Cruise ships dumped 90% less trash in Juneau last year

Tourists walk the docks in Juneau in July 2023. (Clarise Larson/KTOO)

Recent data shows about 250,000 pounds of trash made its way from cruise ships to Juneau’s landfill last summer. That might sound like a lot – especially considering that the landfill is only projected to last another 20 years.

But that amount is down from over 3.3 million pounds dumped in 2019

Juneau Tourism Manager Alix Pierce said the reduction — which came despite record numbers of cruise passengers — is groundbreaking. It follows an agreement made by the city and cruise lines in 2022 to reduce those numbers. 

“It’s over a 90% reduction, which is what we were going for with the agreements,” she said. “What we’re doing is exciting, and it takes a lot of collaboration and coordination, but we’re making real change in our community.”

Waste Management, the company that operates the landfill, said it takes in about 100 tons of trash daily — which means all of the cruise ship trash in 2023 amounted to just over a day’s worth of normal trash in Juneau. 

In 2019, cruise ships dumped about 16 days’ worth of trash.

Pierce said the agreement is one step the city has taken in recent years to better manage tourism impacts. Reducing waste was one of the commitments the city’s Visitor Industry Task Force recommended back in 2020.

The agreement asks cruise lines to eliminate offloading bulky and oversized items into the landfill.

“We’ve been hearing for years that cruise ships have been dumping things like mattresses and furniture in our landfill — and that’s really problematic,” Pierce said. “We don’t want to see that in an islanded community, from a waste perspective like we have.”

According to the city’s data, the trash from cruise lines this past season came almost exclusively from two ships that continued to offload regularly. A small portion of trash came from a third ship, but Pierce said it was a “one-off” issue.

She said the city was aware of the third ship because it was ported at a public dock. But the other two ships were at a private dock. 

“In a port where we have four docks, and two of them are public and two of them are private, we don’t have any real control over the private docks,” she said. “We don’t have any regulatory control, and I think that this has taught me that we need better coordination with our partners just so that we know.”

Next season, Pierce says she wants to improve communication with the private docks so the city knows of any offloading as it happens. 

According to Renée Reeve, a spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, the organization has wanted to reduce trash left in Juneau since 2019, when it became aware of how much cruise ships were contributing to the dying landfill. She said the agency is pleased with the results. 

“This is something that isn’t done in necessarily other places in the world. And it was kind of a first of its kind and I think the ability of the industry and the community to work together is extremely important as we address, you know, tough issues together,” she said. 

Reeve said the trash that used to get left in Juneau is likely now going to the ports where the cruises started: Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria. 

This year, Juneau’s first cruise ship will come on April 9. It will be Juneau’s first season with a limit of five large ships per day — another agreement the city negotiated with cruise lines.

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