Staff at the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) teamed up with Seward’s teen litter patrol recently to clean up the Seward waterfront as part of the aquarium’s participation in a conservation and waste-reduction competition sponsored by the Coalition of North American Zoos and Aquariums.

The Plastic Free Ecochallenge invites teams to compete against one another through a series of daily and one-time challenges, such as using reusable bags, avoiding synthetic fibers or joining a cleanup effort. Participants earn their team points with each completed challenge

At last count, over 15,000 participants had signed on to one of 774 teams. The Alaska SeaLife Center, with 182 team members, is currently in 24th place, just ahead of the much larger team from the social media company LinkedIn.

“The idea is to develop new habits, but they can also just be cool reminders,” said Caryn Fosnaugh, ASLC operations director.

Four volunteers from the Alaska SeaLife Center walked to the Rec (formerly the Teen Rec Room) at noon last Thursday to join Seward’s litter patrol, a Seward Parks and Recreation program sponsored with grant money from Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling. Litter patrol members, teens age 14–17, earn minimum wage picking up loose trash four days a week.

Operations Director Caryn Fosnaugh, Executive Assistant Johanna Kinney, Education Coordinator Melissa Biggs and Biggs’ mother, Debra Biggs, geared up in bright yellow vests and followed the lead of their teen guides, Lucas Brockman, Paxton Hill, Sue McLinn, and litter patrol supervisor, Meredith Lins.

Along the bay, the group scoured the rocky beach and the waterfront path for litter, picking up loose paper, plastic and other garbage.

The litter patrol’s most frequent find? Cigarette butts.

Plastics nevertheless find their way in considerable quantity to the bins at the Seward municipal waste transfer site, according to number provided by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Department of Solid Waste.

Counting only the #1 and #2 plastics deposited in the transfer site’s recycling bins, Seward produced an average of 6.8 tons of plastic over the last three years, or a little more than 5 pounds per person.

That number is almost certainly a low estimate for plastic consumption since some people choose not to recycle and other plastics are not collected for recycling at the transfer site.

KPB Solid Waste Director Jack Maryott, referring to numbers from the Environmental Protection Agency, said that plastics make up a greater proportion by weight of the garbage deposited in landfills than it does of garbage produced.

Plastic makes up approximately 12 percent by weight of the garbage produced by American households, but it accounts for 17 percent of the waste in landfills. By comparison, paper and cardboard make up a little more than 28 percent of the garbage produced, but accounts for only 16 percent of the waste in landfills.

“That just goes to show you … how much more paperboard and paper is recycled than plastic is,” Maryott said.