Leadership students at Ashland Middle School have been working all month to make Ashland less trashy.

Leadership students at Ashland Middle School have been working all month to make Ashland less trashy.

"I didn't realize how much people waste," said seventh-grader Brandi Calderson, 12, sifting through an old bag of recyclable plastics inside the school. "It's kind of gross."

Calderson, like all of teacher Jamie Haden's 80 leadership students this trimester, has been sorting plastics every other day for nearly a month in preparation for the annual October Jackson County Plastic Round-up taking place this weekend.

The public can drop off recyclables for $5 per household (or, for businesses, $5 per yard) 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Saturday at The Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point.

Waiting at the drop-off site to unload vehicles will be about 20 volunteer master recyclers, trained by Jackson County Recycling Partnership, plus representatives from Recology Ashland Sanitary Service, Rogue Disposal & Recycling and Southern Oregon Sanitation.

Parents of AMS students have been sending their kids to school with recyclable plastic since the beginning of October, said Haden, who also teaches health at the middle school.

"You should see our master pile, it's huge," she said, and it was, made up of dozens of stuffed garbage bags piled in a spacious, unused corner of the boys locker room.

So far, her students have amassed about 500 pounds of plastic that will be dropped off at The Expo this weekend by AMS math teacher Eric Sandrock.

"The whole idea is that this class is keeping all of this plastic out of the landfill or the ocean ... a lot of it can even be recycled into building materials," Sandrock said.

In April, during the last plastic round up sponsored by the county Recycling Partnership, AMS students offloaded close to 1,000 pounds at the round up, and about 700 pounds during last year's edition.

This is a first time the round up, initiated in 2008, has been held twice in one year, said Paige Prewett, director of Jackson County SMARTWorks, which partners with the county Recycling Partnership to organize the plastic round up. Prewett is also Master Recycler field coordinator of Recycling Partnership. She said about 80 Master Recyclers total will volunteer at the round- up this weekend.

The Ashland drop-off site, formerly staged at the armory, has been cut from the program, she said, in order for organizers to consolidate and make better use of limited resources.

Prewett hopes to continue holding the round up twice a year from this point on, she said, but the global market for recyclable plastic is in the tank and could impact the next event.

"This year's plastic round up is more unique than ever and Jackson County is lucky to have this opportunity," Prewett said, adding many similar round ups around the country have been canceled because buyers of recyclable plastic are having a hard time selling it.

The reason why is known as the metaphorical "green fence," erected early this year by China, when the country announced that it would no longer accept poorly sorted, grubby shipments of recyclable waste.

"We need people to pay more attention than ever to keeping their plastics clean and pre-sorted ... everything needs to arrive clean and pre-sorted. Nothing yucky," Prewett said. "We provide a higher-quality, better-sorted plastic to be shipped, and despite the fact of a global downturn, our recycler has agreed to accept our plastic based on that."

If the plastic isn't up to snuff upon delivery, Brooks, Ore.-based AgriPlas, which buys the round up's plastic, might drop the axe and, by doing so, bring an end to the county's plastic round up all together, Prewett said.

The round up does not accept PVC pipe, vinyl, rubber, Styrofoam or plastic with metal in it. For a list of acceptable plastics, visit www.jcrecycle.org.

"A lot of the plastic accepted at the plastic round up is not accepted by local curbside collection programs or at local depots," Prewett said. "People should jump at this opportunity."

Kiddie pools, plastic caps, empty pill containers, chip bags, hangers, outdoor plastic chairs, tarps with the grommets removed, cassettes and compact discs, bubble wrap, irrigation line, nursery pots and plastic clamshells are some of the hard-to-recycle items accepted at the round up.

During the April round up, about 15 tons of plastic was shipped off, Prewett said. Last October, when the round up was held once a year, 30 tons was collected, and another 25 tons in 2010, she said.

"It feels good to help," said Tia Wilhelm, a 13-year-old, eighth-grade student at AHS. "Most people don't take the time to organize this stuff and it just ends up in the trash.

Tia, like her peers, said she will be happy to finish the project, which has required many hand washings and included several spider scares while sorting.

It's all been worth it though, said seventh-grader Kalen Gibbs, 12.

"Did you know that there is a giant island of trash floating in the Pacific Ocean?" he said. "That's not good."

Scientists estimate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a mass of rubbish caught in the current of the North Pacific Gyre, to be at least 250,000-square-miles large. Some estimates of the size of the floating mass of trash describe it as nearly 10 times that size.

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at samuelcwheeler@gmail.com.