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U.S. Department of the Interior
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Mr. Dan Thorington

Comprehensive Recycling Program for Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska

Project Point of Contact

Mr. Dan Thorington
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, FWS

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) is a place of great distances and greater dramas.  Here winds whip through the grasses of rugged, wave-pounded islands; and active volcanoes simmer, venting steam above collars of fog.  It is a place and has long been a place of refuge and has seen some of the most dramatic wildlife conservation stories in our nation's history.

Containing some of the first conservation-unit areas to be established in America, todays Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge includes lands that were formerly parts of ten previously established refuges and are still represented among ten distinct congressionally-designated Wilderness areas in Alaska Maritime which range in size from the approximately 1.3 million acre Aleutian Islands Wilderness to the 32 acre Hazy Islands Wilderness.  The sheer span of the Refuge is difficult to grasp because it is spread out along much of the 47,300 miles of Alaska's coastline.  Within its boundaries are more than 2,500 islands, islets, spires, rocks, reefs, waters and headlands extending from Forrester Island, to the north of Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands deep in the southeast tongue of the state, to the westernmost tip of the Aleutians and north to Cape Lisburne on the Arctic Ocean.  Traveling between its farthest reaches would be equivalent to taking a trip from Georgia to California.

Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center:  Refuge headquarters is located within the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center (AIOVC), built in 2003, in Homer, at the end of the Sterling Highway, approximately 225 miles south of Anchorage.  Regularly scheduled flights are available from Anchorage.  The Alaska State Ferry System also serves Homer.  Since most of the Refuge is very remote, direct access is difficult and expensive. 

Origin of the Refuge Recycling Program:  Dan Thorington, Visitor Center custodian and Recycling Coordinator, started an outstanding comprehensive recycling program for the AIOVC following construction of the 37,000 square foot facility which was completed in September, 2003.  
Recycling Guide:  Soon after Dan began working in the building, he produced a creative "recycling guide" (Guide) (see attachment) which emphasizes 3 principles, 

  1. REDUCE the amount of products and materials consumed,
  2. REUSE items until usefulness has been exhausted and
  3. RECYCLE everything possible so resources are not lost. 
The Guide (see attachment) is printed on both sides of 5 ½" X 8 ½", recycled paper which was distributed to Refuge staff and made available to thousands of visitors to the building each year.  The Guide contains helpful recycling hints, lists waste by-products, describes what happens to the waste stream and notifies the viewer that the Refuge ". . . diverts over 80% of its solid waste (by weight) from the local Homer Landfill."  The Guide stresses an urgent need to recycle since availability of all natural resources is shrinking and non-renewable resource consumption continues at an unsustainable rate; excessive consumption by wealthy nations prevents poor nations from improving their living standards; biodiversity is preserved with reduced resource development; energy use is reduced when recycled materials are remanufactured; less pollution results with reduced extracting, refining and processing of raw materials; lower CO2 emissions reduces the carbon footprint resulting in less greenhouse gases and creates jobs at about 1 job for every 10,000 tons of incinerated waste, 6 jobs if landfilled and 36 jobs if the waste stream is recycled.  Based on figure kept by Dan, he has recycled about 18.5 tons of the waste and created .67 of the demand needed for a new recycling job.

USFWS Research Vessel M/V Tiglax – Aleutian Islands

USFWS Research Vessel

Recycling Process:  Dan developed a collection, recovery, consolidation and recycling process for the building, including co-occupant, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve (KBRR).  As many waste stream products as possible are recycled.  Multiple collection bins are located at all workstations; printer and public use areas (see attached photos).  The purpose is to divide refuse material at each collection point then transport collected materials to consolidation bins where previously separated materials are distributed to local processing centers or shipped to reprocessing firms in the lower 48.  Dan keeps meticulous recycling records (see waste tally form) which are summarized on the attached Recycling Waste By-products table.  Since 2004, Dan has recycled over 37,000 pounds of waste material, more than 80% of the total waste stream, including 11,000 pounds of mixed paper, 5,500 pounds of cardboard, 1,800 pounds of mixed g500 pounds of various plastics and 1,500 pounds of electronic wastes and over 5,000 poundscompost materials.  Waste materials generated by visitors and office staff average about 22 pounds per staff person per month or about 880 pounds gross weight per month or 10,500 pounds per year. 
Partnerships:  Dan works with Cook Inletkeeper, Kenai Peninsula Solid Waste Department and numerous local businesses to co-sponsor an annual electronics recycling event in April of each year.  Sponsors host organizational meetings, provide supplies and help out on the day of the event.  Community groups/agencies contacted Dan for advice on how to start their own recycling programs including: Homer Police Department, Homer Hospital, Community Mental Health Center and Cook Inletkeeper.

Dan Thorington at Central Consolidation Area

Dan Thorington at Central Consolidation Area

Employees in the AIOVC:  Refuge Employees: 28-30 – winter; 60 – summer (30 of them are only in the headquarters building for a few weeks on each end of their field tour).  Kachemak Bay Research Reserve Employees: 8-10 – winter; 10-14 - summer.  Cooperation and active participation varies from person to person but it is not possible to say one agency outshines the other in recycling or generating less trash.  KBRR generates approx. 39% of the total waste.
Where Recycled By-products Go:  Recycled materials are sorted during the week, weighed and then taken to the Homer Landfill Recycling Station roughly twice a month where separated waste stream materials are consolidated before they are trucked 220 miles to Smurfit-Stone Recycling in Anchorage.  Smurfit-Stone then ships mixed paper to Renton, WA, where it is sorted and sold; newspaper and cardboard to various mills in lower 48; steel cans to scrap dealers in Seattle and Portland; aluminum to Anheuser Busch in California; and plastics to Portland where they are resorted and shipped to markets in the USA and China.  Scrap steel is not stockpiled in the AIOVC because there isn't enough of a waste stream to justify a holding area.  The Homer Landfill Recycling Center does NOT accept steel cans so Dan stockpiles collected cans until he can take them to Soldotna Landfill Recycling Station whenever he makes a trip to or through Soldotna.
Recycling Unused Building Materials:  Dan 'recycled' unused construction debris and built a Tide Pool Donation Box.  It is located in the AIOVC Visitor Atrium.  When the knob on the lower right is pulled, the largest mussel opens up to accept a donation.

Tide Pool Donation Box

Where Compost Materials Go:  Discarded food waste and used paper towels are composted in his backyard compost bins and the finished product is used in his organic vegetable garden.  Organic gardening is one of Dan Thorington's passions.  
Plans for the Future:  Dan plans to bring the Refuge Warehouse building on line this year where he will also consolidate ferrous or non-ferrous metals which he would scavenge for recycling.  Glass is not really recycled in Homer but is crushed by heavy equipment at the Homer Landfill and used as a substrate. He hopes to encourage the borough solid waste department to purchase a glass pulverizer for the Homer facility. This would crush and grind glass into a non sharp aggragate, for use in concrete and paving.
If Funds Were Available:  Dan believes that education is key to changing attitudes about consumption and waste.  He would like to develop materials that would educate people about the critical need to change the habits of our over consumptive culture, and help communities develop resource recovery centersinstead of dumps and landfills.
Benefits to the Refuge:  The Refuge has greatly benefited from Dan Thorington's extensive knowledge and practical application of recycling techniques to achieve the common goal of recycling as many waste stream materials as possible.  Dan made this program one of the best in Region 7.  The program is ongoing and institutionalized to the degree that staff members established home-base recycling practices.  Management is very supportive and now expects all staff to cooperate with the program.  Savings to the Refuge during the year is measured in thousands of dollars.

Previous Audit Findings:  During the week of June 18, 2007, an audit team consisting of Charles Grant, Regional Environmental Compliance Coordinator and Charity Haring, Safety Specialist, conducted a combined safety and environmental audit of the Alaska Islands and Oceans Headquarters in Homer.  During their audit the Refuge and Dan Thorington were praised for the high quality of their recycling program. Dan placed recycling bins for all paper products and compost materials throughout the building.  He posted detailed instructions for the kind of recycled material allowed in each collection bin.  Restrooms and other rooms had bright visible signs reminding users to turn off room lights as they leave.  Refuge staffs stated that they applied recycling and energy conservation techniques at home.