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Zachary Colpitts, 4, tosses bottles into a recycling bin at the Rogue Disposal transfer station Tuesday in White City.

Recycling leads to shortfall

Four-year-old Zachary Colpitts happily tossed bottles into recycling bins, making sure they smashed into a million pieces as his mother looked on approvingly.

"I think he's having fun recycling bottles," said 38-year-old Rosie Colpitts, who brought her two children with her to the White City transfer station. "It's a good lesson to teach them."

Over the past two years, the Medford mother said she has paid more attention to recycling and eating organically.

Colpitts and other Jackson County residents have embraced recycling so well in recent years that it has cut into revenues at the Dry Creek Landfill to the tune of almost $1 million annually. Residents also are throwing less into their garbage cans each week as the economy forces families to be more cautious about what they purchase and throw away.

Standing next to her carbon-neutral Land Rover, Colpitts said, "I just want to be more conscious of where we live."

Rogue Disposal officials appreciate the recycling effort, but they said it has contributed to a $1.8 million shortfall in 2008.

The company asked Jackson County commissioners Tuesday for a 3.3 percent increase in garbage-collection rates to help offset the shortfall produced by less demand for the landfill as well as other forces such as the economy, equipment costs and environmental controls.

This would raise the average residential rate by 52 cents a month to $16.51. The increase is in addition to an annual rate increase that has been less than inflation indexes.

"We're really sort of our own enemy here," said Gary Penning, manager of strategic planning and communication at Rogue Waste Systems, the umbrella company for Rogue Disposal and the Dry Creek Landfill.

Since the company first started its recycling efforts in 1999, the amount of tons of bottles, newspapers and other items generated has jumped by 137.5 percent. In 1999, the number of tons recycled was 13,459, most of it from commercial enterprises. By 2008, the tonnage increased to 31,965, but almost half is generated by residential customers.

Yard debris also has taken off. In 1999, about 1,000 tons were recycled compared to nearly 11,000 in 2008.

In 2007, more than 180,000 tons of solid waste was taken to the landfill in Jackson County, but that amount dipped below 160,000 tons in 2008 because of declines in construction waste and consumer purchases.

Rogue Disposal is also noticing that more of its customers are cutting back on the number of garbage containers they are using to save money on rates.

Another problem is that recycled materials are not in as great a demand now, said Penning.

Despite its effect on the bottom line, Penning said the company applauds the success of the recycling program and will continue to push for more innovation in the future. "It is still environmentally correct," he said.

Rogue Waste Systems has added some environmentally friendly features to the landfill as well, including dust and odor control, a new road to relieve congestion on Dry Creek Road and Highway 140, and a new wheel wash facility to improve air quality. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality required a $1 million deposit to cover the eventual closure and post-closure costs of the landfill that wasn't previously expected.

Rogue Waste is asking commissioners to approve a 15.95 percent increase in the amount commercial operations pay to dump garbage at the landfill, bringing the new rate to $40.35. That's still less than the average $60.99 charged at other comparably sized landfills in Northern California and Oregon.

Penning said that the company wanted to avoid asking for a bigger rate increase, so it made its own cutbacks that lessened the rate boost request by 25 percent. The company cut staff, hours of operation and equipment purchases.

The rate for dumping a cubic yard of waste at the transfer station will go up 10 percent, from $10 to $11.

Both the landfill and transfer station are now closed on Sundays. The transfer station is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Previously it opened at 7 a.m. On Saturdays it's open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. The landfill is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour said that if more people recycle, the lifespan for the landfill — now estimated at 75 years or more — could be lengthened.

In addition to generating less waste during the recession, Gilmour said other consumer habits are changing as well.

"People are hanging on to their old stuff," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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