Cat Kizer digs through a worm bin inside a greenhouse on her property in Sams Valley. Kizer uses worms to decompose food scraps, newspaper and Kleenex. - Julia Moore

Waste Not

The average person disposes of one ton of trash per year. Not Cat Kizer. The Sam's Valley resident has refined her buying and recycling habits so well, she doesn't even need garbage pickups anymore.

Ashlander Eric Poole hasn't gone that far, but he's sending a lot less to the landfill than he used to.

Poole and Kizer are among 95 graduates of the Jackson County Master Recyclers program, an 11-week course for individuals and businesses who want to cut down on what they send to the landfill.

The class combines classroom education, field trips, hands-on practice and 40 hours of volunteer work, and covers topics such as waste prevention, landfill diversion, hazardous materials and waste management.

Coordinated by the Jackson County Recycling Partnership and Oregon State University Extension Service, the next course starts in March, with applications due Friday, Feb. 4. The cost is $75 for residents and $150 for businesses and governments.

Kizer lives in a rural area without curbside recycling, so she's always made an extra effort to take recyclables to Rogue Disposal's transfer station, she said.

"It still seemed that our large trash bin was overflowing, and we're only a family of two. There had to be a better way," she says, explaining why she signed up for the course.

"We weighed the waste, recycling and compost our family created in a week. That was an 'a-ha' moment," says Poole. "I realized that waste starts with what we purchase. We can do so much by 'precycling' — not purchasing products that generate waste."

Denise Wolgamott, JCRP program coordinator, emphasizes that waste reduction — not just recycling — is the program's focus.

"People learn that waste prevention is at the top of the hierarchy, that recycling is just one step above garbage, and that it takes a lot of resources to recycle," she notes.

This makes participants rethink not only what they do with unneeded items, but how to reduce the materials they use initially — called precycling.

Master Recyclers also learn about the complexities behind materials and waste-management systems. Wolgamott says she particularly enjoys "educating people about hazardous-waste alternatives and sharing information about our landfill."

"The most incredible thing I learned was the astonishing proliferation of plastics," says Kizer. "The transfer station takes plastics, but with restrictions."

She was happy to find out about JCRP's Plastic Round-up event, she says, which allows people to recycle items local programs don't accept.

"It requires dedication to save and store the plastics, but it's truly worth it," Kizer states.

"We're creating less waste at home and doing a better job of precycling and not purchasing products with too much packaging," says Poole, who also improved waste-reduction techniques at his business, Full Circle Real Estate, inspiring him to green up further.

"We're now designated as an Ashland Green Business," he notes.

"We're saving money because we canceled our trash service," Kizer adds. "We couldn't fill the smallest bin available. It's good to know we may be doing something that helps the environment."

Those looking to whittle their waste without taking an 11-week class can visit the numerous websites (see box) for reduction tips and curbside recycling information, to learn about additional items accepted at recycling centers, proper hazardous-waste disposal, special recycling events and the Jackson County Recycling Directory, a listing of outlets that accept all kinds of materials that curbside recyclers won't take.

Melissa Schweisguth is a freelance writer living in Ashland who hasn't sent any trash to a landfill since 2006. She can be reached at

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