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Teen with autism known door-to-door in Southwest area

With support of family and friends, 18-year-old launches local recycling service.


PMG PHOTO: KELSEY O'HALLORAN - James Harris collects a bucket of non-curbside recyclable items at one of his customer's homes.James Harris likes to ride his bike, hang out with friends, walk his dogs and grow at least a dozen types of fruits and vegetables in his family’s backyard garden.

At 18 years old, he’s also already a small-business owner; he has turned his enthusiasm for recycling and environmental sustainability into a career that could one day allow him to be self-sufficient.

Harris is close to his family and has become known around Tigard and Southwest Portland for his kind and polite demeanor as he picks up buckets of recyclables each week. He also has autism — a condition that, in spite of its challenges, seems to have made him all the more endearing to those he meets.

“I really liked recycling my whole life, and I wanted to help the planet,” Harris said of his new venture, James' Neighborhood Recycling Service.

Every week, he picks up his customers’ items that can’t be recycled curbside, such as plastic bags and containers, Styrofoam, wine corks, books, clothes and shoes. He sorts the items in his garage and takes them to Far West Recycling Inc.

PMG PHOTO: KELSEY O'HALLORAN - Each week, James Harris picks up non-curbside recyclable items such as plastics, styrofoam, corks, books and clothing.Harris carefully records his customers’ monthly payments and responds to their emails himself. He’s eager to hand out brochures about his business in hopes of serving 60 customers by the end of the year. He already serves 42 households in Tigard and Southwest Portland, and has been listed on the city of Portland’s roster of Independent Commercial Recyclers.

His mom, Kathi Goldman, and his longtime aide, Mardi Gotesman, typically drive the van on his routes, but Harris enjoys taking charge of dropping off informational brochures about his business, greeting customers and collecting and sorting their items.

Goldman said the business idea grew out of her desire to find a sustainable career for her son as he finished school and entered adulthood.

“As his mom, I was like, ‘What now? What’s next?’” she said. She saw the job opportunities available to Harris as limited and static, without many opportunities for him to increase his earnings as he gained skills and experience.

Harris had recently taken to pulling recyclable items out of his family’s trash bin in an effort to slow climate change, so Goldman decided to follow his interest and help him create a business that he could one day manage completely on his own.

Since officially starting the business about six months ago, she said she has already noticed a change in her son.

“A lot of his life has been me pushing him to accomplish certain goals,” Goldman said. “Now, seeing him take that leap, wanting something for himself, is an accomplishment.”

Goldman said she has been encouraged by her neighborhood’s response — one neighbor, who works at Parr Lumber, arranged for the company to donate all the five-gallon buckets that Harris’ customers fill with recyclables each week.

“It’s just been really nice to see the neighbors coming together in support of him,” she said.

Goldman said her hope is that Harris can one day earn enough to support himself from the business. She and her husband are planning to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property so that Harris can live independently, but still be close by.

PMG PHOTO: KELSEY O'HALLORAN - Once he's visited all the customers on his route, James Harris sorts the recyclables in his garage before taking them to Far West Recycling Inc.One day, she said, she might even like to see the business grow to offer the same opportunities to other people with disabilities. The business model has already caught the attention of the Autism Society of Oregon — a representative recently called to ask about the idea, Goldman says.

“To have your own business is a big deal for anybody,” she said. “For people who would otherwise be limited, this isn’t limited.”

The business also offers plenty of flexibility, said Gotesman, a behavioral consultant who has known Harris since he was 10. If Harris is busy one morning, he can catch up on his pickup route later in the day.

Plus, she said, she can tell that Harris cares about the work — while he has sometimes struggled to stay focused in other areas, such as school, he gladly devotes himself to picking up, sorting and delivering recyclables for three straight hours each Monday. It would be an intensive project for any teen, she said, which makes Harris’ work all the more impressive.

“There are plenty of other jobs that he could probably get,” Gotesman said, as she and his family had previously discussed the idea of Harris working at a grocery store or pizza shop.

But she said this business has allowed him to discover a new level of independence.

“Financially, this is going to support him way more,” she said. “More than the money, it’s just the pride.”

PMG PHOTO: KELSEY O'HALLORAN - James Harris (center) recently started his own neighborhood recycling business with the help of his mom, Kathi Goldman (left), and his longtime aide, Mardi Gotesman (right).

Contact Kelsey O’Halloran at 503-636-1281 ext. 101 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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What: James’ Neighborhood Recycling Service collects

non-curbside recyclable items.

Info: 971-217-7444 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.