Win Gruening: Escalating landfill rates are a wake-up call for Juneau



Capitol Disposal Landfill (CDL), a subsidiary of Waste Management (WM), is a private company that owns and operates Juneau’s only landfill.  Their recent announcement hiking residential and commercial rates for disposal at Juneau’s landfill underscores a serious issue that impacts Juneau’s livability in terms of environmental health and safety as well as cost-of-living.

On Feb. 1, household garbage rates increased 10% from $180/ton to $198/ton and the minimum charge zoomed from $49.50 to $141.19 – a near tripling of the rate most residential users will pay. 

But that only tells half the story.  

In 2020, landfill disposal fees averaged $54/ton nationally, while in the Pacific region the average was $72/ton. At WM/CDL’s newly announced rates, Juneau’s rates increased from 235% to 268% above the 2020 national average.

Additionally, Waste Management is restricting residential customers to four hours per week to dispose of garbage at the landfill – from 8 am to noon on Saturday.

Waste Management justified these charges as “necessary for public safety” and as a way to pay for improvements at the landfill.

Unlike Alaska Waste, a separate, unrelated company that picks up commercial and residential trash receptacles, WM/CDL is free to charge whatever they want whether residents can afford it or not.  Landfill rates are unregulated, unlike other city utilities whose rates are approved by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt, in a memo to the Assembly Finance Committee, stated the obvious.  While the change will likely benefit WM/CDL financially, Watt declared that Juneau residents can “expect an increase of dumped garbage at the ends of roads, on remote properties and in facility dumpsters.”  He predicts an increase of $50,000 in municipal budgets will be required to manage the increased workload and disposal fees.

Solid waste disposal is not a new problem. It’s a smelly, messy and complicated problem that’s not going away on its own.

Despite the best efforts of environmentally conscious residents who recycle, compost and reuse grocery bags, the community of Juneau still generates a lot of trash.

To the credit of the Juneau Assembly and city officials, solid waste issues have not been ignored but this latest action should give them even greater urgency.  An Assembly subcommittee, the Juneau Committee on Sustainability (JCOS) authored a comprehensive March 2021 report outlining the challenge and steps to address it.

According to the Alaska Department of Conservation, the landfill is approaching the end of its useful life and is predicted to last just 17 – 26 more years.

While some wish our incinerator was operational again, current EPA regulations and Juneau’s relatively low waste volume (about 100 tons/day) do not make incineration a practical solution.  Shipping our garbage south has its own downside given Juneau’s onerous freight rates.

In the short term, Juneau must reduce its solid waste stream and, in the long term, decide how to replace the existing landfill, an effort that will likely cost tens of millions of dollars.  It might be prudent to be setting money aside for that now.

As the JCOS report outlines, there are three avenues to pursue now: waste reduction, reuse, and recycling.

Waste stream diversion into recycling programs is on-going and supported by the city and Waste Management.  Also, a private company, Juneau Composts!, claims to have redirected over 1.2 million pounds of food scraps plus yard waste since their inception.  These programs need to be expanded as they currently only comprise a fraction of WM/CDL’s estimated annual landfill tonnage.

In the last year, the city reached agreement with the cruise industry to minimize landfill waste from ships.  Also, a $2.5 million federal grant was awarded to Juneau for designing and constructing a commercial-scale compost facility.  This will help address both environmental and health concerns by reducing waste that contributes most to greenhouse-gas emissions and noxious odors at Juneau’s landfill.

There’s no silver bullet to fix this problem.  It cannot be solved by city government alone. While city leaders can begin setting aside funds for landfill replacement, residents can do more to embrace conservation, reuse, and recycling.

Future cutting-edge technology will help provide solutions, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to be more creative, more cost-conscious, and less wasteful. Solid waste management isn’t just an environmental issue, but a social and economic one as well. It affects our community’s quality of life, its health, and its future. We cannot afford to ignore it or postpone it any longer. 

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular opinion page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations.


  1. How do you propose we reduce our waste stream? I understand the incinerator problem, but think it a better solution than budget busting barges to Seattle.

    Otherwise the dumping out the road between the Shrine and Sunshine Cove is gonna get steadily worse.

    • MA, Shorty incinerated for decades when he owned the dump and did a damn fine job. WM decided not to incinerate , largely because of onerous EPA regulations and possible fines. So, you’re stuck with Mt. Stinko, Rats, and that stench. Enjoy!

      • If we had any actual representation in DC, they could advocate for an EPA waver. I wasn’t here for Shorty, but in my time in Juneau I’ve watched and smelled it grow.

        It’s typically us. Ignore it until it becomes a crisis. Then ignore it some more.

  2. I say they can’t build another land fill as it will effect climate change and we need a 30 year environmental review just like pebble only longer because everybody works from home. We can’t use fossil fuels to build a hole in the earth affecting the snail darter. No new projects in Juneau it will effect the salmon.

  3. Just wait when they deem the dump full, how much the “new” rates will be!

    – Ban cruise ships from using it. They brought it in in, take it out. Just like we do when hiking.

    – The big box stores throw away allot of usable items.
    – most other dumps in Alaska let you take usable items back out. This is banned here. So much for being green.

  4. I’m glad to see Win is at least not falling into the trap of referring to it as “our” landfill. After all, it is privately owned. On the other hand, he said, “some wish our incinerator was still operational” even though it was never “our” incinerator. I suppose its okay to call it our Fred Meyer, or our Petco, etc. However, in the context of solving our solid waste problem, we should speak very precisely so everyone clearly understands how little control “we” have over the problem.

  5. We could always open a new landfill and charge half what WM / CDL does…. And then immediately take them to court for not properly maintaining their landfill.

  6. Government that is intelligent will do whatever it takes to help people do the right thing. But Juneau municipal government is anything but intelligent. It’s greedy. It’s woke. It’s often disgusting. The Juneau garbage dump is a huge mountain growing right beside a major creek. The creek empties into the Mendenhall Wetlands Refuge, and waterfowl hunters say their retrievers get cancer and die when they hunt in that creek. Veterinarians say that is very plausible.

  7. Move the capital ? Like it was voted many times before the guy shot out the power lines out in eagle river with a rifle on the last vote and polls were closed in after noon in that pro capital move district fore six hours that was a setup to prevent the district from voting in favor of a capital that 98% of Alaskans could afford to go visit??
    Then the trash would be reduced and the trashy monopoly could be reduced with the lights on them⏳✍??

  8. This is a real problem. It won’t go away, it is imminent, and it will cost tens of millions. The compost issue is being successfully addressed by Juneau Composts. Let’s encourage and support that business. Let’s not build arts centers that would hamstring our budgets. No one wants to spend on garbage – we just want it to go away. But there is no choice here. Pay to fix the problem or wade through garbage on the streets.

    • The most reasonable location is Evergreen Bowl (now Cope Park). Lemon Creek has hosted the problem for over 60-yrs. Now its the downtown crowd’s turn to host it. Its only fair; let’s make it happen.

      • I like this. If the dump shows up downtown or in the valley, people will get motivated to solve this really fast.

      • Mr. Coogan, I congratulate you for championing the cause above. The site geographically after an addition of a large retaining wall along Gold Creek would actually resemble a Garbage Can!
        Furthermore I think the idea would be well received by the local community, given that the new dump would doubtless have an adverse effect upon Cruise Ship landings. Further on it would also redirect pesky Garbage Bears from nearby resident trash bins, because not unlike the attraction of a dead washed up Whale, local Bears would eschew residents left over Vegan morsels for that luscious “Valley Trash” being trucked in daily.
        I note that the concept is also well in keeping with the “un-homed” housing development just across the creek from Evergreen Bowl, as it has acquired that trashy ambiance.
        After my last visit to Beautiful Juneau I noticed many Downtown folks who were still wearing face diapers. Evidently these people have been properly reeducated and conditioned to “follow the science”, putting the dump in Evergreen bowl would at last provide a beneficial use for these masks!

  9. I know it is prohibited to even say, but being “elderly’ I will risk it for nostalgic sake. As a child, it was my responsibility to dispose of the garbage. Yes, back then, it consisted of paper containers , glass and tin cans. So, I would take the garbage container out to the low tide mark and into a rock crevis, and dump it. The paper would dissolve, the food parts were food for the sea life,, the cans would rust and dissolve, the glass would eventually break and be tossed about by the waves, eventually ending up on various beaches where children and tourist seek and find the “treasures on the beach”
    Just fun to think back on the simple times where “Plastic” was not a villain, by its non existence.

  10. I moved to Juneau about 15 years ago. When I first arrived, I was shocked by the dump. Just a huge pile on the shore of a channel. What chemicals are leaching in? They have to shoot fireworks at Bald Eagles to keep them out of the garbage. Over the years it has steadily grown to Mt. Garbage which can be seen from long distances. The odor engulfs Lemon Creek and there is a huge rodent problem. We have lots of Liberals here concerned with climate change, yet nothing is done about this “growing” problem.

  11. And all the Libertarians cried: “Save us O Government, Save us!”. You hate it until you need it.

    Just sayin’.

  12. We have allowed our so-called leaders to create this problem for us. lawmakers render new land-fills to be economically infeasible (basically illegal) with myriad regulations and laws. Lobbyists bribe lawmakers into enacting such laws. These lobbyists work for large international corporations and environmental groups. Would you be surprised to know the corporate directors of landfill companies also sit on the boards of environmental organizations? Can you connect the dots?

  13. To Win, we ask whether either or both of two possibilities may have become reality: (1) Juneau has reached maximum population density which can be serviced by existing landfill, or any other local landfill. (2) The “fix” is in, giving CDLl/WM free rein to charge what they want and operate how they want.
    Seems like (1) may be solved by dumping beyond the 200-mile limit (with the attendant risk of raining down a mountain of garbage on a lurking Chinese submarine).
    Seems reasonable to expect the two-thirds of Alaska’s congressional delegation, who orate so magnificently before Alaska’s legislators, who are so tight with the Bidenistas, would have no trouble getting the odd EPA rule waived. After all, if the EPA didn’t give a damn about East Palestine, what could EPA possibly care about Juneau?
    Solving (2) may be a challenge. Problem may not be so much what’s in the dump, but what’s running the dump and what’s running the government which lets the dump runners get away with price gouging, maybe even racketeering if one were to look closely enough, while contemptuously dismissing taxpayers’ concerns with: “(residents can) expect an increase of dumped garbage at the ends of roads, on remote properties and in facility dumpsters.”
    Wonder how quickly landfill rates would be regulated if “dumped garbage” started finding its way to Mr. Watts’ doorstep, or God forbid, Assembly chambers.

Comments are closed.