The Island Trails Network recently received a $1 million federal grant for marine debris removal around the Kodiak Archipelago – over five times its normal annual budget. The organization plans to use that funding to both clean larger amounts of debris and recycle more of the plastic they pick up.
Island Trails Network is a nonprofit with a focus on promoting access, quality, and safety of hiking trails around the island. To help with their efforts, the nonprofit also hosts several events throughout the year where volunteers work together to clear litter or other washed up pieces of plastic on beaches around the archipelago. Travis Cooper is the organization’s trails program coordinator, and was one of the folks in charge of applying for the grant.
“We’ve been offering them for about the last 10 years in some capacity,” he said.
The federal funding boost was announced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office late last month and comes from the omnibus spending package for 2023.
Cooper said the organization hopes to make recycling in the area easier and increase the amount of waste they’re able to pick up.
“The goal specifically for that is to get 75 tons of marine debris off the archipelago and the other big part is what we do with it once we get it onto a boat and back to Kodiak,” he said.
Cooper said a significant part of the grant will be used to purchase a machine to sort and refine some of the plastics they pick up before sending them to another facility. The organization is unsure of what exact machine to buy, but they’re looking to improve recycling systems already on the island.
In the past, a lot of the trash they have picked up ended up in landfills, however Cooper said the nonprofit aims to change that narrative.
“I think that this grant is definitely going to help push us in a direction to turn a kind of a nuisance and environmental disaster into something that’s somewhat usable,” the trails program coordinator said.
Cooper said they’ll have their work cut out for them this summer.
“75 tons in one summer – it’s kind of an ambitious goal, if you will,” he said. “So there’ll be some strategy in where we can do the most bang for our buck.”
The organization plans to target “sweeper beaches” where significant piles of human-created waste get washed up from ocean currents.
“I’ve went on some of these very small beaches where no one’s around for miles but you can’t take a step without stepping on plastic and that’s kind of really profound experience,” he said.