Making Hoonah’s Solid Waste Program the Gold Standard

It is probably not a secret to you that Hoonah could do a better job of recycling and managing its waste as we lack composting and recycling programs. It is certainly a topic that is on our mind! Reducing and managing the waste that ends up in our landfill helps our community and in a small way contribute to global issues linked to waste reduction and handling.

What are we doing about it?

With that in mind the IGAP crew traveled to Anchorage to attend their first sustainable solid and compostable waste training hosted by Zender. The goal of us attending the training was to get more instruction and insight into conducting a successful Electronic Waste (ewaste) backhaul, little did we know that we were going to be introduced to not only ewaste but also the amazing world of solid and compostable waste management including composting and community garden models. The instruction and experience we received from the Zender teaching and having a field trip to Total Reclaim was over the top and will help us to conduct successful and sustainable ewaste backhauls.

Sobering Facts

Before going to this training, I knew trash was a nation-wide issue, but I had no idea the millions of tons of waste going to landfills; below are numbers from an EPA report done in 2010.

  • Individual consumers can take several steps to reduce their environmental impact, from turning down the thermostat to driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle. One of the most powerful steps is composting. Turning yard waste, paper and food scraps into compost means more than creating a useful garden fertilizer. It could potentially divert a huge percentage of municipal solid waste from the nation’s landfills.
  • Food wastes were the second-largest component of MSW in 2010, accounting for 34 million tons of waste, or just under 14 percent of the total (see References 1). Only 3 percent of this was recovered, leaving 33 million tons to go into landfills.
  • Paper and paperboard products account for the largest single portion of the waste stream, according to the EPA’s figures (see References 1). Paper is one of recycling’s great success stories, with approximately 63 percent of total paper waste being recovered and recycled in some way.
  • Wood and yard wastes account for another large portion of municipal solid waste, at 6.4 percent and 13.4 percent of the total, respectively (see References 1). That accounts for almost 20 percent of total solid waste in landfills, or nearly 40 million tons.

Reference 1:

It’s not too late!!

Seeing how horrific the waste epidemic is nationwide it’s easy to say that Hoonah is smaller and likely doesn’t even register on the map for those percentages, but the compostable waste among others wastes can and are doing a number on our beautiful environment. When we burn our trash, we are burning not just trash, but lead, plastic, petroleum, aluminum, the list goes on and on. All this trash puts off toxic smoke as it burns effecting the health of the people and natural resources that encounter it, and the remains of the burnt trash gets rained on and can leach into the nearby hills, trees, and even streams if not properly contained.

Before we run, we must learn to walk

When thinking about large problems it can be hard to know where to start. To help focus our attention on a specific aspect it is good to ask specific questions with outcomes that will help improve the situation. For instance, what can we as a community do to preserve our health and natural resources? As a community we can take steps, create programs, change our thinking and habits; I know it sounds like a lot of work, but small steps are an easy start and I will show you how. Composting is an easy way to remove compostable waste from Hoonah’s waste stream, and create nutrient rich soil for individual use, and community use in gardens and in community green houses. Growing our own vegetables will help households eat healthier and save money each year. Composting can divert cardboard, newspaper, food scraps, and yard waste from the trash and become something useful.

Responsible Disposal

We need to be conscious of the effects of our actions and how we dispose of waste. Electronic waste is full of lead and other heavy metals and it is critical that these items are disposed of responsibly. We currently have a conex container at the dump to dispose of computers, radios, printers, batteries ect. The more we can do to separate these things from going into the burn cage will reduce some of the hazard, but what do we do with all the ewaste we collect? Hoonah being on an island but having access to AML gives us a silver bullet to conduct ewaste back hauls and get rid of this waste responsibly. Ewaste is special do to the heavy metals in the electronics, this means we can collect it and ship it to a collection facility where the electronics are broken down into base components, then the valuable metals are extracted then the rest of the materials are recycled responsibly.

The Zender training helped us better understand how responsible waste management can benefit our community. Hoonah Indian Association will continue to look for and peruse ways we can address the solid waste and environmental concerns of our community. The environmental department hosts a community garden currently, and we have partnered with the City of Hoonah to conduct Hoonah’s first ewaste backhaul. I believe these are the first steps in ensuring that Hoonah will be safe, healthy, and environmentally responsible for many generations to follow.

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