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Betty and Jon Shelley prioritize reducing and reusing waste over recyclying

PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK SEIFERT - Betty and Jon Shelley use cloth napkins exclusively to reduce waste.

I'm loaded with cans and bottles for recycling, but I find out the hard way that the Raleigh Hills Fred Meyer has shut down its bottle-and-can return shed.

A Fred Meyer employee directs me to the replacement "BottleDrop" center across from Jesuit High School on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

My first impression of the place is off-putting despite its clean appearance. The parking lot is jammed. The lines inside seemingly go on forever. I estimate at least an hour's wait.

Frustrated and in a hurry, I give my bottle-and-can stash to a teenager waiting in line with can-filled, boulder-sized bags. Later, I learn you can simply drop off a limit of two BottleDrop bags and they will be machine-counted and automatically credited to your BottleDrop account.

For more about BottleDrop, go to: bottledropcenters.com/About.

Out in Beaverton next to Highway 217, I discover, again the hard way, that Far West Recycling has closed its Denney Road recycling center after 37 years. The whole complex has been sold to a developer with different ideas for the site.

Next I learn that the remaining six Far West recycling sites (the nearest are in Hillsboro and Lake Oswego) now only take two kinds of plastics (#2 HDPE and #1 PET). The reason: The Chinese, the biggest recyclers of plastics, no longer want recyclables with garbage mixed into it.

What's going on?

For answers, I turn to Betty Shelley and her husband, Jon. The Shelleys, who live in South Burlingame, are legends in the local waste-reduction world. They famously have reduced their garbage to one 35-gallon can a year.

Yes, you read that right: ONE CAN A YEAR!

And no, they didn't go cold turkey. They reduced their trash over a matter of years, starting with the goal of reducing their use of paper products.

It's a little like losing weight, says Betty. Don't try to do it all at once. And, she adds, "don't beat yourself up" if you backslide. Take one action at a time.

Betty has made a profession out of helping folks cut back on their waste. She does it in the name of saving the environment. The federal Environmental Protection Agency reports that for every garbage can of waste put on the curb, 70 cans of waste were used to make the junk inside.

For 17 years, Betty put her passion to work at Metro's Recycling Information Center, responding to callers who wanted to know where to recycle paint, Styrofoam, motor oil — the list goes on and on.

Example: What do I do with all these plastic bags or any plastic items for that matter? Betty's first response is "Can you think of ways to reuse them?" If you can't, you can still recycle the bags at certain grocery stores such as Safeway or Fred Meyer. Reused plastic bags are used to make planks (trade name: "Trex") used for patio decking.

But be warned, the market is in flux. Recycled paper may be the next to lose buyers and that would mean no more curbside recycling. Stay tuned.

Reusing and reducing are better than industrial recycling. Betty and Jon readily share the "three Rs" hierarchy of waste reduction: First reduce, then reuse and then finally recycle.

In other words, don't bring trash into your life in the first place.

Betty has a friend who, after paying for her purchases, stopped next to the cashier and meticulously stripped off unwanted, unnecessary wrappings and packaging — leaving them behind for the store to deal with. After all, her friend didn't come to the store to buy needless waste and the trouble of getting rid of it.

Now back to those surprising recycling closures and changes. We can expect more to come. As Jon notes, the recycling industry, like all industries, is market-driven. When your trash becomes unprofitable, it is unwanted and ends up in a landll unless you can figure out a way to reuse or repurpose it.

The good news about vexing recycling vicissitudes is that they make us aware and force us to treat consumption and waste responsibly.

Betty, who recently retired from Metro, is still offering advice and even a course to those who want to reduce waste. Visit her website at reduceyourwasteproject.com.

Finally, with the arrival of the most waste-littered season of the year — the holidays — Betty and Jon have some timely tips:

• Give an experience, like a day at the zoo, or a meal out, or a massage.

• Give a gift that is consumable, like food.

• Donate to a charity in the person's name.

• Strictly budget what you spend on gifts and how many gifts you give.

• Ask family members what they really like about the holidays. Is it really about gifts? You might be surprised by their answers.

They also recommend reading Bill McKibben's book, "Hundred Dollar Holiday" — find it online at billmckibben.com/hundred-dollar-holiday.html.

Rick Seifert is the founding editor of The Southwest Community Connection and The Hillsdale News. He lives in Hillsdale. Contact Seifert with comments and column ideas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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