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Where do all those leaves go?

The falling leaves of red and gold signal more than the inevitable transition from fall to winter.

In Medford it triggers Rogue Disposal & Recycling's annual leaf roundup, scheduled to begin next week.

Between the first week of November and Christmas, Rogue Disposal will cart off more than 1,000 tons — that 2 million pounds — of leaves sacked up by Medford residents, an annual rite that began in the 1990s. The leaves are collected at Rogue Disposal's transfer station off Table Rock Road near Tou Velle State Park. From there leaves are trucked to the Dry Creek Landfill, north of Roxy Ann Peak, where they are composted for the better part of a year. Finally, they are filtered into mulch and garden mixes for reuse in local gardens and agriculture projects.

Until the late 1990s, Medford residents merely pushed their leaves to the gutter and city crews scooped them up. But clogged storm drains and other costs got the city thinking about alternatives.

"Using buckets and scooping along the streets was a tough way of doing it," said  Wendell Smith, Rogue Disposal & Recycling's general manager. "They asked us to take a look at it and come up with a process. We thought material bags were the best way to keep the storm drains and gutters clean. With kids playing out in those loose leaves it was a safety issue, too."

The refuse and recycling company was in the process of changing over its collection fleet from rear-load trucks, requiring multiple-person crews, to automated trucks with mechanical arms.

"By having people put leaves in bags, it was the natural thing for us to do," Smith said. "We kept a small group of the rear-load trucks just for the leaf program."

Rogue Disposal adds six people to its staff for the six weeks of leaf collections, Smith said. 

Although the company tracks loads, a lot of variables can change totals, he said, including weather.

"A lot of the material ends up in green waste bins," Smith said. "In wet years, the volume is comparable, but the loads are heavier."

Rogue Disposal's Dry Creek Landfill encompasses just over 1,000 acres, with 250 acres designated for actual landfill operations. Of that, 16 acres are dedicated to composting. While green waste debris is brought in from the transfer location all year, the operation expands greatly when the truckloads of leaves begin arriving. 

"The bags are brought in, we piled them up and bleed them into the compost," said Lee Fortier, Dry Creek Landfill's general manager. "It gets to be pretty good-sized come November and December."

The compost is amassed into windrows, pyramids that are 20 feet wide, 10 feet tall and 100 feet long. The mounds reach their apex in late December.

"We start blending it immediately, but it's probably February before it turns to compost," he said. 

"This is our slow time of the year for sales," Fortier said. "So rather than loading out trucks, we spend most of the winter turning windrows; it blends nicely with our operations out here."

After sitting for about a year, the material is poured through course and and fine screens so it can be stored or packaged for commercial use. Fortier said the material costs about $20 to $25 per cubic yard.

"A lot of our customers are actually resellers who blend it with soil," Fortier said. "Some of it is bagged and sold at a small bunker at the transfer station."

All told, about 10,000 tons of material are composted throughout the year.

"We probably sold everything we had this year; the demand is there," Fortier said. "We used to have trouble getting rid of it, but  people are finding out about us. Word has gotten out that the quality of our compost has gotten pretty good."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

Parks worker Jason Pereira uses a leaf blower to gather leaves in Medford's Bear Creek Park Monday. Medford residents collect an estimated 2 million pounds of leaves to be hauled away each year. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell