Cruise ships dumped more than 3 million pounds of trash in Alaska last year

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Cruise ships dumped more than 3 million pounds of trash in Alaska last year

The Juneau landfill is rapidly accumulating detritus from passing tourist ships.

Cruise ship companies poured 3 million pounds of trash into Juneau's private landfill during the 2019 season. 

“Bedding, 200 chairs in September, furniture, slot machines with electronics removed, water ship line and much more,” Juneau resident Linda Blefgen said at a public hearing for the city’s Visitor Industry Task Force. “Why do they choose to dump here? Why are they allowed to dump this volume when we have such limited space for our landfill?”

Juneau’s landfill is operated by a Texas-based company called Waste Management. Last year, that company reported to Juneau's city council that it accepted 1,534 tons of cruise ship garbage — more than 3.3 million pounds. The landfill is scheduled to be full in 20 years, but the rate of waste accepted from cruise ships might speed that timeline up.

“The landfill’s a private operation. The cruise ships are private operations,” City Manager Rorie Watt said. “We don’t regulate waste, garbage and hauling of garbage. So anything that we’re able to do will be by negotiation with the cruise lines.”

Ironically, the increase in trash coming off the ships is an unintended consequence of trying to reign in air pollution. Many ships lost incinerators - a typical solution for garbage - when they got scrubbers, which help filter emissions from the ship. Many cruise ships removed incinerators to install scrubbers and help keep the ship to new federal regulations.

“Larger ships and less incinerators means you can incinerate less garbage,” said Kirby Day, the Juneau director of shore operations for Princess Cruises and Holland America Line.

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