PALMER -- Long-sought upgrades at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough's main recycling facility are expected to start chipping away at the growing heap of garbage headed to the landfill right next door.

A ribbon-cutting and celebration of the improvements at the center, located at the heart of the borough's population center between Palmer and Wasilla, drew about 100 onlookers on Tuesday.

The $5.5 million upgrade includes an enclosed two-lane public drop-off area and a high-capacity baler that spit out cubes of cardboard boxes to "oohs" and "aahs" from spectators Tuesday. The facility also got a new building in 2010 and an in-floor conveyor in 2012. The center is operated for the borough by a nonprofit group, Valley Recycling for Community Solutions.

The nonprofit started out in the parking lot of the original Wasilla Wal-Mart in 1998 and now boasts more than 400 volunteers and eight staff positions.

Speaker after speaker at the ribbon-cutting -- the "ribbon" was actually a string of tied-together newspaper bags -- said the improvements mark the culmination of 16 years of persistence.

Read more: Improved Valley recycling facility stands to cut down on Mat-Su waste stream