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What NOT to put in your commingled recycling bin

Ashland is a town, some would say, that’s ahead of the times when it comes to awareness of many things, but especially sustainability.

Jamie Rosenthal, Recology waste zero specialist, said at a business education workshop Wednesday global awareness of recycling has increased.

“People are kind of confused about recycling right now,” Rosenthal said. “When in doubt, keep it out.”

Rosenthal talked about ways local businesses can benefit from recycling, in turn saving money since Ashland citizens pay for the service.

She began with a brief history of her own role in conservation, the roles Talent and Ashland play in the recycling service and of Recology itself. The organization is entirely employee-owned and started in San Francisco, Rosenthal said.

She then listed a number of items she tends to find in the recycling bins of local businesses that Recology doesn’t accept, called contaminants. Some items can sometimes be recycled elsewhere. These items are rejected from the local recycling stream because there isn’t a market locally to take them for reuse, they damage the sorting machines at the recycling center, they are harmful to employees handling the items, or a combination of these reasons.

On the list of contaminants: shredded paper; soft plastics such as plastic grocery bags or plastic bags with numbers other than one, two, and five; hard plastic such as disposable cutlery, cups (including the “compostable ECO” cups), salad or to-go food containers; bottle caps, lids, colored plastics and cartons.

“I think it’s important to make a point to look at the items we purchase and try to reduce and reuse as much as possible,” Rosenthal said.

She said often people don’t realize what they’re putting in the recycling isn’t recyclable. Phone books are recyclable if the plastic outer cover is removed, otherwise it is not. Some companies take out a trash bag full of recycling at the end of the day, but the bag itself is not recyclable. This is all a part of the confusion, Rosenthal said.

“If at all possible, try not to buy these products,” Rosenthal said, reinforcing that “reduce” is the first step in the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra. “We need to reshape the way we think about these things.”

She recommended buying bulk creamers and local coffee instead of K-Cups and individual sweeteners. She suggested having a stock of reusable plates, cups and cutlery for employee use. She also recommended printing on both sides of the paper, and reusing old papers with a blank back as scratch paper.

“There is a hierarchy and it’s reduce, reuse, and recycle should be the last resort,” Rosenthal said.

For large parties at the office or at home, Recology will rent out dinnerware, cups, napkins, and cutlery for up to 100 people for free. The program is called “Lend me a plate.” To borrow the items, call Recology at 541-482-1471. Items must be returned clean.

Rosenthal said the landfill Ashland trash goes to has been used for roughly 120 years.

“It is a state-of-the-art landfill, with technology that captures some of the methane they produce there and use it to power a couple thousand homes with,” Rosenthal said. “It’s not a sustainable solution, but it’s a temporary one.”

Rosenthal encourages community members to call upon her and the organization for help configuring a confusion-free recycling area at the office and at home. For more resources, visit the Recology website at recology.com/recology-ashland/ and its Facebook page, facebook.com/RecologyAshland/.

The workshop was part of the Ashland Chamber Business Education Series, presented in collaboration with the city of Ashland. For information regarding future workshops, visit ashlandchamber.com/workshops.

— Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.