The good news is the Fairbanks Youth Litter Patrol picked up fewer needles than usual this summer. The bad news is people still are not tying down their loads and items continue bouncing out of trucks.
The B Team (second litter patrol of the summer) just finished their session cleaning roads and byways in the Fairbanks area. The teams are made up of teenagers who get paid a small stipend to pick up litter in the area. Their main funding ended this year and the longtime program now depends entirely upon donations.
This season, the patrols picked up more than 27,000 pounds of litter, a total of 2,041 bags. They cleaned 280 miles of roadway in the Fairbanks area. Litter included 503 pounds of aluminum, 42 pounds of stainless steel, 23 pounds of copper wire, 500 pounds of electronics, 1,000 pounds of wood and 500 pounds of miscellaneous litter. They recycled everything they could.
The B Team worked during hot, sunny days. Although they primarily focus on highways, they also pick up wind-blown litter at the landfill and at snow dumps.
Some spots that are covered in litter every year. One of those is the bottom of the hill coming into Ester on the Parks Highway.
“When you get off that hill, the road curves and whatever force happens, picks it up,” and deposits litter just behind the guardrail, according to David Drumhiller, who has been spearheading this program for decades.
It took nearly three days to remove all the trash from that spot. They collected lots of cardboard boxes, filled with plastic bags, styrofoam and other packing materials. The cardboard could deteriorate over time, but the packing material does not.
“It turns into micro-plastic when it breaks down,” Drumhiller said. “It gets smaller, but it never goes away. It’s really bad for animals.”
They found a roll of 50 feet of chain link fence, with a receipt still attached. Lowe’s Home Improvement store was delighted when the litter patrol returned the fencing to the store.
Litter patrollers found a shopping cart from JoAnn Fabric and Craft Store near the Ulta Store many miles away.
“A crew got to use that cart for hauling trash,” Drumhiller said.
They also found a refrigerator and a treadmill, dumped near the landfill. Apparently, if the landfill is closed, customers regularly and illegally deposit their truckload of trash along the road to the landfill.
The teens found a bathtub, two theatrical $100 bills, a box of .45 brass shell casings, all packed nicely in a box.
The Richardson Highway remains the most littered road in the area.
“We were working there on Monday and it didn’t look too bad,” Drumhiller said. “We cleaned it up, came back the next day and it was dirtier than before.”
At one point, they picked up 300 pounds of old carpeting and carpet padding.
“The truck was full even before our first break,” he said.
The litter patrol always works on the highways first. They avoid any areas inhabited by homeless people and merely report those camps to the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
At one location near a homeless camp, they found a filing cabinet surrounded by papers that had exploded from the drawers — the life of a former Fairbanksan, who died last year. His personal life was detailed in these papers.
“It was like a true crime podcast,” said one of the teens.
The teens who do this work find that it changes their personal perspective on their community. They recycle more themselves. They wonder how they can help to limit the number of tires they see disposed at the landfill. During their tour of the landfill, they saw a mountain of tires — hundreds, maybe even thousands, Drumhiller said.
“I like cleaning up trash,” said Rebecca Putnam, 17. “It makes me feel good inside and it helps our planet.”
“We’re helping the community by keeping it clean,” said another girl. “We’re making sure things stay beautiful and nice.”
Finding fewer needles this year was a pleasant surprise, Drumhiller said. But he suspects that is because they didn’t spent a lot of time in areas where they normally find the highest concentration of needles.
Litter patrollers produced a safety video four or five years ago to share with future litter patrollers. He’s hoping to spearhead an updated video soon.
One of the challenges this year was keeping vehicles operating. There are no funds for new vehicles or for repairs, so Drumhiller does repairs himself. Kudos to Ron’s Towing who saved the day one afternoon, when one of the vehicles broke down.
Members of the B Team included Luke Ridall, Sophie Henry, Emmali Dark, Ty Wilkes, Evan Doyle, Emery Scott, Elyse Jensen, Rebecca Putnam, Michelle Estrella Martin, and Devon Naude. Absent the day I visited were Tim Greenwood, Morgan Petersen and Side “Nick” Nicolas.