Curbside Recycling: Four Love Stories and a Kitchen Table

by Kevin Kasowski

The idea for one of the rituals at the heart of being an Oregonian – taking the recycling bin out to the curb each week – was conceived at a kitchen table, and born thanks to a little “pillow talk.”

David and Michaela McMahon, founders of Cloudburst Recycling, were strong supporters of OEC’s Curbside Recycling Act (Credit: Cloudburst Recycling, ca. 1975, Portland )

If you’re over 40, you may remember hauling tied up bundles of newspaper to a local recycling depot back in the day. For most other household “leftovers” there was nowhere else to go, except the garbage can and then the landfill.

Our Bottle Bill, enacted in 1971, with Oregon Environmental Council’s (OEC)  help, began to change that (at least with respect to glass and aluminum), but in the early 1980s, a small group of six determined board members decided we could do better.  By working together, this small group of ordinary citizens made an extraordinary impact on our lives today.

Lorie Parker, a law student at Lewis & Clark, and Jim Owens, a land use planner, served on OEC’s board together in 1983 (and living together) when Lorie, to help meet her law school requirements, hammered out the original version of what is now our curbside recycling law at their kitchen table.

At around the same time, Nancy Showalter, another board member, was working with the Hallock Agency (led by former State Senator Ted Hallock, one of the champions of Oregon’s Bottle Bill and land use planning law). She stepped up to help OEC with the daunting task of pushing the bill, which was strongly opposed by garbage haulers, through the State Legislature.

Nancy Showalter served as OEC’s lobbyist during 1983 (Credit: Baetjer/Earthwatch, 1983)

Cue the pillow talk: Nancy was dating Bill Webber, who worked for the company operating the Coffin Butte landfill near Corvallis, and recruited him as an ally. (They later married.)

A fourth OEC board member – Caryn Throop – was married to Tom Throop, a state legislator who, along with Wayne Fawbush, became one of the strongest proponents for the curbside recycling bill.

Meanwhile, two former OEC board members – Jerry Powell and Judy Roumpf (also married) – had formed the Association of Oregon Recyclers, which was also a strong voice for the curbside recycling legislation.

Still … even with all the pillow talk, it wasn’t easy.

“After several hearings, the bill (SB 405) was put through a lengthy and at times tortuous period of re-drafting to accommodate concerns of various parties,” wrote OEC’s then-executive director, John Charles.

Lorie Parker noted that it took “patience, commitment, long hours, sometimes flaring tempers, and countless drafts.”

Excerpt from Oregon Environmental Council’s newsletter “Earthwatch” – 1983.

Happily, SB 405 ended up passing into law stronger than it started, including making it mandatory for cities over a certain size to offer curbside recycling – all with the support of garbage haulers, landfill operators and industry.

This collaborative spirit and willingness to embrace the ideas of others embodies the work that OEC has done over the past 50 years. As Lorie Parker wrote after the bill passed: “What it takes is a willingness to listen, a willingness to give a little on points that aren’t crucial and a clear focus on the goal to be accomplished.”

Laws are often compared to sausages – you may enjoy the end result but you don’t want to see them made.

In the case of curbside recycling, there was definitely some sausage making. But also a kitchen table. And a little pillow talk.

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