By Shaina Kilcoyne
Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the country, the average winter temperature is 6.7°F, warmer than it used to be 70 years ago.
From recreation to commerce to hunting and fishing, the changing climate is impacting our life here in many ways.
March of this year was the warmest on record and snow melted earlier than normal this spring. While that may be beneficial for gardening, warmer weather also fosters the spread of spruce beetles, which have killed over a million acres of forest in the state, mostly in the Mat-Su area. In fact, the state has recently requested $2 million in federal funding to help remove dead trees, which increase wildfire risk. Warmer and drier weather has extended the wildfire season; by early May of this year, 81 fires had burned almost 3,400 acres in Alaska. State park officials have closed campgrounds at Byers Lake and Nancy Lake due to the risk of trees killed by spruce beetles falling on campers.
While we know that the climate is changing, we also know we can do more to slow the process and prepare for its impacts. That’s why Mayor Ethan Berkowitz tasked city officials with developing a climate action plan. The Plan includes all communities within the Municipality boundary, including the Native Village of Eklutna, Chugiak, Eagle River, Anchorage, Girdwood, and Portage. The Anchorage Assembly took the plan up for consideration in early May and a public hearing and vote is scheduled for the May 21st Assembly meeting.
The Anchorage Climate Action Plan is a roadmap for reducing our impact on the environment and preparing for some of the changes in our climate that we’re already seeing. The plan was developed through a partnership between the Municipality of Anchorage and the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), and paid for through a grant secured by the University. Over 100 Anchorage residents helped draft the plan and over 1,400 residents were engaged in the process through a public comment period and over 30 community events and workshops.
Climate action initiatives will save energy and money for the city, residents, and businesses. The actions listed in the plan help create jobs, improve transportation options, prepare for extreme weather events and wildfires, and help to us be better stewards of our home.
Some of the biggest opportunities identified in the plan relate to how we use energy and where it comes from.
A recent study of energy opportunities in Anchorage showed that our local government, businesses, and residents have the opportunity to collectively save over $80 million per year in energy efficiency upgrades. Since 46% of our emissions are from buildings and industry, this is a significant opportunity. The plan highlights ways we can achieve these savings through technology like LED lights, programmable thermostats, and better building controls.
Another goal of the plan is to create more energy from renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydropower. Alaska has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, and we’re leading the way in new technology like capturing energy from the tides. In order to reduce energy costs for the next 20+ years, the Municipality of Anchorage will install solar panels this year on the Egan Center, Fire Station #10, and the Anchorage Regional Landfill. Solid Waste Services and Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility are also exploring renewable energy generated from waste and water. The Municipality is also working to make it easier and faster for residents to install solar panels on their homes and businesses and reduce their energy costs. Gas and diesel for cars, trucks, and buses account for approximately half of all energy used in Anchorage.
Pollution is highest in the winter mornings when we idle our cars to heat them up before work. By improving bus services and safe paths for pedestrians and bicyclists, we offer more transportation options that improve health and save money. We are also working with the state to develop a plan for electric vehicle charging stations, which reduce air pollution. You can learn more about the plan at www.muni.org/ClimateActionPlan.
Climate Action at the Landfill
What do climate change and the landfill have to do with each other? Waste is a powerful generator of greenhouse gas emissions. The choices we make as consumers can have a significant impact on the environment and climate. Luckily, we can make some easy choices to help reduce our personal impacts. Recycling is well established in the Municipality, but we’re doing even more to leverage waste as resource and reduce consumer emissions. Increasing measures to recycle, compost, and otherwise divert materials from the landfill are outlined in the Anchorage Climate Action Plan. Keeping food and yard waste out of the landfill extends the life of the facility by saving space, but it also reduces methane emissions. Solid Waste Services has expanded curbside collection of food and yard waste. If you live outside of the SWS service area and are not able to enroll in curbside pick-up, you can still drop off food waste at the Anchorage Regional Landfill and the Central Transfer Station for free. While you’re there, you can also fill up your own buckets with completed compost to enrich your soil and gardens.
Every day, tons of organic material are buried along with all the other garbage that gets collected from Anchorage residents.
But when you bury organic material, it decomposes without oxygen in an anaerobic environment. That produces methane, a super potent greenhouse gas and major contributor to climate change. While the landfill collects and turns some of that gas into electricity (as of 2013 we’ve been selling about 60% of that gas to help power Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson), we end up flaring the rest of it to keep it out of the atmosphere. When you keep organics material out of the landfill for composting, it breaks down in a natural way, like when leaves and grass die and decompose on the forest floor. No toxic gases are produced. Plus, you get compost, which improves soil and allows it to produce more life and more food. Organics are another product we can keep here, which helps create more jobs and business opportunities in our state.
Recycling in Anchorage
Though less than 20% of all materials in Anchorage get recycled, recycling helps our community in a multiplicity of ways. We save energy by using recycled materials to make new products instead of extracting virgin materials. We protect the environment by using the resources we already have in the waste stream. We also save space at the Anchorage Regional Landfill and ultimately extend the life of the facility by keeping unnecessary garbage out of it. At the current rate of disposal the landfill is set to close around 2050. The longer we can keep it open, the more money and resources we save Anchorage residents. Each year that we extend the life of our current landfill saves taxpayer dollars toward opening a whole new site. Recycling is one of the primary ways we stretch the taxpayers’ dollar and the clock at the landfill.
But the truth is, it can be challenging to recycle in Anchorage.
Many people don’t have the option of curbside recycling. Getting to a recycling center can be challenging for those with busy lives or who lack transportation. The City of Anchorage is working to make it easier for the public. We’ve added drop-off locations at Bartlett, East, West, and Service high schools in an effort to expand recycling to unserved parts of the community. We’re expanding outreach by updating our website to include a list of places you can take materials and which ones we accept. As U.S. communities adapt to changing recycling markets as a result of China’s scrap import bans, Anchorage must continue to look for markets for recycled materials both within the Municipality and outside.
So what can residents do to be better recyclers?
Remember to reduce your waste in the first place. Some easy ways to do this include “refusing” products, like plastic bags at grocery stores (bring your own reusable bags!) or plastic straws in drinks. Think about packaging when you buy products and try to avoid unnecessary items, saving money at the same time. Think through and plan your meals to avoid wasting food. On average, Anchorage residents throw away 5-6 pounds of waste every day, while the national average is 4.4 pounds of waste per person.
Reuse the materials you have.
Repurpose or give away unneeded furniture to groups that repurpose materials. Use materials like newspapers, magazines, and even broken dishes for art projects instead of just throwing them away. Instead of eating off of disposable plates and cutlery, bring your own utensils to avoid creating excess waste.
Recycle what you can! Learn about what types of materials you can recycle in Anchorage and dispose of them at the proper locations. When you purchase new items, look for products made of materials you will be able to recycle. Sign up for curbside recycling or bring your recycling to drop-off sites. If you can’t bring materials yourself, work together with neighbors, colleagues, and friends to drop your recycling off at nearby recycling depots.
Common recyclable items for curbside and drop-off at some locations:
- Rinsed aluminum cans
- Rinsed steel/tin cans
- Flattened cardboard with no grease
- Mixed paper- cereal boxes, junk mail, office paper, magazines, newspaper etc.
- Plastic bottles- #1 PETE
- Plastic jugs/bottles – #2 HDPE
Less common items have specific recycling locations:
- Glass bottles and jars- Anchorage Regional Landfill and Central Transfer Station
- Plastic bags- Anchorage Recycling Center and various retail stores such as Fred Meyer and CARRS
- Yard trimmings- Composted by American Landscaping (fees apply), 760 E. 120th Ave, Anchorage
- Food scraps- Anchorage Regional Landfill and Central Transfer Station
All recyclables must be clean of all food waste and grease. Contamination is one of the biggest reasons recyclables get thrown out. Help keep our recycling program strong by cleaning your materials!
Hazardous waste from households and businesses should be dropped off at the Anchorage Regional Landfill (Tuesday to Saturday) or the Central Transfer Station (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). Hazardous waste includes antifreeze, arts and hobby supplies, batteries (auto and non-auto), cleaners, corrosives, fluorescent lamps and bulbs, fuels, paints, solvents, pesticides and herbicides, photographic chemicals, resins and adhesives, and used oil.
If each of us engages in making small changes, we can extend the life of our landfill for decades.
Learn more at www.muni.org/sws