Whether it's plastic bags, newspapers or soda cans, recycling has become a no-brainer for most folks — as long as convenience is a major part of the equation.
"Convenience is absolutely the key," says Denise Barnes, recycling coordinator for Rogue Disposal & Recycling. "If you make it just as easy to recycle it as to throw it away, you're going to do it."
Recyclers who want to take it to the next level can become masters.
The Jackson County Master Recyclers program hosts classes to teach would-be community liaisons how to recycle every type of material and how recycling markets, economics, laws and citizens affect what's recycled locally.
Save paper by getting more info — or even applying — at www.jcmasterrecyclers.org
For a directory of recyclable items (and how they're recycled locally), download a directory at www.jcrecylingdirectory.org
Setting up stations — so recycling works with the flow of the household — promotes better habits. Recyclable items fall into a handful of general categories, including paper, glass, plastics and miscellaneous items such as batteries and light bulbs.
Barnes suggests starting with the items usually used most in households.
"The main thing I generate in my own house that can't go into the commingle bin is plastic," Barnes says.
Recyclable plastics are primarily limited to narrow-necked bottles and wider, butter tub-style containers.
Hard and soft plastics, such as broken plant pots, plastic lids, deli containers, straws and bags, must be saved for a handful of "plastic roundup" days each year. Try using an oversized box or bag in a storage area or garage to collect these types of items.
Indoors, a small waste can under a kitchen sink or in a pantry closet can be emptied as needed.
For the plastics that can't be recycled curb-side, a handful of local agencies offer events to collect everything from plastic lawn furniture and bailing twine to plastic grocery bags and garden trays. Rogue Disposal hosts a pair of annual events in mid-October at the Ashland Armory and Jackson County Expo.
Paper is the second-most common recyclable in most households, and it can accumulate quickly.
Paige Prewett, director of Jackson County SMARTWorks, a waste-prevention education service, recommends sorting recycling before it accumulates and keeping bins in areas where paperwork or junk mail tend to accumulate.
She also advocates shredding waste paper for packaging material.
Food waste is one of the least likely items to be recycled, which is a shame because it can provide valuable compost.
While it may seem daunting for some, composting can be simple and extremely useful once a system is in place.
"Find a nice container with a lid to set on your kitchen counter to collect compostables — a small, stainless-steel stockpot works well," Prewett says. "The lid keeps down odors and prevents fruit flies in the summer.
"After you empty it in the compost pile, be sure to give it a good rinse. If it smells, wash it and spread some baking soda inside to absorb odors."
Local home-improvement stores carry compost bins in various sizes. A smaller option, says Barnes, is a worm bin, which can be fashioned out of a small cooler and kept in a laundry room or garage.
Worm castings and offspring of worms are great for gardens, and you can provide friends with initial batches of wigglers to start their own worm bins.
For less-common items, such as bulbs and batteries, set up a table or set of boxes in an accessible area, such as a basement, utility room or garage. A single container kept in a corner of the home can provide a temporary holding place before sorting.
Bring less waste home
One way to reduce waste is to bring less home to begin with.
"You really have to look at your waste stream and what you're bringing the most of into your household, then look for ways to manage it," Barnes says.
"When I set up (recycling) stations at my house — and when I saw how quickly and how fast I was collecting material — I had to make a personal decision to reduce how much I was bringing into my life in the first place. I started remembering to bring my reusable bags to the store and starting really thinking about the products I was buying.
"It's amazing how much we accumulate," Barnes adds, "and how much it helps when we all do just a little. It really causes people to see things in a different light."