KNOX — Paper, plastic, tin and compost all have their place in Joan Sheldon’s home. Newspapers go in a box by the front door, white office paper is separated from cereal boxes, junk mail and other paper go into different boxes.

In the kitchen there are containers for trash that do not include food and a separate one for compost. In the garage, Sheldon uses old birdseed bags to sort recyclable plastics and metals.

Using her system, she generates only three bags of garbage per year, she said.

“It’s easy. When I have something, I drop it by the door or wherever is convenient. It’s about 30 seconds out of my day,” said Sheldon.

Through recycling and generating little trash, Sheldon is living the message of the Unity Area Regional Recycling Center, where she serves as the Knox representative on the board of directors and on the education committee.

The goals are to save the environment and some money for the towns that use the recycling center, she said.

The center is used by nine towns: Brooks, Dixmont, Freedom, Knox, Jackson, Montville, Thorndike, Troy and Unity.

Aaron Paul, facility manager for the center, said there is always a need to remind people to recycle and Sheldon’s example is one people could learn from.

“We have to throw it in people’s faces constantly, remind them we are here and let them know what materials we are taking,” he said.

In January, Sheldon designed a brochure for the center with recycling tips and a list of materials accepted.

There are also new materials people tend not to realize are accepted at the center, Paul said. Those include rigid plastics such as buckets, lawn furniture and children’s toys; plastic bags and wrap such as grocery bags, wood pellet bags and bubble wrap; and freon appliances such as refrigerators and freezers, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

Annie Shelbie, of Unity, who is also on the center’s education committee, said recycling can be easy if people find a reason to do it that is personal to them.

“For me, it’s the idea of trees and killing trees and that translates to saving paper,” she said.

The Thorndike-based recycling center provides an incentive to recycle, Shelbie said: Materials are compressed and sold to manufacturers. The center compresses recyclables into bales weighing between 600 and 1,400 pounds on site and sells them to mills or manufacturers, according to the education committee brochure. In return, the center generates revenue that is credited to the towns and helps them pay for the cost of having the center.

By recycling more, the cost of having the recycling center goes down, said Shelbie.

“Our recyclables are sold as commodities. Cardboard, loose paper and other recyclables are worth money,” she said.

Sheldon said that one of the biggest factors that has allowed her to minimize her garbage is that she lives by herself.

She said she has been recycling for years and that there are two things she does to make the process easy and efficient. She sorts garbage and recyclables as she goes, and she keeps everything dry and clean.

Materials that are not dry and clean will be rejected by the center and thrown out like trash, she said.

Sheldon’s recycling system starts in the kitchen, where there are separate garbage bins for compost, which she uses in her garden, and nonfood trash.

From there she has two cardboard boxes for paper recycling. One contains white office paper and the other contains low-grade paper, including colored paper, junk mail, cereal boxes, magazines and heavier stock paper.

In the garage, she separates steel cans, glass, tin, semi-clear plastic and mixed plastics.

She said she goes to the recycling center once every few weeks. She also helps a neighbor to recycle newspapers and collects old batteries from the Freedom Fire Department for recycling.

So what is in her trash? Plastic bags.

The three bags of trash that Sheldon takes out every year include black garbage bags, produce bags from the grocery store and other plastics with oil or other contaminants on them.

Her answer for why she recycles so much is a simple one.

“It’s just something to save the environment,” she said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com