Recycling challenges reported in Ashland

Getting people to use public recycling containers correctly is a struggle — even in eco-conscious Ashland.

Some of the garbage can-sized containers have been moderately successful, while one placed on the downtown Plaza was a dismal failure.

Risa Buck, the zero-waste specialist for the garbage and recycling company Recology Ashland Sanitary Service, said she had high hopes for a recycling container placed on the Plaza three years ago.

"I started my job thinking, 'We must have downtown recycling,' " Buck said.

The container had round holes at the top for accepting aluminum cans and plastic water bottles. It was kept locked, which angered people who roam Ashland plucking recyclable cans and redeeming them for a nickel each.

"It was a disaster," Buck recalled. "People were jumping on it. It made people angry because we locked it. That may have inspired people to put gross things in it, or maybe they would have done that anyway."

Buck was charged with finding an organization, such as the Boy Scouts, to separate out the recyclables from the trash. But the cans and bottles were so contaminated with filthy garbage, that she said she couldn't in good conscience ask any group to sort through the muck.

"I said, 'My mistake.' I moved it in front of Red's Threads," Buck said, referring to a popular downtown clothing store. "It failed there as well."

The recycling container now is in storage, but Buck and the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department have plans to put it back to work later this year at a recycling display planned at North Mountain Park.

The container will sit on a concrete pad and will be surrounded by a mosaic made with recycled material.

"We want people to be drawn to it. Finally, it will have a home," Buck said.

A similar recycling container still sits in front of Standing Stone Brewing Co., downtown on Oak Street.

Buck said an employee from the brew pub must sift through the contents by hand, sorting out the garbage from the recyclables.

On a recent day, the container was filled with plastic to-go cups and straws, a snack cake cellophane wrapper, a vitamin bottle, a yogurt container, bottles and aluminum cans.

Standing Stone has an aggressive sorting, garbage reduction and recycling program in place for all its operations. It sends only as much trash to the landfill each week as a typical American family, despite being one of Ashland's busiest restaurants.

In Lithia Park, the parks department has a trio of recycling containers set up near the children's playground. They are labeled to accept plastic, glass bottles or aluminum and tin cans.

A peek inside revealed recyclables placed in the proper containers, but also garbage that included crumpled napkins and cellophane wrappers.

Parks Superintendent Bruce Dickens said workers sort through the materials, separating out the garbage from the recyclables. They take the recyclables to the recycling center on Water Street.

"For the most part, it's pretty clear of trash. If it is really contaminated, they do have to throw it all away," Dickens said.

This fall, the parks department hopes to get more recycling containers set up in key spots, such as near picnic sites, he said.

"The key is to gradually build it up, make improvements and expand over time," Dickens said. "We're looking into better ways of doing it."

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