Haines Friends of Recycling (HFR) was born on the back of an envelope out of local activism in 1998. Interest in local recycling had been growing for many years, and on October 3, 1991, the Chilkat Valley News published results of a local advisory ballot question: “Should the borough develop a recycling program?” A whopping 72% of the 554 voters said yes. What was the motivation? Limited landfill space, litter and illegal dumping, and wasted resources. Those growing concerns went right along with the burgeoning global use of plastic packaging and products while people were also becoming aware of the valuable market for metals and paper.

HFR formed as a grassroots organization following no borough action on the 1991 vote. Bylaws were written and a nine-member volunteer advisory Board was set up, then 501(c)(3) nonprofit status was granted by the IRS in 1999. A Borough conditional use permit was issued for land near the sewage treatment plant on Fair Drive to collect, store and process recyclables. By mid-year, a used shipping container was donated for storage, other small work buildings and signage were put in place, and tin and aluminum were accepted for recycling. Paper and cardboard were baled by volunteers in the basement of Howsers IGA. Without an HFR employee, everyone on the Board pitched in to help run the Center. Gravel was brought in to improve the parking lot and the Board solicitated for snow removal services. A baler was purchased in collaboration with Chilkoot Indian Association (CIA), and we sought funding for a forklift. Meanwhile, office space was shared with Lynn Canal Conservation, we joined the Chamber of Commerce, and a Memorandum of Understanding to run the Center was signed between HFR and CIA.

With all that infrastructure developing in the early months, the Board was still brimming with ideas and projects. Discussions included providing in-home recycling bins; developing a composting facility, curbside pick-up, and a re-use store; hosting a radio show; and offering education in the schools and door-to-door. Businesses and other nonprofits partnered in shared interests. For example, on the 4th of July, volunteers including the Scout youths decorated a float for the parade and collected recyclables. Outreach to local groups grew over the years along with partnerships, public education, special events like an Earth Day celebration and zero waste at the Southeast Alaska State Fair, open houses at the Center, and a popular annual meeting with a hot meal provided by the Board for members and volunteers.

On July 26, 1999, HFR’s first shipment of 5.5 tons of recycled material left Haines: approximately four tons of cardboard, one ton of mixed paper, and 400 lbs. of aluminum. At the same time, HFR joined the Borough Solid Waste Management Committee, and promoted a policy to reduce or divert 50% of the current solid waste by the year 2005. No one was discouraged that this first shipment was only 0.275% of local annual waste, 2000 tons, according to Haines Sanitation. And seven months later, 32.5 tons had been shipped.

In the winter of 2000-2001, the Recycling Center came online at the “Lucy Harrell Building” on Small Tracts Road. The property was later purchased by CIA, whom HFR continues to rent from. The baler was installed to compress the materials collected and “volunteer coordination” became the biggest issue. But with growing support and recycling participation, a contract employee was hired and HFR was soon handling 1,000 lbs. of recycling daily and continuing to grow. Although some years of early data are not available, that success is measured in the 2.5 million lbs. that HFR recycled and was paid for in the years between 2011-2022.

HFR brought many dreams to reality over the years. Free recycling for the public allowed more types of waste to be diverted from the landfill and illegal dumping to be curbed. Annual special event collections began with electronic recycling in 2007. Over the past 17 years (2007-2023), HFR collected up to 25,000 lbs. of E-waste annually and helped the community to keep a total of 234,000 lbs. of E-waste out of the landfill. The first fish net recycling collection happened in 2015 in partnership with the CIA. Scrap metal collections increased from six tons in 2010 to as much as 30 tons in 2015. The idea for the “Scrap Box” re-use store was revived as people increasingly salvaged usable items from the recycling collections. After years in the crowded Center building, the Scrap Box for construction and household materials was freshly housed in its own side building in 2023. Our 2024 “Reduce Our Waste” ROW document became the 4th edition to provide updated local information on where to take other reusable items. Zero waste events like the annual Fair were supported by dozens of HFR volunteers. In 2017, we estimated that the Fair garbage load was reduced by about 75% down to only a few hundred pounds; HFR volunteers at the Fair monitored recycling, composting food scraps, and use of compostable tableware. And in 2019, HFR facilitated the adoption of a local plastic bag ban ordinance with the help of 6th grade activists and guest presentations at the Earth Day event on successful community plastic bag bans elsewhere.

But difficult changes came with the evolving recycling market over HFR’s 25-year history. Baled materials stored outdoors were wrecked by bears, which led to the installation of an electric fence. As a result, HFR also stepped-up education about rinsing recyclables. During the recycling collapse in the 20-teens, brokers no longer accepted materials like #5 plastic and low-grade paper; sadly, recyclers could no longer divert those from the local waste stream. And sometimes, materials like plastic or paper were stockpiled to wait for better prices. At other times, we needed super volunteer efforts to help us adapt to challenges like the new rules to make old fish nets recycling compliant. Dozens of volunteers stepped up throughout the summer of 2021 to help us strip a yard full of fish nets; a 10,400 lbs. vanload of baled nets was finally shipped in the fall.

 

Grant awards and in-kind donations have also supported our efforts over the years as operations grew and challenges were met. Grants from organizations like the Haines Borough, Chilkat Valley Community Foundation, Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling (ALPAR), and American Seafoods supported activities like scrap metal events, purchase of banners and collapsible recycling bins, processing fish nets for recycling, and hiring recycling interns. In-kind donations included free backhaul shipping of recyclables with Alaska Marine Lines and equipment service by local professionals. With this support, our increasing recycling efforts began to be noticed in the rest of Alaska, and in 2011, HFR was honored by Anchorage-based ALPAR with the annual Outstanding Recycling Community Award for Alaska.

In 2024, HFR largely remains a grassroots organization run by volunteers. We have one part time employee who bales incoming materials and keeps the Center running smoothly, approximately 127 active volunteers who support our activities and events, and 330 individual, family, business, and organization memberships in Haines and the Chilkat Valley. HFR has thrived throughout 25 years of challenges including economic downturns, recycling market shifts, record winter snowstorms, and – of course – …Covid! We have promoted self-sorted, clean recycling (rather than mixed recycling ) throughout our entire history, which has a much better chance of being recycled. And our mission to build capacity for recycling and waste reduction in the Chilkat Valley is stronger than ever. It won’t be long before we will be up-cycling many more types of plastic than could be recycled, at our new facility near town. Creating useable products like plastic lumber for local sale will further reduce the waste stream and will eliminate the cost of many recycling shipments.

We look forward to another 25 years and beyond!

Information compiled by M. Sturdevant from archived Board minutes and Chilkat Valley News reports.

Stay tuned and join us for the next exciting chapter of Haines Friends of Recycling.