PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland-based environmental organization is world-famous for motivating and inspiring Oregonians to keep their state clean. 

“Most people know us for our beach cleanups,” said Kris Carico, the CEO of SOLVE. “Oftentimes when I’m meeting somebody new and they ask me who SOLVE is, if I mention the beach cleanups they immediately know who we are because so many Oregonians get involved in that.” 

Carico said SOLVE has engaged many corporate and community groups to help clean up Oregon. 

Governor Tom McCall established the program in 1969 to clean up trash, especially beverage containers, that littered every part of Oregon. 

Volunteers collect trash as part of a statewide beach and riverside cleanup effort. Sept. 21, 2019 (SOLVE Oregon)

Oregon’s beverage industry opposed the first bottle bill proposed the same year. McCall persuaded the industry to fund “SOLV”—which, as Carico explained, stood for “Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism.” 

The Bottle Bill ultimately passed in 1971, compelling Oregonians to return bottles and cans for deposit. 

SOLV started as a small volunteer marketing group until Oregon Fish and Wildlife employee Judie Neilson organized the first state-wide beach cleanup in 1984. The landmark event attracted more than 2,000 volunteers who picked up 2,800 bags of trash. 

Two years later, the SOLV cleanups became an international model. 

Jack McGowan was hired in 2000 as SOLV’s first paid executive director. 

“After I said yes, they said, ‘This is the reality Jack: SOLV has no office, it has no phone, it has no staff.'”

But McGowan and his wife Jan propelled SOLV to new heights during their 18 years of leadership. Local companies and thousands of their employees participated in cleanups across Oregon. They also raised SOLV’s profile with events like the Legacy Walk in 2001 where Oregonians walked the entire coastline over the course of seven weeks. 

SOLV was rebranded in 2012 and an “E” was added to its name

“We like to say we went from acronym to action,” said Carico. 

Today, SOLVE has 11 staffers who marshal 40,000 volunteers every year for hundreds of cleanup projects. The organization celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. 

SOLVE at 50: First of its kind a national leader

“We couldn’t do it without our volunteers,” Carico said. “So we like to say we’re small but mighty.” 

SOLVE’s annual spring beach cleanup was rescheduled this year. It’s now set to take place on July 5. 

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