Cashing in On Recycling
Bottle Boys honored as Member of the Year for their contributions to the McKenzie River community’s recovery
Story and photos by Craig Reed
“A Dime at a Time.” With that motto, five senior citizens who dubbed themselves the Blue River Bottle Boys have collected and turned in recyclable bottles and cans totaling about $50,000 and made a difference in their community.
The money has been distributed to help in the recovery of the McKenzie River drainage area that was burned to the ground by the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020.
Monty Wilson, Pete Petty, Matt Freedman, Steve Nundebo, and Walt Wilson are the Bottle Boys. They started the “A Dime at a Time” effort just after the 173,393-acre fire was contained in late October 2020.
“It’s a win-win thing to pick up bottles and cans and turn them into cash,” Pete says. “You can help clean up the environment and then give to the library to help those people who run it.
“It’s a way to look after Mother Earth and cash in on the effort.”
Donation recipients have included Blue River’s O’Brien Memorial Library and the McKenzie River Clinic, both destroyed in the fire; the Vida McKenzie Community Center that burned; the Upper McKenzie Rural Fire District that lost its Blue River Fire Station in the blaze; and the Upper McKenzie Community Center, which became an emergency food and clothing center for fire survivors and temporary home of the library.
Other recipients have included the McKenzie School District’s SMART Reading Program, the Boy Scouts, the McKenzie Community Track and Field Complex, and the Walterville Grange.
“Anybody we thought was deserving, we were willing to donate to,” Pete says.
The collection, recycling and sharing effort has been recognized by many in the area, including Kathy Keable, a Blue River area resident and a member of the Lane Electric Cooperative Board of Directors.
She nominated the Bottle Boys for Lane Electric’s Member of the Year Award. A plaque was presented at the co-op’s annual meeting in May to Monty, a Blue River resident; Pete, a Nimrod resident; and Walt, a Vida resident.
“The dedication of the members living in the McKenzie River Valley is so inspiring,” Lane Electric General Manager Debi Wilson said. “What the Bottle Boys have accomplished, one dime at a time, shows you that anything is possible.”
Monty and Pete were collecting and turning in bottles and cans before the fire.
Monty, a retired forester and a volunteer at O’Brien Memorial Library, had been walking trails and picking up trash. On a visit to a remote campsite, a pile of recyclables was turned in for $50. He suggested donating the money to the library.
When the Holiday Farm Fire ignited, Pete evacuated to a motel in Springfield. After being holed up for several weeks, he says he wanted to channel his energy, and thought, “We have to do something to help the community get energized.”
Once the fire was out, Monty and Pete quickly spread the word that they were collecting recyclables to help with the recovery. Their first big haul was from the research team at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. The Bottle Boys also received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to visit campsites and collect and accept donations of recyclables. Lodges, rafters and individuals began saving their bottles and cans for the Bottle Boys.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the use of a Forest Service rig in the collection effort, Pete bought a used pickup for the job. Shortly thereafter, Dale and Cheryl Russell—former residents of Rainbow—donated a pickup to the effort.
“We went to the far reaches of the district to get bottles and cans,” Monty says. “People called us to come pick up their bottles and cans. We’d go to campsites and ask. People have been more generous than I would have guessed.”
When Matt arranged with Jon and Jeri Jo Payne, owners of Leaburg Store, to house recyclables, it saved on fuel and time needed to drive to the bottle redemption center in Springfield. The store also gave people a place to leave donations.
On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the Bottle Boys and a handful of volunteers meet at the store to sort and sack the recyclables. The sacks are picked up by the redemption center truck that travels up the McKenzie Highway once a week.
Some people have made financial contributions to the effort.
“They’re awesome people who are doing wonders for the community here,” Marty Sullivan, an employee at the Leaburg Store, says of the Bottle Boys. “This is a central location where people can drop off bottles and cans anytime they want to. It’s a worthy cause, with all the money going back into the community.”
The McKenzie Community Partnership agreed to be the sponsoring organization, collecting the money raised by the Bottle Boys’ effort and writing checks to recipients.
“It makes you feel good giving money away to the community,” Pete says. “It’s the kind of thing everybody can help with. People who don’t want to go to the hassle of returning bottles can donate them to us.”
One dime at a time continues to help with recovery from the devastating fire