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Rogue Disposal: recycling improving but more education needed

Rogue Disposal & Recycling has come in for a stream of criticism for sharply reducing the types of recycled material it will accept. But on Tuesday, at least, company representatives got some thanks after a presentation to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

“Thanks for your forthrightness,” said Commissioner Bob Strosser after an hour of presentation and questions. “And for educating us.”

Laura Leebrick and Garry Penning, who manage Rogue Disposal’s governmental affairs, said in the meeting that the company continues to hear from customers confused about changes to their recycling programs and who feel dissatisfied with the company’s decisions to restrict options.

“We got beat up a little in the beginning,” Penning said. Differences in terminology, they said, resulted in confusion and anger from customers.

At the end of March, the company announced that just four types of materials could be placed in red commingle recycle containers — corrugated cardboard, tin and aluminum cans, milk-jug style containers, and newspaper. At that point, however, most of the materials were actually being sent to the landfill because the materials were so contaminated with trash and nonrecyclable materials, prompting numerous phone calls from customers, Leebrick said.

Since then the company has resumed marketing whatever material recyclers will take, while continuing to monitor the contamination levels in bins and containers.

“It’s been interesting to recognize and acknowledge that recycling means something different to different people depending on what part of the chain they’re in,” Leebrick said. She told the commissioners that some customers think the collection company turns recycled material into new products. It does not.

In recent months, the company has focused on reducing unmarketable materials in all bins and containers and enforcing compliance through use of its “Oops” tags. Truck drivers use cameras to identify the addresses where contaminants were added to the recycling mix, leaving the contaminated containers behind with the “Oops” tag attached.

Danny Jordan, Jackson County administrator, asked Leebrick and Penning how the company plans to accommodate its customers who fill up their trash containers more quickly as they reroute their mixed paper or other items from red-lid bins into the trash.

“I don’t have room for 25 percent more garbage in my (trash) can,” Jordan said. “So what are you going to do about that?”

Leebrick said that setting up more depot collections for some items formerly being put in red-lid bins, such as high-grade paper or glass, would reduce pressure on trash cans. Both she and Penning said customers have upgraded to larger cans, which increases costs.

Neither Leebrick nor Penning offered any response to Jordan’s question that didn’t involve additional costs.

They did say marketability of customers’ material has been improving. From March to June, the amount of garbage found in residential recycling collection fell by 27.5 percent of the material volume, according to the findings Rogue Disposal presented.

But in that same period, the percentage of formerly recyclable materials increased in volume in residential bins by 8.8 percent.

Commissioners Strosser and Colleen Roberts both acknowledged that the company had been criticized for limiting its recycling rather than raising rates, which Recology, the company serving Ashland and Talent opted to do.

Recology, based out of San Francisco, owns its own material recovery facilities, where it cleans what it collects from communities. Rogue Disposal and Southern Oregon Sanitation pay to send their material to other processors in Portland and San Francisco.

Kristan Mitchell, executive director of the Oregon Refuse and Recycling Association, said it’s difficult to compare communities’ approaches to the recycling crunch. But restricting accepted items is growing across the state, she said.

Among the member companies of the organization, 15 cities have opted to change their collections, 41 cities have raised their rates, and 34 cities have opted for both, Leebrick said, citing data from the Refuse and Recycling Association.

“The work that Medford is doing is out in front,” Mitchell said. “But everybody else is going to be catching up and having these conversations.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Recycled materials are processed at Rogue Disposal in White City on Oct. 3, 2017. Mail Tribune / File Photo