Trash is Art at CART'M Recycling

a flower bed made from an old bed frame

Photograph by Joseph Robertson


There’s a large barn tucked between the forested dunes of Nehalem Bay State Park and the “Manzanita suburb” of Bayside Gardens, and it’s full of trash.

That’s a good thing though, in this particular case. The sign on the way in reads CART’M Recycling and their pledge is to “Lead our Community to Zero Waste.” Really? Zero waste? That’s a tall order, and even for those of us familiar with the excellent recycling programs in green meccas like Boulder and Minneapolis, even by Portland and Oregon in general’s standards, Manzanita is as close as we’ve seen any particular location come to actually eliminating the need for any and all waste.

The process is definitely one that requires the local people to get significantly involved, of course. CART’M’s recycling bins number 18. For those of you used to throwing all of your recyclables into a green bin and leaving it at the side of the road to be loaded onto a truck early some morning, this is a whole different experience. When you visit CART’M, you’re responsible for sorting your own trash, which is no small feat if you’ve ever tried to do such a thing. A bin for glass? Nope, you’ll need to separate your returnable bottles (ie, beer and Mexican Coke) from your other glass, and then further separate that into clear, green and brown. There’s a bin for rigid plastic and for thin plastic, one for cardboard and one for greyboard, tin cans and aluminum cans. It’s a little bit of an ordeal, yes, but all of this community involvement allows the facility to be almost completely run by volunteers. Where you might see an hour of sorting through your own garbage, we found an opportunity to spend some time with the entire family every week. While staying at our various locations, we just piled all of our recyclable materials into a box, and then before we wanted to head over to CART’M, we’d set up a bunch of paper grocery bags and start sorting. Kids love it, and to be honest, I learned to enjoy it as well. If for nothing else, than to jokingly point out that a milk container wasn’t cleaned well enough, making sure our oldest son got a big whiff of week old organic rot. Loading everything up, we’d drive over and start picking bags that were just ready to dump into their appropriate containers.

The final step is to simply gather up all of the empty paper bags and newspapers to, as the sign in the trailer around the side of the building states, “Fling that newspaper back!” When the actual work is done, if you can call spending an hour or so sorting out your own trash with your family work, CART’M doesn’t rush you out the door.

More so than promoting recycling in the community, CART’M wants people to reuse their stuff. Or rather, other people’s stuff. Their thrift store is your surefire bet to find the cheapest TVs, mix and match living room sets, a bicycle, maybe even some hardware to fix up that busted (insert random broken thing on your RV here).

recycling bins full of grayboard and paper lined up in front of signs instructing what goes where
CART'M Bins. Photo by Newelty

While there is always going to be trash, particularly when you’re traveling and so composting isn’t always an option, just look into any truck bed at CART’M to see the ratio of recycling to actual garbage bags. CART’M accepts trash for their standard garbage dump as well, and that may be one of the few ways you could trigger a dirty look from one of the various, incredibly friendly, incredibly helpful volunteers. Not sure what constitutes “thin plastic”? They’re ready to help. Wondering if a TV might work? No problem, they don’t mind kicking its tires for you to find out.

In years past, the fine folks at CART’M put on annual festival, known as the Trash Bash, and we were lucky enough to attend one. Local ladies beautifully garbed in dresses made completely of newspapers, Coke cans and whatever someone-else’s-trash they could clean and create with walk the Trashion Show runway, while art made solely of the discarded remnants of consumerism, such as a massive skull comprised of beer bottle caps, displays itself nicely. Local beers are served up readily and men, women and children of all ages nearly upstage Halloween with their cavalcade of costumes.

One minute you’ll be making a new friend as some random Manzanitian imparts the virtues of CART’M, then you’ll turn around to find yourself being swept up by a seemingly impromptu marching band. Men with stilts will smile and tower overhead as fire jugglers toss sticks of flaming competition against the setting sun.

As of 2012 though, the Trash Bash has been split up into three events held throughout the year, giving you a better chance at landing one of them during your particular stay here on the Oregon Coast. Either way, festivals at the recycling center seemed to embody the spirit of what CART’M is all about: somehow managing to make a bunch of old junk fun. Zero waste might not be that unattainable after all.

Two photos, one of a marching band and one of men on stilts
Left: A Band Marches through the festivities at CART'M's Trash Bash. Right: Men on stilts amusing the crowd. Photographs by Gene Dieken
two photographs: one of a girl wearing a dress made of recycled materials, the other of a crowd enjoying a festival at sunset
Left: a Trashion Show model posing in her dress made of recycled packaging. Right: a healthy sized crowd gathered under the setting sun over CART'M's Trash Bash. Photos by Gene Dieken

Simply put, CART’M is the coolest pile of garbage you’ll ever find. Feel like getting involved? They offer several volunteer opportunities themselves, but even if you aren’t the type to commit to some scheduled in time on the clock, you can always grab a bag, give one to each of the kids, and find yourself a sharp stick. Head down to the beach and pick up as much trash as you can (it’s unlikely that you’ll find enough garbage on any one beach in the Nehalem Bay area, but go wild trying), and then throw on a pair of gloves, do a little sorting, make your way over to CART’M and leave knowing you were a little part of keeping these Neverlands the pristine that they are.