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'Trash Busters'

Separating the Aquafina bottles, Rockstar and Pepsi cans from the half-eaten, mustard-covered corndog is not a chore for the Jackson County Fair Trash Busters. It's a competition.

Rachel Ray, 15, Kenzie Rhode, 15, Brenda Dent, 15, and Mike Macuk, 16, all Crater High School athletes, frantically untwisted caps, emptied bottles and rebagged the recyclable bottles and cans behind Olsrud Arena Friday. They were given 10 minutes to separate and prepare the bottles for redemption. The winner would get a smoothie from Food Row.

"I think I won," Rachel announced.

This year, there are about 30 Crater High School students involved in the Trash Busters program.

"This program has been at the fair for almost 20 years," said Crater softball coach Chris Arnold, who cheered on the trashy competition.

Trash Busters are not the only people responsible for recycling and cleaning up after more than 64,000 fair goers this year.

In 2007, Paige Prewett, waste-reduction coordinator for Jackson County's SMART program, or Saving Money And Resources Together, launched a recycling program at the fair with the help of Trash Busters and Master Recyclers, volunteers who have completed a 10-week course on waste prevention, recycling and composting, and also contributed volunteer service hours.

The Master Recyclers organized and maintained the recycling stations by removing garbage while the Trash Busters picked up the trash, hauled and separated the recyclables. Prior to development of the program, recyclables were hauled away as waste.

"The first year of the program, we reduced garbage disposal fees at the Expo by $6,000," Prewett said.

During the 2007 fair, about 10 four-cubic-yard recycling dumpsters were filled with plastic bottles, aluminum cans, cardboard and glass. In 2008, about 25 recycle dumpsters were filled.

This year, the recycling program was expanded to include compostables, scrap wood and metal, plastic bags, and fruit and vegetable scraps.

Everyone was asked to contribute. Ten compost carts were placed behind the rows of food vendors to collect lemon rinds from lemonade, potato peels from curly fries, banana peels from smoothies and grease from everything else. The grease was disposed of in containers provided by Rogue Biofuels, later to be sold as biodiesel. The food scraps are used for compost.

"Jackson County is serving as a model for other counties to follow suit," said Prewett.

When the state Legislature recently passed a law making plastic water bottles redeemable, the process became even more profitable.

"In the past, we had all these recyclables we would take to Rogue Disposal — no deposit," Prewett said. "Now we have this incentive to cash that in."

The money collected from the bottle deposit supports various recycling efforts in the county, Prewett said.

The recycling-sorting competition was designed to speed up the sorting process. After the 10-minute contest, there still were more than 60 bags of bottles and cans waiting to be sorted, and about 105 partially filled bags spread out across the fairgrounds. Each bag holds about 250 bottles. Bottle-sorting competitions will continue through the weekend, and the Trash Busters are eager to compete.

"These are kids who are motivated to keep the fair clean," Schroeder said. "It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun."

Reach reporting intern Teresa Thomas at 776-4464, or e-mail intern1@mailtribune.com.

Brenda Dent, foreground to back, Kenzie Rhode and Rachel Ray, all 15 years old, race the clock during a sorting contest as part of the Jackson County Fair’s recycling program. For more photos from the fair, go to www.mailtribune.com/photos. - Bob Pennell