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Glass thieves lead to discovery

5 a.m. on a hot midsummer’s night, but this was no dream. The clink of glass wafted through an open window.

Ah ha! Caught red-handed at last!

I charged out the front door in my nightie, stopping to peek inside my glass recycling bin. Sure enough — as had happened several times before — the bottles with redeemable value had gone missing.

A dark figure crept through the shadows halfway up the block.

“Hey, you. Stop stealing my bottles,” I yelled, as I padded toward him.

“It isn’t me, lady,” a bedraggled young man responded, guilelessly. “I’m collecting cans from mixed-recycling bins. The guy with the bottles is down the street in the other direction.”

As, indeed, he was.

Blatantly unapologetic, the glass man continued picking through my neighbor’s garbage while explaining that, technically, once residents put their bins out to the curb, the contents no longer belong to them, but to Recology. According to him, Recology doesn’t have a way to make money from collected glass, and so is happy to have pickers take the bottles off their hands. As long as Recology won’t press charges, the police are not going to ticket pickers.

This did not sit well with me. While I can appreciate pickers’ entrepreneurial ingenuity, us residents have paid Recology good money to recycle our trash.

I went inside and phoned the police. Sure enough, the officer on duty confirmed the picker’s statement. Later that day I paid a visit to the police substation, and was told to call the chief of police. Same answer.

The chief suggested I do what he does, which is not to leave redeemable materials in recycling bins, but to turn them in for cash.

Following Chief Tighe O’Meara’s advice, the next garbage collection day I did not set out my glass bin — only my half-full, mixed-recycling cart.

Problem solved? Not so.

When I went to bring in what I expected to be an emptied cart, instead I found it stuffed to the brim with someone else’s mixed-recycling.

In other words, not only does Ashland have bandits making off with cans and bottles in the night, but another set of individuals who are avoiding paying fees by adding their garbage to other people’s carts!

A Recology spokesperson verified that both acts — taking bottles and adding garbage — are illegal. What’s more, the company is having troubles of its own with the night bandits, who have become so emboldened that they are harassing truck drivers.

We decided to set facts straight. Contrary to what the pickers and police believe, Recology does make use of the glass left in our bins.

Correcting a rumor I had heard — that Recology simply crushes glass and piles it on the ground — Recology (like Medford’s Rogue Disposal) had been paving roads around the Valley View Transfer Station, using crushed glass to partially replace rock. Three years ago, Recology ran out of surfaces in need of paving, and began selling the bottles it collects [redeemable or not] to Portland’s Glass to Glass, which crushes and melts them down to create new ones.

Given recent issues with theft and harassment, Recology is developing strategies to mitigate the problems. I was asked not to discuss plans until a fully effective solution is in place. I will get back to readers on this.

In the meantime, we can follow Chief O’Meara’s advice and not encourage bandits by setting out any redeemable items in Recology’s glass bins (or mixed-recycling bins).

Glass and plastic bottles, as well as certain metal cans, can be redeemed at local supermarkets. (As redemption procedures can differ, Recology recommends checking out each locale before bringing materials in.) Participating stores include Shop’n Kart, Albertsons, Safeway, Ashland Food Co-op, Minute Market, Rite Aid and Bi-Mart.

However, redemption centers have their own set of problems. A spokesperson from Safeway indicated that the store’s used-bottle storage container has experienced several break-ins — presumably thieves take bottles to redeem them at another location.

Readers who may not want to spend time dropping bottles into a machine for a few cents might take a cue from a person I know who loads his truck up with used beer bottles, then brings them over to a friend who is happy to do the drudge work for the extra cash.

Consider collecting a bag’s worth of redeemables, then sharing these with someone in financial need — perhaps making friends with a street person in the process. Maybe some church group or nonprofit could organize a community-wide program along those lines.

And if we’re lucky, the Oregon Bottle Recycling Cooperative will soon find the right locale in Ashland at which to install an Express Bottle Drop Redemption Center, which will simplify the process (www.bottledropcenters.com).

The bottle redemption machine at Safeway. Photo by Nina Egert