You get to dump a big load of stuff from your garage, you feel good about helping the planet, and you run into friends

Fans of the annual Jackson County Plastic Round-up say at least three good things happen when you go: You get to dump a big load of stuff from your garage, you feel good about helping the planet, and you run into friends — or meet new ones — and get to chat with them.

The fourth annual Plastic Round-up started Friday and continues today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at two locations: the Ashland National Guard Armory, 1420 E. Main St., Ashland, and the Jackson County Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point. The fee is $5 for any load of plastic. The fee pays for shipping the castoffs in semitrucks to AgriPlas in Brooks, near Portland. Large loads or businesses pay $5 a yard.

The sites are manned by busy cadres of Master Recyclers, trained by Recycling Partners, which is composed of all the municipalities in the valley, plus Recology Ashland Sanitary Service, Rogue Disposal & Recycling and Southern Oregon Sanitation.

Volunteers sort plastics into big bags of soft, hard and nursery plastics and load it all onto trucks. At AgriPlas, the plastic is shredded and packed on pallets for reuse. Some will be melted down and made into very durable railroad ties, says Risa Buck, zero waste specialist for Recology, which supervises the Ashland Round-up.

"It feels really good to get rid of this stuff," says Denise Moffatt. "I'm a gardener, and that produces a lot of plastic. I take the pots and flats to the greenhouse for reuse."

"It feels good," agrees Michael Stattel. "This stuff sits in the barn all year. It's good to recycle it because of what's happening to the health of the world. Here, it gets reused and we're being good stewards of the planet."

The Round-up last year netted 25 tons of plastics from more than 1,000 customers at the two sites, says Buck.

"I hate to throw it away. It's so wasteful. I wish they'd do this twice a year," says Holly Cochran.

Backers of the event say they are considering doing it every six months.

The Round-up welcomes most plastics, including drip tape, irrigation components, nursery pots, trays and flats, greenhouse film, landscape fabric, milk jugs, plastic hangers, play pools and tarps.

It does not accept PVC pipe, vinyl, rubber, Styrofoam or plastic with metal in it.

Volunteer Saione Penn says she took the Master Recyclers training to educate family and friends about how to recycle so they could help keep trash out of the landfill and to aid the environment.

"The Round-up is a wake-up call for a lot of people," Penn says. "They save up their plastics for a year and when they drop it, they're always saying they can't believe how much plastic junk there is — and they start using a durable water bottle instead of plastic."

Kevin Talbert, another volunteer, says he took the 10-week Master Recyclers training because "the world environment needs to be here for the next generation, and plastics are probably the number-one contaminant, going into oceans and into the food chain."

Round-up organizers are asking people to pre-sort their plastics. Plastic stuff that is still useful will be put in a "free" pile by the exit.

Buck emphasized that recyclers don't make any money from the Round-up. They do it "because it's the right thing to do."

For a list of acceptable plastics, see www.co.jackson.or.us/files/plasticroundupflyer_2011.pdf.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.