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Fairbanks Recycling Firm Stops Collecting Plastic; Others Still Accept Some Types

Tim Ellis/KUAC

Fairbanks entrepreneur Bernie Karl says he had to stop collecting plastics at his K&K Recycling facility earlier this month because he can’t find a use for the material right now that makes economic sense. But there are other places around town where people can still drop off some types of plastic – including the Fairbanks Rescue Mission, on the city’s south side.

Executive Director Rodney Gaskins says business has been brisk lately. He says that’s partly because the Fairbanks Rescue Mission has been collecting more plastic since K&K Recycling, one of the area’s biggest operations, stopped collecting the stuff a couple of weeks ago.

“We’ve been looking for more customers, anyway,” Gaskins said. “So this is just another opportunity for us to expand our program, and to get the word out about the great job that we’re doing here.”

The Rescue Mission offers its homeless clients a chance to develop job skills through its so-called “green-collar program, so they can make their way back into the workforce, and society.

“Y’know, we’re doing more than recycling – we’re recycling people,” he said.

Gaskins says the Mission accepts two types of plastics, numbers 1 and 2 – the types commonly used for containers such as drinking-water bottles.

Mary Fisher, executive director of Anchorage-based Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling, says those are the most commonly collected types of plastics nationwide. She says the reason they’re collected is because there’s a market for them.

“Those are the two most valuable plastic commodities,” Fisher said.

K&K Recycling accepted just about all types of plastic, including Styrofoam. Which is why the company’s decision to stop collecting the material was such a disappointment to residents of the Interior who recycle.  

K&K owner Bernie Karl says he too was disappointed. But he says he’s got bales of plastic jam-packed into storage buildings at his facility south of town, and he had to stop collecting it while figuring out a new way to use it.

“We do not have a market at this time for the plastic,” Karl said. “It isn’t good stewardship for me to continue to collect more of it.”

Karl has been using that plastic to make fuel, with a device that converts about 10 pounds of plastic into about a gallon of hydrocarbon-based fuel, through an electrochemical process.

“We make about 20 gallons of fuel a day out of plastics,” he said. “To buy a new machine is a couple of million dollars.”

Karl says he’s working on other uses for the plastic he’s got stored, including as a road-building material.

K&K is still collecting other recyclables. And Karl says he’d like to get back to plastic, someday, because he still believes there’s a market there – somewhere.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but this tunnel is miles long!”

Editor’s Note: More information about businesses and organizations that collect recyclable materials in the Fairbanks area is available at the Interior Alaska Green Star website.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.