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Cloudburst Recycling

"There are better ways to handle waste. There are better things we can do
than just throw everything in a landfill and pretend it’s going away.
"
—David McMahon

 
 

A green consciousness burgeoned
in Oregon in the 1970s and so did
new green businesses.

David and Michela McMahon did not know at the outset that their idealistic efforts in collecting recyclables would grow into a major business.

The oral history of the McMahons and Cloudburst, its evolution from community service to a major operation, its reflection of the times, its impact on their families, is told in the interviews. The book will be published in 2009–2010.

Cloudburst Recycling, early 1970s
DAVID: Some people did know about recycling, which was sort of a traditional venture from World War II, and there were still paper drives from the Boy Scouts and other groups in those days, but people’s idea of recycling was that a volunteer organization could collect and sell newspapers for the organization and raise money. But our idea was that there had to be a fee so that we could consistently collect materials, and we could collect materials for recycling that didn’t have enough value in their sale to warrant their collection. We could collect things like tin cans and glass that really didn’t bring much money, and if we charged a fee, and combined it with what we could raise from the sale of the materials, we could buy fuel for the vehicle, and eventually pay a wage for a laborer to collect the materials. So it could be self-supporting on a non-volunteer basis. So it was a change in the way you looked at recycling, looking at recycling as an alternative, really, to waste disposal. There are better ways to handle waste. There are better things we can do than just throw everything in a landfill and pretend it’s going away. And so that was the environmental consciousness together with the effort to make it economically self-sustaining.

 

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  Michela McMahon, Cloudburst Recycling  

Starting the service in the neighborhood
MICHELA: We just headed right up 10th Street, and I remember Mrs. Calhoun very graciously brought us inside and signed up for the service. I think it was $1.50 a month. But we decided that we were going to have to offer garbage service, so the combined service we offered was three dollars a month—we’d pick up the trash as well. But if people didn’t keep things properly separated, we would just tell them no. A more traditional garbage service was really what they needed.