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County sets milestone for its recycling efforts

Jackson County has hit a milestone, exceeding its goal of recovering 40 percent of waste through recycling, composting or energy recovery — and tying Josephine County with an all-time high of 41.3 percent of waste recovered.

The goal was set by local officials under legislation passed in 2001 by the state, which required the county to attain 25 percent recovery.

For 2009, Jackson County's total recovery rate of 41.6 percent was exceeded by the nine Willamette Valley counties and Deschutes. The state recovery rate was 48.4 percent.

More populous areas can more easily reach high rates because they're closer to recycling markets, said Denise Wolgamott, co-director of the Jackson County Recycling Partnership and recycling coordinator of Rogue Disposal and Recycling.

Progress in the local recovery rate was made possible, said Wolgamott, because of the increase in commingling allowed for recyclers, which "makes it easy" for them — and also by the bad economy, which means slower business creating less waste. All this, she notes, makes people focus on the three goals of re-use, reduce and recycle.

"Absolutely, people are much more aware of their waste and look for maximum opportunities to recycle," she said. "In an economic downturn, we don't have resources to waste."

Jackson County recovered 35.6 percent of its "waste stream" (the flow of waste from residence or business to final disposal) last year and got another 6 percentage points credited for education on waste prevention, reuse and composting. This education was done by Jackson County Recycling Partnership, SMARTWorks and Master Recyclers.

The per-person waste was 1,386 pounds, with 766 pounds of that recovered. Per capita waste has decreased 23 percent from 2004, said Paige Prewett, JCRP co-director, in a report.

"When garbage generation is down," wrote Prewett, "it becomes easier to achieve a higher recovery rate. Tonnage of garbage went down over 16,000 tons last year, while recycling went up nearly 3,000 tons."

The progress was aided by the Jackson County Recycling Partnership, which the Department of Environmental Quality told local officials is a unique and efficient model, bringing together the efforts of county and city officials and waste haulers, said Wolgamott.

The county's efforts are spurred by the presence of SMARTWorks, which performs waste reduction strategies for local business and education, the Jackson County Recycling Directory, the annual Plastics Roundup, the Master Recycling trainings and other activities.

There is a ceiling on how much waste can be recycled, and Wolgamott said she'd like to see the county reach 50 percent, the goal set in 1991 by the Oregon Recycling Act, which was extended in 2001 to this year.

Of the materials recovered statewide last year, yard debris was 23 percent; cardboard, 18 percent; metals, 18 percent; wood waste, 15 percent; paper, 12 percent; glass, 5 percent; and plastic, 2 percent.

"Residents should be proud of the increased opportunities to recycle — and they're taking advantage of it," said Rhianna Simes, Jackson County Master Recycling director. "It's been a big effort, a long time coming and a testament to the success of waste diversion and increased education. It's a real hopeful sign of increased awareness. It takes a lot of effort to get positive results."

All recycling must be hauled to market, a process that requires use of energy, but also extends the life of landfills, which are slated for 75 to 100 years, said Wolgamott.

Waste diversion lessens global warming, lowers energy use and saves resources, she noted, emphasizing that the more things are reused — cloth market bags instead of plastic bags, for example — the more easily these goals can be reached and the less things have to be driven to recycling markets for remanufacture.

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