They Said it Couldn’t Be Done: The Story of Valley Recycling

Contributed by Carol Montgomery

What is waste? Waste comes from the root word, Vastere, which means to devastate. But waste can be a resource as well. Resource comes from the word resurgere, meaning to rise again. When we recycle, our waste rises again.

The story of reducing waste in the Mat-Su is a tribute to our community and to the hard work of many volunteers. Thanks to these efforts, Mat-Su is privileged to have a state-of-the-art recycling center, Valley Community for Recycling Solutions (VCRS).

Our story began in 1998. Up until then, residents had to either haul all their paper, newspaper, and cans to Anchorage to recycle, or throw them into the Landfill with their garbage. Then in December of 1997, a small group of volunteers met to try to solve this problem, and by April 1998, the first recycling drop began in the parking lot of Walmart. The response from our community was amazing. People showed up with truckloads of material they had been storing in their sheds or garages, waiting for this opportunity. Eighty volunteers took turns braving the cold to help organize and load materials. Walmart supported this effort by providing the location and by hauling materials. Glass, newspaper, office paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, steel cans, scrap metal, including appliances, plastic bags, packing materials, egg cartons, and tires were collected.

By the next year, the VCRS Action Council was established. By 2001, VCRS became a 501C non-profit organization. Subsequently, 1 ½ paid positions were created, to include a Volunteer Coordinator and Director. In addition to the quarterly Walmart drop-offs, VCRS assisted Willow in organizing recycling at the Willow Transfer Station. By December 2002, VCRS was able to raise enough money to lease space at the old Moffit Homestead, near the landfill. By this time, VCRS had recycled 136 Tons of material. For the next 8 years, community volunteers continued to brave the cold, unloading cars and sorting materials. The first Baler was purchased in 2003. Along the way, VCRS acquired a connex to house an office, a vinyl building for a covered drop-off drive thru area, and a mobile home to house our classroom and volunteers.

Collecting enough clean, baled material to ship and sell to markets in the lower 48 was a daunting task, and some said it couldn’t be done, because we are so far from the markets, but VCRS was able to establish itself with manufacturers as a reliable source of clean recyclable material. Twelve years after that first parking lot recycling event, after a lot of hard work, grant writing, and fundraising, VCRS moved into a brand-new building. By the time they broke ground for the new building, 1,448 tons of material had already been recycled. Check out this link for a more detailed timeline of events leading up to this milestone:

VCRS now has 8 paid staff and 400 volunteers. Since 1998, VCRS has collected and diverted 36,594,668 lbs. from the landfill. Now with the building, new baler, and staff, VCRS can handle 5 times the amount of material we now collect and are in a position to meet the demands of the Valley’s rapid growth. The new facility is a state-of-the-art energy efficient building, and the first business in the Mat-Su to get the Green Star Award for energy efficiency. It has a classroom that hosts regular school field trips. The classroom has a window to look out onto the processing floor and bale storage area. It’s interesting to watch how the materials are collected and baled, and the public is welcome to visit and observe.

And if you’ve ever gone to the State Fair, you may have noticed the small army of volunteers collecting bottles and cardboard from the bins. Since 2002, VCRS has worked with the Fair and Greenstar, and hundreds of volunteers. Last year the volunteers collected 45,703 lbs. of recyclable material, which would have otherwise ended up in the landfill.

Recycling is always free to the public, so why pay fees at the landfill? VCRS is conveniently located right near the landfill which is just off the Palmer Wasilla Highway on 49th State Street

If you prefer to pay to have your materials picked up curbside, Ready Recycles and Raven Valley Refuse and Recycling will bring your recyclables into us. We also have volunteers stationed at transfer sites in Big Lake, Willow, Talkeetna, and Sutton to collect some recyclables.

What can you recycle at VCRS? In short, VCRS can take sorted and clean materials including aluminum cans, office paper, mixed paper, newspaper, cardboard, steel food cans, plastic bags, plastic jugs (#2), plastic bottles (plastic #1), plastic containers (#5), and some reuse items. Go to a complete list of what you can recycle.

You may wonder, what happens to all the material VCRS collects? In the Next edition of the People’s Paper, we’ll tell you the story of how recycling works!