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Where does everyone's garbage/recycling go?

In the glamorous world of garbage disposal, Southern Oregon shines like a bright new penny.

Thanks to the Dry Creek Landfill and a multitude of recycling opportunities, people in this area shouldn't have to worry about an overflow of castaway items for quite some time.

"The landfill has a capability under any scenario right now for another 75 to 100 years," says Denise Wolgamott, recycling coordinator for Rogue Disposal and Recycling.

If you venture to the backside of Roxy Ann Peak, the 230-acre Dry Creek Landfill is located south of Agate Lake on Dry Creek Road in Eagle Point.

The landfill opened in 1974, but in those days handling garbage involved little more than digging a hole in the ground and simply covering up the discards. The federal government has since stepped in to make sure such unlined facilities were closed by 1998, bringing an end to the South Stage Landfill in Jacksonville and the first unlined cell at Dry Creek Landfill.

Dry Creek Landfill altered its operations to coincide with federal regulations, introducing a complex liner system in 1999 that involves almost the same standards used for a hazardous waste landfill. The liner system for each cell is made up of 11 layers, with two perforated collection pipes intermixed to collect rainwater and suck out methane gas. The drawn methane collected from decomposing garbage is burned to produce enough energy to continually power about 3,000 homes.

Rock, dirt and various plastic liners make up the bulk of the multilayer system.

"The liner system is very complex and built completely over each cell's 10 to 12 acres," says Wolgamott. "We've got to protect our environment, so you need to take any extra measures you can."

It takes about three years to fill each cell, and about a year to prepare another lined cell site. The landfill takes in about 900 tons of municipal garbage a day, and construction is just under way on cell No. 5.

"We're very lucky to have a regional landfill here because most communities can't afford to build cells," says Wolgamott.

Because of that, Dry Creek Landfill serves the garbage needs of Medford, Central Point, Phoenix, Jacksonville, White City and Jackson County, as well as being the disposal site for Ashland, Talent, Eagle Point, Rogue River, Butte Falls and outlining areas in Southern Oregon. In all, five different counties take their garbage to Dry Creek Landfill.

"We all work really closely together, especially on recycling programs," Wolgamott says of the various disposal agencies who use the landfill.

Beyond the liner system for each cell, there are other safeguards put in place to avoid hazardous materials from getting into the landfill and causing environmental issues.

"Every single ton of garbage that goes into the landfill is monitored," says Wolgamott, adding that there are specific regulations in place regarding what can and cannot go into the landfill.

But no matter how much monitoring is done, Wolgamott says you can't catch everything.

"There are probably some items that shouldn't be in there, and that's one of the reasons why we have such an extensive liner system," she says.

It's also why Rogue Disposal sponsors events that allow residents to get rid of hazardous waste items and latex paint as part of its "Toss Your Toxins" promotion.

"Most people, my experience has been, do want to do the right thing, they just don't know how," says Wolgamott. "If you give them the tools, they're more likely to comply."

Rogue Disposal holds free latex paint drop-off days in mid-April at the transfer station on Table Rock Road in White City. Household hazardous waste can be dropped off from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 4-5 at the Jackson County Expo in Central Point at a fee of $5 for the first cubic yard, a volume equal to six 32-gallon trash cans filled level.

For more information on the special drop-off days, contact Rogue Disposal at 779-4161.

"Our goal every year is to educate on waste prevention, reuse and recycling," says Wolgamott. "That's going to keep things out of our landfill and make things last even longer. The key is to lower the volume of waste going into the landfill."

All the commingled recycling that is collected on routes is shipped out to a facility in Clackamas, where an intricate sorting system is used to make sure all commodities are able to go to their specific processors.

For items that should not be included in trash bins or cannot be recycled with the commingled items, there is also a Jackson County recycling directory available on the Internet at www.jcrecycle.org. There you will find a listing of where you can recycle items.

Brain Leum searches though the garbage at the White City transfer station for idems sellable at Goodwill. Pennell photo