One woman’s recycling revolution

Published January 2017

While Rena Nicklie’s community of Cantwell sits in the shadow of Denali National Park, it’s 150 miles from the nearest recycling center. So she started her own.

Rena is the environmental coordinator for the Native Village of Cantwell. She saw a growing problem and came up with a great solution.

Trash from the park and its associated businesses goes to the Denali Borough’s landfill. The 15 tons of trash that park visitors left behind in 1995 had exploded to 220 tons by 2015, threatening to overwhelm the landfill.

Rena’s answer was to partner with the borough to open a recycling center. The borough lets Rena use a vacant building, it owns and Rena secured a grant from the Indian General Assistance Program.

Denali Park became part of the solution when it became a pilot park for the Zero Landfill Initiative, a partnership among the National Parks Conservation Association, Subaru of America, the National Park Service and park concessionaires. By diverting waste through such practices as phasing out single-use plastic water bottles and bags, Denali hopes to halve the amount of waste it sends to the borough landfill by next year.

Now cardboard from the park and the shops around its entrance are turned into pellets to heat homes. “This is a great example of a win-win,” said Borough Mayor Clay Walker.

CBS Sunday Morning featured Rena’s efforts in a segment titled “One woman’s recycling revolution.” You can watch it on YouTube.

Why does she do it? “For me, recycling is common sense,” Rena says.