ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Beachcombing is serious business for Chris Pallister, and he needed help sorting the haul this year.
Pallister is president of the Gulf of Alaska Keeper, which annually helps clean marine debris off Alaska beaches.
This year, the group cleaned a small portion of coastline on two islands south of Anchorage. The effort netted about 200 tons of trash like plastic water bottles and commercial fishing gear. Workers also continue to find debris like refrigerators, small appliances and foam building material from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.
“There’s a tremendous amount of every kind of plastic you can think of,” Pallister said Tuesday, with the most prevalent being plastic water bottles. “Millions of bottles. I mean, it’s astounding how many bottles we picked up.”
Pallister’s group worked 40 days to clean about 10 miles of shoreline on Montague and Kayak islands. Debris was put into so-called “super sacks,” white bags that can hold 1.3 cubic yards of material. These sacks were then flown by a helicopter to a waiting barge.
Other materials like marine buoys, nets and plastic drums were bundled together and airlifted to the barges, according to an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation release. The barge, which was 54-feet wide and 180-feet long, delivered about 1,200 super sacks and other debris to Anchorage late last week for sorting.
A front-end loader would grab two or three of the super-sacks at a time and deliver them to the sort area. The bags were dumped, and volunteers scurried in to help sort.
Some rolled marine buoys like they were bowling balls to an area where they would be loaded into a semitrailer. Other volunteers gathered fishing lines and ropes and set them aside on pallets. Others went through bags of plastic water bottles to make sure no one put in any plastic foam, which can’t be recycled.
“It’s controlled chaos out here,” said Scott Groves with Gulf of Alaska Keeper. The New Jersey native went to work for the organization five years after attending college at the University of Utah.
“There’s a place for everything and just as long as everyone knows where everything goes, it seems to be running pretty smoothly,” Groves said.
Last year, about 3,400 bags were delivered to Seattle for sorting, but permitting issues meant all the material — plus about $35,000 in super sacks — went to the dump.
This year, Pallister’s group is working with Parley for the Oceans, an advocacy group that plans to recycle some of the material. Pallister said anywhere between 60 percent to 80 percent of the material will be recycled this year.
Natalya Desena with Parley for the Oceans said the group is a coalition of non-governmental organizations, scientists, businesses and those in creative industries who come to gather to “solve the issue of what threatens our oceans and the destruction of our oceans.”
One goal is to “intercept plastic pollution and upcycle it” into clothing, with the intent to keep those plastics from getting back into the ocean or in a landfill.
The sorting effort attracted dozens of volunteers, including Janna Stewart, who used to be the Alaska’s tsunami marine coordinator until her job was eliminated last year. She helped coordinate Alaska’s portion of the $5 million gift from Japan to help pay for tsunami cleanup.
“After having done paperwork for the last three years, I’m enjoying this,” she said while taking a break from the physical work on a warm day in Alaska’s largest city. “It’s sort of a nice conclusion to what had been pretty much a desk job.”