A new recycling program in Cottage Grove aims to massively expand plastic recycling options for the community and its surrounding areas.
The Recycling Take-Back program, run by local nonprofit EcoGeneration, accepts a wide variety of plastics every Thursday at the South Valley Farmers Market, addressing a notable need for plastic recycling in the area.
“A piece of plastic is not going to degrade in your lifetime or mine,” said EcoGeneration’s founder, 29-year-old David Gardiepy.
The group focuses on protecting biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest by decreasing organic and inorganic waste, increasing awareness of waste impact and educating the public about the carbon footprint of each individual.
EcoGeneration began two and a half years ago as a simple Facebook page created to share information and ideas about sustainable ways of living.
Then plastics became an issue.
Until last year, countries worldwide had relied heavily on China for their plastics recycling. A Chinese ban in January 2018 on the import of plastics, however, has forced local governments and organizations to scramble for solutions as domestic plastics have piled up in landfills or getting incinerated.
As Gardiepy’s Facebook page grew in popularity, he began getting actively involved in more conservation and recycling efforts such as local and countywide litter pick-ups.
“In this last litter pick-up, I picked up the bike path behind Safeway,” Gardiepy said. “We got 24 pounds of garbage and only seven pounds went to the landfill.”
This was due in large part to Gardiepy’s purchase of services with the recycling company TerraCycle.
“At that point I said, ‘You know what? It makes sense to pay to recycle them,’” he said. “Most people don’t realize that recycling is an expensive endeavor.”
Lane County has previously tried to address plastics by holding two plastic roundups, the last of which attracted 1,043 vehicles. As many were left idling their engines during the wait - essentially working against the county’s environmentally-conscious efforts - county officials decided this summer to replace the roundup model with community collectors.
Gardiepy saw a place for EcoGeneration.
Now operating with a volunteer base of about 20 people, EcoGeneration has become an incorporated nonprofit in the State of Oregon and is pursuing a 501(c)(3) status.
In this, the group has launched its first Recycling Take-Back program as a community collector, though not without help.
Prior to the adoption of the community collector model, city staff worker Shauna Neigh had become fed up with the lack of recycling options.
“I kind of started out as a citizen who was frustrated because my recycling was not being picked up,” she said.
Neigh joined a master recycling course and began getting involved in educational and collection efforts at the South Valley Farmers Market early this summer
When the county’s community collectors model came along, Neigh signed up and ran into Gardiepy.
“I kind of hijacked her tent space,” said Gardiepy.
Since September, the two have been working to collect, haul and ship plastic recycling from Cottage Grove. The city has provided storage for their #2, #4 and #5 plastics as well as a truck for hauling to the county transfer station.
Gardiepy and Neigh emphasize that incoming plastics must be cleaned of their product and label-free. Meeting these standards, a total of 109.23 pounds of plastics were weighed in at the storage area last weekend.
Gardiepy said he owes the entirety of this recycling to Neigh and the city, but has also worked to get access to other recycling streams.
“EcoGeneration expanded our recycling way past the county’s,” Gardiepy said.
Using various resources, EcoGeneration has found ways to add to its list personal care packaging (shampoo, lotion, etc.), health and nutritional packaging, disposable razors and their packaging, Febreze air care sprayers, cigarette butts and cigarette plastic packaging, plastic bags, HP Inkjet cartridges, shipping materials (air packs, bubble wrap, etc.) and block Styrofoam.
“Nobody else in Lane County will accept those items to recycle,” Gardiepy said.
Part of this is owed to his TerraCycle services, with which Gardiepy is able to offer services such as the personal care packaging stream.
“I was on a waiting list for two and a half years to offer this program,” he said. “If you were to sign up today as an individual, it would take approximately three and a half years on the wait list to be approved as a collector.”
And EcoGeneration’s list may grow with the nonprofit currently on waiting lists for 127 of TerraCycle’s other recycling programs.
“Our biggest hole in recycling right now is with #1 plastics as no one is currently accepting them,” said Gardiepy. “In time I hope to be able to recycle them.”
In all, the group reports to have collected almost 64 pounds of plastic packaging, more than 10 pounds of cigarette butts and more than nine pounds of personal care packaging. It has also composted 68 pounds of food waste by working with Aurora Café and PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Medical Center.
Though the South Valley Famers Market is facing its last month at its outdoor location at Seventh and Main streets, it will be moving into the Cottage Grove Armory to continue its weekly markets through Dec. 21.
Gardiepy and Neigh plan on following for that duration. Entering the new year, however, there is some uncertainty.
“Until next farmers market season, we don’t have a place to go,” Gardiepy said. “We’re trying to fundraise so we can get a location. If we’re able to get a location, we’d be open five days a week.”
A permanent location in town would also enable the nonprofit to serve outlying areas where community collectors are in short supply.
As part of its fundraising, EcoGeneration sells organic cotton canvas shopping bags as well as bulk food bags and stickers.
“If I were able to sell 10 of them a week, I would be able to be fully sustainable,” said Gardiepy of the $20 bulk food bags.
EcoGeneration is also holding a raffle for October, selling tickets for $2 each or three tickets for $5. Next month will see a “Reduce your Waste” fundraiser in which raffle tickets will be $10 each.
“Our biggest message for everyone is simple: look for ways to reduce your waste,” said Gardiepy. “Whether it be less packaging, less food waste, or ditching the use of disposables. Each little bit helps.”
Gardiepy also encourages people to join his Facebook group “Recycling in the Grove” where he posts new recycling streams and interacts with people who have recyling questions.
Meanwhile, a free master recycler course is coming to the Cottage Grove area, potentially this January. More information can be found by contacting Master Recycler Coordinator Kelly Bell at [email protected]
For more information about EcoGeneration and recycling requirements, visit www.ecog3neration.com.