Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

CWS prepares to ship garbage, unsorted trash goes up in price


March 19, 2020 | View PDF

Community Waste Solutions, the private company that operates the Haines landfill, announced that it will begin shipping most solid waste to the Lower 48 rather than disposing of it in the local landfill. Beginning April 1, unsorted garbage will cost 10 cents more per pound.

The cost increase reflects the added cost of shipping trash to the landfill in Washington, Community Waste Solutions manager Craig Franke said. He said he expects the first trash shipment will go out in the next few weeks.

To offset the cost, Franke said the company is making another push to get people to separate their waste. This comes in the form of price increases outlined in a recent letter sent to community members. While many categories remain the same and some prices will even decrease, the main shift will be an increase in the cost of disposing of mixed or unsorted waste. The price will rise from 27 cents to 37 cents per pound.

To reduce the amount of mixed waste, residents can sort their trash into categories including: aluminum, glass, single-stream recycling (plastic, aluminum, tin), inert waste (paper, cardboard, household furnishings) and food waste. Sorted waste must be deposited in clear bags or transparent containers so employees can readily verify the contents.

“That’s the only way we can make the model work without increasing everything,” Franke said. “We can recover at least part of the (shipping) cost on recyclables… If we send it down as trash, we need to pay for the cost of shipping plus the cost of putting it in the landfill in Washington.”

If people bring their waste pre-sorted, this eliminates the cost of hiring people to sort the waste, Franke said. “People who separate will see everything remain more or less the same.”

Franke said CWS is trying to reuse what they can onsite to minimize waste shipment. Food and paper waste will remain in Haines and be composted. The compost will be used to help cap the landfill, he said. The company will continue to accept and process sludge from the Haines Borough sewer plant as part of the composting process and is looking into acquiring fish waste from Haines Packing to drive composting if sludge volume cannot keep up with paper and cardboard intake.

Landfill capping began last summer. Franke said it will be an ongoing process over roughly the next decade and may include revegetation. At this point, Community Waste Solutions is still in the process of evaluating landfill capping and reclamation internally and is not yet ready to commit to any long-term plans, Franke said.

Franke said the decision to begin shipping most waste is an attempt to be proactive. “We could continue raising the landfill cap for a time, but a lot of waste like food waste and stuff like that is not suitable for landfill disposal. It needs to be composted or shipped out.”

Franke said his sense from the community outreach he’s done is that “local preference is toward closing the landfill and shipping waste out.” He also mentioned wildlife concerns.

Former Community Waste Solutions employee and member of Haines Borough’s Solid Waste Working Group Burl Sheldon said he remembers the landfill in the 1990s. “There was a big clay layer that held in water. It was a real mess. There was all kinds of bear activity.”

Wildlife issues have persisted over the years. In March 2019, Sheldon filed a written complaint to borough manager Debra Schnabel about landfill practices that he said violated Alaska statutes by allowing wildlife access to food scraps and litter beyond landfill boundaries.

Once the landfill is capped, Sheldon said, the community is left with the option of burning trash or shipping it out. Many communities choose to bale trash and ship it out, he said, including Valdez, Unalaska and Petersburg.

Skagway incinerates most of its trash, but there isn’t much support for that in Haines, Franke said. “We’re trying to support the preferences of the community and trying to do it in an economical way.” Unlike many other communities, the Haines landfill is operated by a private company. Franke said he has to juggle community preferences with the need to make the business profitable. The company operates on fairly small margins—a couple cents profit on every pound of trash they process, he said.

Sheldon said although he initially opposed exporting local trash, he’s come around on the issue. Dealing with trash locally makes sense if a company has the resources to do it well, but this has not traditionally been the case in Haines, he said. “We had a real serious problem here when we had two companies with refuse service permits.” That was a really poor decision because it spread resources thin, he said. When it comes to refuse disposal, it makes sense to have a single, state-regulated enterprise, Sheldon said.

Shipping trash out of town is a lot less risk for the company in the form of long-term liability issues such as watershed impacts, Sheldon said. Financially, it’s a wise choice. It simplifies the company’s business model. Predictable freight charges are incorporated into prices charged to customers as opposed to grappling with the liability of a growing landfill, he said.

Sheldon said big landfills in Washington and Oregon are well-regulated and well-situated to handle trash. Some landfills in these areas have started using methane produced by the decomposition of organic materials to create renewable energy.

Franke said he doesn’t anticipate another increase in mixed waste prices for consumers unless there’s a radical jump in shipping prices.

Sheldon said news of the landfill closing should raise issues beyond cost hikes for customers. He said nonrecyclable consumer plastics are a major concern and are particularly harmful to marine ecosystems. Companies use these plastics because they are cheap to produce, but this ultimately transfers costs to consumers who have to deal with everything from the environmental impact of the plastics to increased costs for disposing of trash when their landfill fills up. Capping the landfill and beginning to ship most waste out of state was an inevitability, Sheldon said. “The question is: What we can do to reduce the amount of trash we’re producing?”

While Community Waste Solutions has been baling and wrapping trash since December in preparation for shipping to the Lower 48, the company has yet to begin shipping these bales, Franke said. The company has a backlog of roughly 100 bales (three and a half shipping containers’ worth) and is waiting on the arrival of additional shipping containers in order to begin shipping.


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