Small fragments of plastic in two outstretched hands.

Plastic Marine Debris Clean Up, Recycling, and Recovery in Southeast Alaska

The Ocean Plastics Recovery team is working with local and regional groups to remove debris from remote shorelines in Southeast Alaska, integrating and evaluating emerging recycling technologies for sustainable disposal.

Type of Project: Removal

Region: Alaska

Project Dates: January 2023 - December 2024

Who is involved?
With support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Ocean Plastics Recovery Project is leading field cleanup operations on remote shorelines in Southeast Alaska, gathering debris that will be processed and shipped for disposal, while maximizing the amount recycled. The recycling efforts will include both material evaluation by academic partners at Oregon State University and Western Washington University to better understand composition, as well as direct recycling through multiple mechanisms by industry partners in the United States and Canada. Enerkem is the primary recycler, with additional recycling testing and processing being done by Novoloop, Denton Plastics, Stina, and Lavergne.

What is the project and why is it important?
With an extensive, rugged, and remote coastline, it can be difficult to access and remove marine debris in Alaska. Using vessels to reach these remote shorelines, the Ocean Plastics Recovery Project is leading a team that aims to remove 75 tons of marine debris in Southeast Alaska. The vessel-based cleanup is expected to remove roughly 3,600 pounds of marine debris per collection day. These debris can come from distant and local sources; cause impacts to wildlife that are of economic, cultural, and subsistence importance; and degrade valuable habitat.

The vessel-based experience provides educational opportunities for university research partners and high school students of diverse backgrounds. All marine debris is characterized, sorted, and processed onboard the cleanup vessel to prepare it for optimal disposal. This is important because different recycling techniques require different material sorting and condition. 

Each year, approximately 80% of the removed marine debris will be offloaded at the Port of Prince Rupert in British Columbia and shipped to recycling project partner, Enerkem, in Edmonton, Alberta, for conversion to methanol. The remainder is then returned to Kodiak, Alaska, onboard the vessel for shipping to U.S. recyclers and research partners.

This project aims to remove debris, prevent impacts, and promote ongoing knowledge sharing among scientists, recycling and recovery experts, students, and the team at Ocean Plastics Recovery Project. This can then be used to build capacity and improve future cleanup operations and promote optimally sustainable disposal options.

Last updated Tue, 10/10/2023 - 08:32 pm EDT