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Popular plastic collections program on pause

Super sacks of plastic behind The Goods sustainable grocery store in Soldotna.
Riley Board
Super sacks of plastic behind The Goods sustainable grocery store in Soldotna.

A Kenai Peninsula program that turns recycled plastic into lumber is on pause until the summer because of what organizers say is a surplus of donated plastic.

Patrick Simpson is the engineer behind the project, which turns locally collected plastic waste into a weather-resistant plastic lumber. Since last fall, Simpson has been collecting plastics around the peninsula in containers called super sacks, which hold 75 pounds of plastic at a time.

For the project, Simpson has been collecting plastic types 1, 2, 4 and 5 out of sites at the Cook Inletkeeper Action Studio and The Goods Sustainable Grocery, both in Soldotna. Cook Inletkeeper helps by delivering Simpson the plastic collected on the west side of the peninsula.

Simpson said the project was well received — so much so, that he’s now hitting the brakes. He said the project was filling more than a super sack of plastic a day, and that now, he’s out of bags.

Simpson said the program has far exceeded his expectations. He started collecting plastic in November, and had gathered 50 thousand pounds by March, the amount he said he expected to get in a full year.

"People are hungry for options for plastics," he said.

Simpson said he’ll be making plastic lumber in Palmer until the end of the month, then he’ll move the operation to either Seward or Soldotna.

Separately, The Goods, the other local plastic collection site, said in a Facebook post that maintaining the site has been difficult because of the work it puts on staff and messy drop off behaviors. Simpson said he’ll work with Cook Inletkeeper on a long-term strategy for the plastic collection program.

He said once the program finds a home on the peninsula, he’ll try to contract with a local bailer, so he can compress the plastics and drastically reduce their size. Simpson's goal is to reopen the collection program by the end of June, if not sooner.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.