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Coast Guard transports 200 pounds of electronic waste from Diomede to Nome

Volunteers load Diomede e-waste onto flatbed in Nome harbor, bound for Kawerak's Regional Backhaul. Photo: Anahma Shannon, environmental coordinator for Kawerak.

During a recent survey of the Chukchi Sea, the Coast Guard cutter SPAR received an unusual request from the Native Village of Diomede: help move months worth of e-waste from the small island to Nome.

“Quite a few boxes of electronic waste—monitors, DVD players, stereos—that kind of stuff,” said Doug Jannusch, commanding officer of the SPAR. “We were able to take about 200 pounds worth and the six batteries.”

Jannusch said his team was in Diomede on a small boat and figured they could help by making a delivery.

“They had done a really good job of packaging it up. They put it into reasonably sized cardboard boxes that they taped up. Every box itself weighed maybe 30-40 pounds,” said Jannusch. “So we took what we thought we could take because we were going to Diomede via a small boat from our ship that was out there anchored off Diomede. We knew we wouldn’t be able to take that much but we certainly could take a little.”

Recyclable waste has typically been shipped off the roughly 3 square-mile island by air freight or by barge, and sent to the Kawerak Regional Backhaul program in Nome, which collects masses of recyclables from the region before shipping them off to Seattle.

Opik Ahkinga is the environmental coordinator for the Native Village of Diomede, and when she found out the Coast Guard would be passing through, she asked if they could make a delivery.

Ahkinga has been working to improve waste management on the island since 2010. Now she’s focusing on electronic waste because she says batteries and transformers that have been sitting on the island for years could seriously harm the environment. One they removed last year was already leaking.

“Diomede is a very small community. When the PCB leaks, they’re harming everything—our surroundings, our human life, our land life, our oceans,” said Ahkinga. “Not many people in Diomede are aware of that.”

Ahkinga is hopeful that people will continue participating in the e-waste recycling program by dropping their recyclables off at Diomede’s IRA. She recently secured a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to build an environmental program plan for the island.