Did you know that every Oregonian generates at least six pounds of garbage every day?
Fortunately for the planet, about a third of this waste is recycled, totaling more than 3.6 million tons each year.
You know that hive of plastic bags that lives in the cupboard under the kitchen sink? Well, these high-density polyethylene (HDPE) conveniences are more than just a nuisance — they may be a major contributor to planetary pollution and climate change.
Get a load of these alarming statistics:
Every year, Americans throw away some 100 billion plastic bags
An estimated 12 million barrels of oil are required to make that many plastic bags
Slow to biodegrade, these bags persist on our planet for up to 1,000 years
While on the planet, plastic bags cause over 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year when animals mistake them for food
Luckily, there's some good news: A high-quality reusable shopping bag, made from cloth or recycled materials, can eliminate an average of 1,000 plastic bags over the lifetime of the better bag. Plus, it'll pay for itself through bring-your-own-bag discounts.
And about that plastic hive: deposit it in your grocery store's take-back container, usually found near the entrance. From there it'll be recycled.
"But don't forget: even though they can be recycled, that still has inherent energy consumption and expense," says Denise Wolgamott of Rogue Disposal & Recycling. "If you prevent anything from becoming waste or being recycled, it's better in the long run."
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Make sure your home is set up for maximum recycling — both Rogue Disposal & Recycling and Ashland Sanitary & Recycling provide fee-free commingled and glass recycling containers and hauling.
Following your hauler's recycling rules to a "T" can help them make the most of your efforts.
"A customer needs to know what their hauler takes because it can differ from place to place," says Denise Wolgamott, recycle coordinator at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in White City. "For instance, although our rules are consistent through our entire service area, they differ from Ashland's."
While Ashland Sanitary & Recycling takes all plastic bottles and plastic tubs such as those used for butter and yogurt, Rogue Disposal takes plastic bottles numbers one through seven and doesn't accept tubs.
"Check out the exact rules — they're printed on the back of every statement we mail out," counsels Wolgamott.
Avoid other easy-to-make recycling mistakes."The most common source of contamination in our commingled carts would be plastic bags, plastic clamshell food containers and Styrofoam," says Risa Buck, waste reduction educator at Ashland Sanitary. Styrofoam should go in the garbage while plastic bags — both shopping bags and vegetable bags — can be recycled at the take-back service located in most grocery stores.
Keeping the bags out of the recycling system is incredibly important. If they are hauled to the sorting facility (SP Recycling in Clackamas) and make it onto the conveyor belt, they wreak untold havoc and use extra resources as they get caught in machinery and grind the whole system to a halt.
Many residents also forget to remove lids from glass and plastic bottles." All plastic lids need to come off — all plastic lids are garbage," says Buck. Metal and aluminum lids, however, are recyclable in the commingle cart.
"People mean well and wish more things could be recycled and we do, too," stresses Buck. "But when recycling is contaminated with items that cannot be recycled, it makes more garbage!"
To further decrease the valley's garbage load, Rogue Disposal has just started accepting home electronic waste at their White City recycling depot. For a small fee, residents can make sure their computers, televisions, VCRs and DVD players avoid the trash heap and are turned instead into reusable composite by ECS Regenesys in Medford.
"They end up grinding up all the different components and equipment and it's all done in the United States; it doesn't go overseas," explains Wolgamott. "What I like about it is there's no chance of any personal information coming off the computers."
Although homeowners can legally throw these things in the garbage, the pricing structure — $15 for an entire computer system including monitor, tower, keyboard and mouse or about $5 for individual components — provides an affordable and more environmentally responsible choice.
For harder-to-recycle items, Buck and Wolgamott recommend checking the Jackson County Recycling Partnership's Directory for appropriate solutions.
"You'll get the most excellent source of information in our valley," Buck says. "From appliances, batteries, computers, food, fluorescent light tubes, paint, oil, shoes, all that stuff — it's all on that list."
And if you live outside the Rogue Valley's urban growth boundaries or don't pay for garbage service with its complimentary recycling hauling, simply pack your recyclables to the nearest depot. Found in every community, these sites are convenient and most services are free of charge. Find the site nearest your home in the list on the next page.
Recycling your home's waste can make a profound difference in the dent your family makes on the earth's dwindling resources.
The planet thanks you!