The city of Portland never fails to remind us what not to put in curbside recycling bins—wine corks, batteries, plastic foam peanuts, aerosol cans. But how to responsibly get rid of those hard-to-recycle items isn’t always so clear.

If you live in Southwest Portland, though, independent recycler James Harris has your back.

He’s the founder of James’ Recycling (, a licensed neighborhood operation that complements local hauler recycling services by processing items the city won’t.

Harris, who was diagnosed with autism at age 4, started the business, with assistance from his mom, Kathi Goldman, and aide Mardi Gotesman, when he was just 18, after reading about the effect of climate change on polar bears. Customers pay a monthly $12 fee and place items on the curb in a specially labeled bucket. Harris then comes by in a van, picks up and sorts the items, and transports them to a nearby recycling center.

What began as a hyperlocal endeavor has expanded in three years to service more than 200 households. Harris and Goldman are on the hunt for a bigger warehouse space for the business’s future drop-off site. They’re also developing their own workforce through a partnership with a nearby K-12 school for autistic students. Once students graduate from the James’ Recycling satellite program, says Goldman, they will be offered jobs at the future drop-off site.

“I feel thankful. I get to have a job I really like and it helps the environment,” Harris says. “I get to meet lots of nice people—and their dogs, too.”