McLaren Innes' house in Astoria's Alderbrook neighborhood is a fiesta of bright colors - including a purple bedroom with lavender trim - but the color of her life is definitely green. Innes is all about the environment and saving the planet. And not just one basket of recyclables at a time. Her focus is on Astoria and all of Clatsop County, In fact, Innes would like to see everyone in the United States embrace recycling the way Europeans do.
"In Europe they hardly have any landfills. There's no room for them," Innes said.
But landfills in the USA are filling up and Innes, who has served on Astoria's 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) committee since 1991, is in the forefront of local citizens tackling the issue.
"I was raised in an era when everything was used, to the gnat's eye. There wasn't a plethora of things," Innes recalled last week. She said she started hearing about landfills filling up "as soon as I left the nest" and by the time she was in her 20s it became clear that something had to be done. "We cut ourselves off from the waste we create," Innes said.
Innes grew up in the Chicago area in the 1950s and lived in many parts of the country before moving to Astoria in 1978. It was while she was a student at the University of Minnesota, majoring in psychology and the humanities, that Innes became interested in natural (organic) foods. She realized then that healthful foods start with a healthy earth. The knowledge ignited her lifelong passion for recycling.
Soon after arriving in Astoria, Innes joined a recycling effort spearheaded by Doug Thompson. An Astoria city council member whose preferred mode of transportation around town was an environmentally friendly recumbent bicycle, Thompson was an inspiration to Innes and other local residents concerned about the environment. "The idea for all of us was to get that out of the waste stream - to get any reusable product out of the waste stream and not in a land fill," Innes said. The recycling was done at the old downtown Darigold building by "a huge cadre of volunteers" working in shifts, who received the items that people dropped off. "Stinking milk cartons were my favorite," Innes joked.
In the 30 years since then, collecting and processing recyclables in Astoria and Clatsop County has evolved from a volunteer activity to a professional operation carried out by McMinnville-based Western Oregon Waste. Known as WOW, the company also provides garbage collection to throughout the county, except in Warrenton. Recently, WOW introduced large gray 90-gallon recycling carts with red lids, which are picked up a couple of times a month within the limits of the county's five cities.
"After all these years of volunteers working on recycling - to be able to walk outside and put my stuff in (a cart) is wonderful," Innes said. And with commingled recycling, it's no longer necessary to sort and separate items. "So many more customers are participating since the large cart," Innes said.
With recycling well in hand, Innes is now turning her attention to composting. Garbage disposals, whose liquefied contents go into the "gray water' system, are anathema to her. "There's no reason to waste those (food left-overs) when they're absolute gold for replenishing the soil," Innes said. Her backyard composting unit shows that she practices what she preaches.
"The core thing, I feel like an American Indian. Everything you take from the earth you give back," Innes explained. "It's keeping this planet - this earth - green."