October 27, 2009
There are some 500 fishermen in the seaside Alaska community of Cordova, near Prince William Sound. Each of them uses their share of fishing nets made from nylon line and webbing. Eventually, these nets become damaged beyond repair, and they need to be thrown away. Through the years, various groups would collect and recycle them. But just as often, the nets would end up at the town's landfill.
Torie Baker lives in Cordova, where she is a salmon fisherman and extension agent with the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.
Baker said, "In Cordova, web recycling has been an on-again, off-again project, oh, for at least 20 years. And I think that's probably the case in many coastal communities. And usually what has been the big bugaboo for these kinds of programs to continue has been the basic economics of getting backhauls from these communities to primarily the Seattle area, and connecting up with the major recycling yards."
Cordova, together with Petersburg, Dillingham, Naknek and Kenai, are giving recycling another try, thanks to the Oregon-based Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. The commission received grants from the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The grants enabled local community groups to hire recycling coordinators. Fran Recht leads the recycling program for the commission.
Recht said, "We're going back to these Alaska communities that had programs and seeing if we can start them up again in a way that after two years of a little bit of attention could be self-sustaining. So for example, in Naknek we're working with the Naknek Native Village Council; in Dillingham we're working with the Curyung Native Tribal Council; in Cordova it's a nonprofit called the Copper River Watershed Project; in Kenai it's the United Cook Inlet Drift Association; and in Petersburg it's the Petersburg Indian Association."
The nets themselves are made from nylon, a strong, durable synthetic fiber made from petroleum. Nylon can be recycled into everything from toys to auto parts.
Recht said, "Nylon is a really valuable commodity compared to other plastic materials. For example, when milk jugs were going for two cents a pound for recycling purposes, nylon materials were going for about ten cents a pound, so it's quite a bit more lucrative. Right now the market is in flux because of the economic situation worldwide, but it's still potentially very valuable."
But the rejuvenated recycling program has its challenges. The problems that plagued earlier efforts remain problems this time around. Fishing nets are heavy and expensive to ship to out-of-state recyclers. Recht says the grants will help with shipping costs. Eventually, though, each community will have to find a way to make their recycling efforts self-sustaining.
Recht said, "The net materials, they might have enough value to pay for the shipping, but probably would not have any additional value. So I think people just have to get used to the fact that nothing is free, and you have to pay for things. It's a hard sell."
But so far in its first year, the program has been a huge success, at least as far as the collection of nets.
Recht said, "Naknek just sent down their first container, 8,900 pounds, and Dillingham sent 15,000 pounds. They just arrived in Seattle, and I got a call from the recycler. She doesn't know yet, because she is just marketing it, how much, if anything, they can pay the communities. I hope there will be something, at least for the first year of the program. It would be really nice to see that all these efforts paid off in a fiscal sense."
Sea Grant's Torie Baker says the program also has been working well in Cordova. Fishermen there have nearly filled two 20-foot shipping containers.
Baker said, "There's 100 percent support for it. It's part of doing business. I just know that across Alaska, in all the ports, people are just excited to be doing the right thing. The opportunity to segregate any kind of waste, whether it's waste oil from your engine, recycling your web, it's just all good."
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