The discovery of discarded needles among donated items left in the "Free Box" at the Ashland Recycling Center on Oak Street shouldn't keep the community fixture from reopening, although improved security may be necessary to prevent a recurrence.
Recology, Ashland's garbage service provider, operates the recycling center, which has included the Free Box for more than 10 years. Recology General Manager Gary Blake says he wants to reopen the box, but isn't sure how to do it while protecting the public.
Until it was closed Feb. 3, the box offered an opportunity for patrons to donate still-usable clothing and shoes, along with toys and occasionally household items. Anyone was welcome to go through the items left there and take what they needed with no questions asked and no paper record.
A Recology employee discovered three syringes while going through donated items. Blake said he assumes the syringes had been used.
The employee was not stuck, but Blake was concerned that someone might be, so he closed the box indefinitely. That was the right call.
The needles may have been deliberately left, but whether it was sabotage or simple carelessness, it's unfortunate that people who depend on the Free Box must suffer the consequences.
Reopening the box may require staff members to inspect all donated items, a cost Recology might be unwilling to absorb. Video surveillance equipment could discourage future incidents, but that, too, would involve an expense.
Community groups have come forward. We are confident that Ashland will find a way.