Loose trash goes in and comes out in compact, 50-cubic-foot bales, strapped up and ready to ship out of state.

The combination masher and baler has been at work at Wrangell’s trash transfer station since late October. Rather than shipping out loose garbage in open-top containers, Wrangell can now load the bales into closed containers.

Alaska Marine Lines, which hauls trash out of Wrangell and several other Southeast communities, had told the towns that it needed everyone to switch to closed containers after a couple of fires in open containers aboard its freight barges.

AML carries the trash for Republic Services, which has a contract with Wrangell to take the garbage to the company’s landfill in Eastern Washington.

The borough assembly in August approved about $625,000 for the baler and other expenses with the project, including a forklift to move the bales into containers for the ride south.

The trash compactor arrived earlier than expected, said Amber Al-Haddad, the borough’s capital facilities director. “We’re bailing garbage,” she said last week.

It hasn’t been so easy getting the forklift, she said. Bids came in far over the borough’s estimate.

“Our budget numbers just went out the door,” Al-Haddad said. At least for now, the solid waste operation is sharing a forklift with the utility department, but it’s not a good fit for the weight of the 2,500-pound blocks and the borough will need to find an affordable forklift for the trash bales, she said.

AML is providing the covered containers for the trash.

Petersburg and Ketchikan already use trash balers for their garbage, and the Sitka assembly this month approved spending $3 million for its trash compacting system.

In addition to avoiding the fire risk, Al-Haddad explained the borough will save money with the compact bales of garbage because it is moving more weight in less space — reducing the volume charges.

One unexpected outcome of running the community’s garbage through the compactor and baler is that it “creates a lot more slime on the floor,” Al-Haddad said.