A map of Alaska with the Statewide region highlighted.
Organization: Green Star
City: Anchorage
Region: Statewide
Program Area: Capacity Building
Grants Received:
2006: $155,000  2002: $5,647
2003: $55,000

Waste reduction and pollution prevention benefits Alaskans

Mission Statement
Green Star

To work in partnership with Alaskan businesses and the community to achieve practical environmental solutions.
Let's just say I'm not your model recycler.

When I first moved to Alaska, my first reaction on learning we lacked citywide recycling pickups was not concern. It was relief at having an excuse not to sort my trash.

Not that I don't dabble. I've been known to carefully set aside five years worth of recyclable thick plastic hair mousse bottles – only to go and throw them all away
in one afternoon's cleaning binge.

I try to atone for my recycling sins. I donate to, and buy from, thrift stores. And I definitely recycle the one thing I as a writer use most: paper. Even so, were it not for my conscientious husband, the stories in the newspapers I set aside would probably be integrated into sixth-grade history texts by the time I brought them to the bins.

A photo of computer equipment gathered by Green Star awaiting recycling.Spacer Image But even I couldn't fathom dumping a desktop printer or 50-pound computer monitor. So, in May 2003, when Green Star announced Anchorage's first computer recycling day, I pulled the items out of deep storage and welcomed the chance to unload our household's electronic albatrosses, guilt-free.

When my husband and I set out for the recycling site, a former Carrs grocery on Dimond Boulevard, we were not expecting a long-term commitment. But inside, the line was long and snaking, full of people like us, but each lugging two and three times as much, into a warehouse-sized building already mostly full from school and business donations the day before.

Forklifts beeped in the distance as recyclers around us hauled and pushed carts of castoffs, from broken-down monitors and hard drives to KO'd keyboards, (and some other stuff I suspected still worked just fine). The line stretched across the former bulk foods department and back again across where the cash registers used to be. For most of an hour, we wended our way around pallets loaded with putty-colored relics.

According to Census data, Alaska was among the first states to have more than 50 percent of its households online. In 2002, we ranked second in the nation for numbers of households with computers and using the Internet. As a science writer and a bit of a computer evangelist, I'd heard the numbers before.

But there's nothing like seeing the evidence literally stacked before you.

What organizer Sean Skaling remembers most is the 18-wheelers that began lining up before opening time, like early birds at a yard sale. As the executive director of Green Star, he had an "uh-oh" moment, but didn't get too excited. "We figured we'd have an early spurt," he said.

But the electronics kept on coming.

The group launched the event because people had been calling to ask for disposal advice. Computers and other electronics contain toxic components, such as the lead in the cathode ray tubes of monitors, which make landfill dumping problematic. But before 2003, that was the only practical option in Alaska. And, for a diehard recycler like Sean, "It's demoralizing to say, ‘Throw it away.'"

But even he couldn't have guessed how grandly Alaskans – even recycling rejects like me -- would embrace their solution.

The first year, organizers who'd planned on a maximum of 175,000 pounds -- the largest collection known for a city Anchorage's size –found themselves at the receiving end of more than one and a half times as much, from as far away as Sitka and Fairbanks -- ready to be reused or shredded and recycled.

In 2004, Green Star moved to a bigger warehouse by the airport. This time, collections in Anchorage and the nearby Mat-Su Borough more than doubled again. At 610,695 pounds – that's more than 305 tons -- of electronics, the event weighed in as the single largest electronics recycling collection anywhere in the country.

We even out-dumped Denver by a good 55 tons.

And if I have anything to do with it, we may top that record next year. I still have a dead hard drive, two old laptops and a 10-year-old computer to get rid of. I may be a recycler yet.

Sonya Senkowsky is a freelance science writer, writing coach and Web developer. She has written award-winning science stories on a range of subjects - from a dinosaur discovery on the North Slope, to sea otter studies in Prince William Sound, to submersible exploration beneath Alaska seas.