Find a new approach to plastic

Last week's plastics recycling events in Jackson County showed we can come up with the stuff if someone is willing to take it: 1,200 residents descended on three drop sites over two days to rid themselves of all manner of tubs and bottles and such.

Pats on the back all around are in order — to the advocates, to the organizers, to those who drove their stuff to a drop site. But let's be honest: All that effort amounts to a drop in the proverbial (and very likely plastic) bucket when it comes to making a difference in what we send to the landfill.

Organizers of the event said this week they aren't sure they have a market for some of what they collected and there's no guarantee they'll be able to collect plastics at another event a year from now. The reality is, it won't take most of us nearly that long to look into the pantry or garage or tool shed and realize plastic we're not using is once again piling up all around us.

Jackson County, the state and the nation don't need a once-a-year opportunity to recycle plastic, they need a new approach that gives everyone who makes, uses or handles plastic a real reason not to toss it when it could be recycled instead.

And while plastic is a convenient poster child for recycling's troubles, the issue is larger.

Oregon had a goal of sending half of its garbage to the landfill by next year, but instead of growing, recycling rates have been falling statewide, from about 49 percent in 2005 to about 47 percent in 2007. The rate is slightly under 40 percent here, which seems good until you consider that means more than 60 percent of our waste ends up in a landfill. That can't go on forever.

How to change? Seattle fines people who repeatedly fill at least 10 percent of their garbage can with cardboard, plastic and other items they could recycle. It's one solution, but strikes us as attacking the effect rather than the cause.

We'd like to see change start at the manufacturing level, where plastics are made. Why allow products to be sold in containers that won't be recycled? Why not offer manufacturers incentives to encouraging packaging that's easily reusable? Why not offer recycling companies or haulers incentives to deal with the common plastics (think margarine and yogurt tubs) that are less profitable to process?

At the consumer level, it should be more difficult than it is to throw away a massive can full of garbage. Rogue Disposal, the Rogue Valley's largest hauler, offers three sizes of cans, the most expensive about twice as costly as the cheapest. Large cans should be more expensive than that, and the extra money should go into educating customers about what can and cannot be reused.

About that education: We still need it. Although the recent plastics event showed consumers are interested in getting rid of plastic in a responsible way, there's a lot of confusion about what you can throw in the curbside bin and what you can't.

Lots of consumers are ready for change, and many of those who aren't will come along as the problems of all that garbage become clearer. What's needed now are changes in the system that move us in the direction we all know we ought to be headed.

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