Illegal dumping turns donation sites into trash heaps
It expanded like some creature out of a sci-fi horror movie, spreading mildewed tentacles across the western edge of the Carrs Eagle River parking lot. Once the site of a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska donation drop-off, through early September it morphed into a trash heap of clothing, toys, furniture and home appliances that sat in the rain, stank in the sun and grew some more.
And that, said Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO Taber Rehbaum, was the problem to begin with. She said the non-profit removed its donation bin because people were dumping non-approved items there, costing the organization time and money.
“We’re hoping we can get a bin back in there,” Rehbaum said. “We’re working with other organizations that have bins, to educate folks about what should be donated and what should not, and what the rules are about dumping.”
Rehbaum said the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) bins bear signs saying “clothing only,” and contain warnings about illegal dumping. But that hasn’t stopped people from disgorging all the unwanted contents of their households onto the sites.
When that happens, BBBS drivers have to sort the treasure from the junk and bring the bad stuff to Anchorage Landfill, where they pay the same rate as everyone else. Add the time spent sorting and the miles logged for extra trips to the dump, and it yields a loss for BBBS.
The bins are supposed to raise funds for the non-profit, which connects at-risk youth to mentors who provide support and healthy role-modeling.
The clothing goes to Value Village in exchange for money. Big Brothers Big Sisters sends drivers to pick up other used items from people’s homes, but sorting it at the bin sites is a burden even when the dumped items are valuable.
And, even good donations get gross if they’re outside long enough, said Mary Fisher, executive director of Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling (ALPR). The group operates the recycling bins at Carrs and other locations, and transports the material to the Anchorage Recycling Center (ARC).
Fisher said salable items lose value when they’re exposed to the elements, so do-gooders who don’t realize they shouldn’t be dropping non-clothing items near the bins might be wasting their efforts.
“I think folks realize that clothing is a reused thing and resold, so they draw a false conclusion it’s all right to dump other things,” Fisher said. “It’s a cross between people who know they’re not supposed to dump stuff there, to people who want to do the right thing but draw the wrong conclusion.”
And, she said, people have been using the bins in a way that was never intended by the non-profits.
“Some people have in their minds that these sites are like swap meets,” Fisher said. “Where you can drop off something and somebody will see it and take it away because they need it. That is not what these sites are. These are not swap meets. People have this impression, and it’s an unfortunate leap some people make, that we need them to stop making.”
Non-profits that operate the bins are responding with a public education campaign. Rehbaum said BBBS, ALPAR and ARC met with the Municipality of Anchorage recently and put together an insert that will go out in the Anchorage Daily News. If that doesn’t work, Fisher said, they’ll partner with the Anchorage Police Department to step up citations for littering and illegal dumping.
So far this year, BBBS removed three donation bins over illegal dumping concerns, Rehbaum said. The other two Anchorage locations were the Gambell Street Carrs and Muldoon Road Fred Meyer. There are still 15 bins in Anchorage, two in Chugiak-Eagle River — the Tesoro in Eagle River and the Peters Creek Chevron — and six in the Valley.
While the problem of illegal dumping has persisted over the years, Fisher and Rehbaum said they think it’s gotten worse in Eagle River this year due to the closure of the local Salvation Army thrift store. Saintly Seconds thrift store, operated by St. Andrew Catholic Church, had recently closed as well by the time Salvation Army turned off the lights for good in Nov. 2012, leaving the town sans second-hand shops.
“It was getting too expensive to operate,” said Salvation Army business manager Debora Lindsay from her Anchorage office.
The store would’ve marched on despite expenses, she said. But then the landlord told them they were no longer allowed to accept donations at the store, making it impossible to operate. Lindsay said she is actively scouting Eagle River for new locations, and hopes to open another Salvation Army soon.
By Saturday, Sept. 21, the trash pile that had amassed through the month was gone.
On Friday, Sept. 20, two workers from Anchorage-based Kat Management Services Inc. hauled the trash away to the landfill. One of the men said Carrs contracted them to remove the items, however, this could not be confirmed as calls to the store’s public relations department in Washington were not returned.
Laminated signs decorated the blue recycling bins, warning would-be dumpers they could get a $1,000 littering fine. Despite that, a mattress leaned against a bin marked “Aluminum Cans.”
Lorraine Krueger drove by, slowing her car to peer at the signs. A bag of clothing meant for Big Brothers Big Sisters sat in the back seat.
“That’s really too bad it’s not there anymore,” Krueger said. “Now that Salvation Army is gone, where are people supposed to drop their stuff?”
The United Methodist Church of Chugiak has a partial solution — its program Recycle for a Reason. The church’s office manager, Donna Collins, said the church takes donations on the first and last Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., and hosts a garage sale the second Friday and Saturday of each month.
It’s not enough to take the place of a thrift store, but Collins said she expects the program to grow in the future.
To donate used items to Big Brothers Big Sisters, call 563-1997 for pick-up. To learn more about the Recycle for a Reason program, or to donate, email United Methodist Church of Chugiak, 16430 Old Glenn Highway, at email@example.com.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.