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Recycling effort picking up steam

Without the eager help of 55 Jackson County Master Recyclers, this weekend's fifth annual Plastic Roundup of up to 30 tons of castoff synthetic polymers could never happen.

You may think the many green-jacketed helpers sweating at drop-off bins at The Expo in Central Point and the National Guard Armory in Ashland are just good-natured people with a few hours to spare. The reality is, however, that they train for 14 weeks to gain the knowledge and skill to attack the mounds of junk water bottles, vitamin jars, clamshell packaging, CDs, old real estate signs and lawn chairs, and sort them into hard, soft and nursery plastic.

The Jackson County Plastic Roundup started Friday and continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at Gate 1 of The Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point, and the armory, 1420 E. Main St., Ashland.

The cost is $5 per family or, for businesses, $5 a yard. The fee covers rentals of the two venues and the freight costs to transport the plastic to a recycler.

Those dropping off their plastics are asked to sort them first.

For a list of what's being accepted at the event and what isn't, go to www.jcrecycle.org/pages/plastic-round-up.php.

"The greatest thing about this event is when we don't need it," said Risa Buck, waste reduction educator for Recology of Ashland, as she hustled back and forth, organizing the flow of waste plastic.

"But until that day when we all change our buying patterns and don't have waste plastic, we've got to have the Master Recyclers," she said. "Without them, there is no plastics roundup. They are the greatest, most dedicated, hard-working, enthusiastic bunch of people I ever worked with."

Helping workers from Sunday Afternoons, a Talent hat shop, get rid of thousands of plastic hat forms (for shipment from China and India), Master Recycler Kevin Talbert said he and his wife, Barbara, went through the training in 2009.

"We're concerned about plastics being all over the ocean and everywhere," he said.

"They are one of the most harmful things in the environment and have the potential for problems we don't even know about yet."

The company couldn't bring itself to dump it in the landfill, employee Mariah Taylor said. "This is wonderful, and it's going to free up a lot of needed space for us," she said.

Master Recyclers work many community events, manning info tables, sharing skills with event organizers to leave no recyclables un-recycled, adopting schools to plan recycling programs — and contributing skills in media, construction and the arts to promote the recycling vision, Talbert said.

Taking a break from stuffing big bags of plastic, Master Recycler Jeff Yockers said, "Anything we can do to help alleviate this flow of plastics is great. There are so many different kinds of plastic and people are confused about what can be recycled. The goal is to be able to recycle or compost or re-use just about everything and take up very little space in the landfill."

The waste plastic is driven to a recycling plant near Salem and put to new uses, with much of it now being converted to high-grade fuel, said Talbert.

Last year, volunteers put in 1,400 hours at 35 events, including the Pear Blossom Festival, Talent Harvest Festival, Jackson County Fair, Eagle Point Fourth of July event and Rogue Valley Earth Day.

Paige Prewett, Jackson County SMARTWorks director who organizes the volunteers into shifts, called Master Recyclers "community waste prevention ambassadors."

"They are the power behind our projects," she said. "Without them we could not have a Plastic Round-up."

The 40-hour Master Recycler training takes place every spring at an Expo classroom, with the next class starting in March. Graduates are required to invest at least 40 hours of volunteer service by the end of the year. See www.jcmasterrecyclers.org for details.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Mariah Taylor unloads plastics during the annual Jackson County Plastic Round-Up Friday at the Ashland Armory. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore