Brennan: ALPAR got help from its friends

By Tom Brennan

The news that cigarettes cause cancer came over the car radio just as I was opening a package of Lucky Strikes and trying to forget I had an awful hangover.

It was too much. I crumpled up the cigarette pack, rolled down the window and threw it out onto the roadside. I never smoked another cigarette — and I felt guilty for years about both littering and my awful hangover.

It was supposed to be a fun-filled weekend of skiing at a resort in Southern Vermont.  My buddy and I were both reporters for a newspaper in Worcester, Mass., and had just ruined a great weekend by drinking too much and getting too hungover to ski.

It was Jan. 11, 1964, and the weather was fine for skiing but my friend and I had enjoyed ourselves too much the night before and were too much under the weather to attempt skiing. We thought that if we fell we would shatter into little pieces.

It was a stupid thing to do — drinking so much we had to skip skiing the next day — and we were already feeling awful about that when the news came about the undeniable link between smoking and cancer. So just as I threw the crumpled pack of Luckies out the window I noticed that the Vermont roadside was already covered with litter and my addition was an unnecessary scar on some beautiful country.

I never smoked a cigarette after that moment, though I smoked cigars for many years. Cigars weren’t exactly good for your health but at least they didn’t have the direct link to cancer that cigarettes do. I gave stogies up a few years ago just because I was tired of them.

Since that day in 1964 I have also given a lot of thought to the practice of littering our roadsides. Such desecration of beautiful scenery still goes on but at that time people didn’t give much thought at all to throwing pieces of unwanted paper and other trash out of car windows.

My guilt about littering made me a natural recruit when our good friend Audrey Lee became executive director of a new group formed here in 1983, Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling. My wife Marnie and I had recently joined forces in my public relations firm, making it Brennan & Brennan Inc.

ALPAR, as the group became known, was led by Tom Cox, who was then head of Pepsi Bottling in Alaska. And Cox’s friends were members of the Anchorage Restaurant Beverage Association and the Cabaret, Hotel and Restaurant Retailers.

The great thing about having friends like that is that the members of those two organizations (ARBA and CHARR) were becoming concerned about the amount of litter in Alaska involving products they were selling.

And, even better, the members of ARBA and CHARR were good customers of the two large shipping companies that carried their merchandise to Alaska, Sea Land and TOTE.

And best yet, from the standpoint of would-be recyclers, the two shipping companies generally hauled empty containers back to the Puget Sound area after they delivered merchandise to Alaska.

The combination was good fortune bordering on serendipity. ALPAR, ARBA, CHARR, Sea-Land and Tote put together an organization able and most willing to recruit volunteers to pick up litter, collect recyclables and backhaul the recyclables to the Seattle area.

Since Seattle was a major Northwest city the groups’ contacts there were able to put Alaska’s recyclables into mainstream recycling channels and civic-minded people in the Far North were able to achieve what otherwise would be totally impractical if not impossible.

And since this circle of business friends also included executives of Northern Air Cargo and other members of the Alaska Air Carriers Association, would-be recyclers in remote Alaska villages have been able to extend backhaul privileges to residents of Rural Alaska. Last year the air carriers hauled 25 tons of aluminum cans and PET bottles out of the villages and sent them on their way to join streams of recyclables from more heavily populated regions of the Pacific Northwest.

Almost 25,000 tons of recyclables were taken in at the Anchorage Recycling Center last year, including 1,291 tons of recyclable glass, and 1,200 tons of litter were picked up from Anchorage’s streets, paths and roadways just during the recent cleanup week organized by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

The men and women who put ALPAR together — and their many friends —achieved a miracle of sorts and it keeps on working. As they say, it helps to have friends in the right places.

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