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Reduce, reuse and recycle ... but mostly reduce

Jamie Rosenthal, a waste zero specialist for Ashland’s Recology disposal and recycling company, says that global awareness of recycling has increased even as recycling options have been reduced for some.

“People are kind of confused about recycling right now,” Rosenthal said.

She said the simplest option for people frustrated about recycling reductions is to focus on reducing.

“When in doubt, keep it out,” she said in an Ashland Chamber of Commerce talk last week.

Recology is continuing to accept most traditionally recycled materials, but Rogue Disposal in Medford has dramatically cut back, saying that markets for recycled materials -- especially in China -- have dried up. Part of China’s reluctance in accepting recycled materials from the U.S. comes from the contaminants found in the material.

Recology is continuing its fuller recycling in part because the cities of Ashland and Talent have agreed to allow the company to bill customers up to $3.50 extra per month to cover added expenses.

Rosenthal said she often finds contaminants in the recycling bins of local business customers of Recology. Those contaminants include 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.

Some of those items can be recycled elsewhere. They are rejected from the local recycling stream because there isn’t a market that will accept them, they damage the sorting machines at the recycling center, they can be harmful to employees handling the items, or a combination of these reasons.

Rosenthal said people often don’t realize what they’re putting in the recycling isn’t recyclable. Phone books are recyclable with Recology if the 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.

“If at all possible, try not to buy these products,” Rosenthal said, reinforcing the idea 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 using both sides of printer paper or reusing old paper 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 that serves as the destination for Ashland trash has been used for roughly 120 years, but has been significantly upgraded.

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

Rosenthal encouraged community members to call her or Recology, 541-482-1471, for help in creating a confusion-free recycling area at the office and at home. For more information, visit the Recology website at recology.com/recology-ashlandand.

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