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 on 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.
And persistence, thy name is Mollie Boyer.
Boyer, the nonprofit's tireless executive director, got kudos for her determination and drive. Assembly member and former borough Mayor Darcie Salmon called Boyer "an attractive nuisance" who deserves to have her name on the recycling center. Assistant Borough Manager George Hayes described her calls every two or three days. The ladies of the Spin Cycle quartet even sang an Abba-esque "Recycling Queen" tribute.
Former state Sen. Lyda Green, who helped secure legislative funds for the facility, had kudos for Boyer and also praised the group's "incredible, indefatigable" corps of volunteers.
The center is called the Regional Resource Recovery and Training Park, officials say.
"This was our long-term dream," Boyer told the group on Tuesday, as the baler's rhythmic "kachunk-kachunk" sounded in the background.
Funding came from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the borough, the state, the Rasmuson Foundation and the Mat-Su Health Foundation, in that order, Boyer said in an email. Many individuals and local businesses contributed "to infinity" as well, she said.
The facility recycles thousands of pounds of material a day, including eyeglasses (though not other glass), inkjet cartridges and even No. 5 plastics -- yogurt or margarine containers, cat litter buckets and the like -- not accepted in Anchorage.
Until now, the VRCS operation wasn't large enough to make a dent in the Mat-Su's waste stream, landfill manager Butch Shapiro said. Last year, the recycling center processed 1,900 tons of material -- only about a week's worth of garbage.
The baler will boost the facility's recycling capacity and Boyer hopes to someday recycle a quarter of the waste stream, Shapiro said.
Other recycling groups in the Valley that are just now starting to expand are pressing the borough for help.
Big Lake-area recycling coordinator Sammy Taylor told the Mat-Su Assembly Tuesday night that the Big Lake transfer station needs a permanent, covered site instead of a trailer that's open to the weather, "which makes midwinter recycling a bit problematic."
The recycling operation is operated by volunteers and collects 50,000 cubic feet of material every day for transport to the VRCS facility, according to Patty Fisher, a Meadow Lakes resident involved in the program. The group has to pay for recycling bin rental. They haul a trailer every two weeks but now need weekly trips because the "quantity of recycled material is increasing exponentially," Fisher said.
The Assembly took no action Tuesday night, though borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss noted that the borough doesn't have much money for recycling.
The borough operates a total of 13 transfer sites, several with recycling drop-offs. Shapiro said the borough is working on a larger strategy for the transfer sites that would include a more universal recycling policy.
"There's a lot of energy, and there's a lot of entities all pulling in a different direction," he said.
Reach Zaz Hollander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4317.
By ZAZ HOLLANDER