facilities, Alaska’s vast dimensions are working against them. With an area of 656,000 square miles—more than twice the size of Texas—the state lays claim to 33,000 miles of coastline, 3 million lakes, 100,000 glaciers and 40 active volcanoes. In terms of solid waste management, however, Alaska is comprised of around 375 communities, only about 100 of which are accessible by a meager 2,000-mile road system. That means that any materials shipped in or out of Bush Alaska, arrive by boats or airplanes.

As it is, getting the garbage from the state’s extreme reaches to adequate landfills may take another lifetime. But time is running out for many of its remote communities. More than 50 years of dumping, tossing and spilling has taken its toll, and even now, solid waste continues accumulating at a rate inundating many village dumpsites. While an obvious solution would be to reverse the flow of trash out of Bush Alaska, many villagers have found themselves swimming against the swift current of an economic system that has provided for the transporting the goods going in but not back out.

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