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Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037

Email: sustainabilityatwork@portlandoregon.gov

Recycling Q&A

Do your coworkers need a recycling refresher?

Tell me again... can this be recycled?

We hear from a lot of people who say, "My coworkers don't know how to recycle!"

That’s why we offer Recycling Refresher presentations, which are great for staff meetings or lunchtime brown-bag presentations.

Some organizations schedule a yearly refresher, others arrange for a presentation when they start to see more trash showing up in recycling, or recyclables showing up in trash.

Our presentations clarify commonly confused items, such as:

Coffee cups go in the trash

Coffee Cups (trash)

Take-out containers-plastic or paper (trash)

Soda cups-plastic or paper (trash)

 Yogurt containers can go into recyclingPlastic bags go in the trash

Plastic – ignore the numbers! Only plastics shaped like a tub or with a neck (like soda bottles or milk jugs) can be recycled in Portland's city-wide recycling system.

Plastic bags (trash)

If you have “additional recycling” collections – like for plastic bags, rigid plastics – or composting, we’ll customize our presentation to what your staff have available to them.

We also answer common questions like:

  • If grocery stores take plastic bags, why can’t I put them in my home/work recycling?
  • Why can’t lids go in recycling?
  • Why can’t things labeled “compostable” go into my home/work composting?

We encourage you and your coworkers to bring items to the Q&A that most commonly cause confusion in your workplace. We’ll let you know if they’re recyclable, compostable or if it’s best to put it in the trash.

Recycling can be confusing, especially because it varies so widely across the country, and even the state. But recycling right - getting the right things into recycling and keeping the wrong things out – keeps our local recycling systems running smoothly and effectively. We want people to recycle as much as they can, but we also want to keep out items that cause problems at local recycling facilities.

Contact us to schedule a presentation for your workplace.

Short-term bike parking

Make sure customers arriving by bike have a place to park.

Bike rack stapleGet a free bike parking rack for your organization

Did you know the City can provide you with a free bicycle parking rack? Contact the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to request a rack be installed on the sidewalk in front of your business (as long as the location meets minimum requirements).

Portland’s 100th bike corral installed

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) announced that New Seasons Market at 4034 SE Hawthorne Boulevard is the site of the 100th bicycle parking corral in the city. The installation is a milestone in a program that has helpedPortland businesses increase on-street customer parking ten-fold in the last nine years.

Bike corralWant a bike corral near your business?  In some settings, PBOT can also set up a bike corral near your business , though there is a cost, and additional considerations. Corrals provide on-street bike parking for 12 to 24 bicycles, so if you regularly see 10 or more bikes parked outside your business, this may be a great fit for you. The City of Portland prefers locating on-street bike parking corrals at street corners in order to add additional transportation benefits, such as creating defacto curb extensions to shorten pedestrian’s crossing of the street and improving visibility for cars turning into traffic from side streets.

Custom whisk bike rack

Create your own bike rack

Have something more artistic in mind? Build on the brand of your business or unique character of your business district with a customized “art rack”. PBOT offers step-by-step instructions and tips.

Battery recycling

Workplace recycling of alkaline and rechargeable batteries.

Battery collectionMany organizations we work with ask us about setting up collection areas for recyclable materials that cannot be included in their mixed recycling containers. Given the electronics used at most workplaces (cell phones, tools, recording equipment, etc.), batteries are one of the items that sustainability advisors see collected most often. If you don’t currently have a battery collection bucket or box around your office or shop, consider starting one.

For years, people recycled their alkaline batteries because they were aware that they contained mercury, which could leach into the environment in a number of ways once the battery was thrown away. The good news is that, as of 1996, mercury is no longer used in alkalines. While recycling is still the environmentally preferable choice, it is okay to throw the occasional alkaline battery in the garbage. If you can collect and recycle alkalines, though, you should. While they may no longer be considered hazardous waste, they still contain elements that can harm the environment, especially given the number of single-use batteries being disposed of each year. In 2011, Metro took in alkalines at a rate of 9 to 1 compared to rechargeables.

Although alkalines can be recycled, it’s important to remember that a great deal of work goes into separating out the copper, steel, and chemicals. Transportation impacts are high, too. If you regularly collect a small bucket or box of batteries, you know how much even a small amount can weigh. Imagine what it takes to move a truckload of them.

An even better approach is to use rechargeables whenever possible. Depending on the type you use, rechargeable batteries can replace as many as 1000 alkalines over time. In addition to saving money, you’ll reduce the environmental impacts of mining, packaging, and transporting all those single-use batteries.

Button batteries

It’s essential that you recycle rechargeables. All batteries contain heavy metals, but with rechargeable batteries, nickel, cadmium and lead are common. Rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous waste and should be treated as such. Don’t forget button batteries, too. Many (whether single-use or rechargeable) contain mercury and cadmium. Do not throw them away.

Batteries (alkaline and rechargeables) can be dropped off at any number of locations in Portland. Visit Metro’s Find a Recycler page to generate a list of drop-off sites sorted by proximity to your workplace. Some places will take batteries at no charge; others charge a small fee. You can also call Metro with specific questions about batteries or disposing of other hazardous wastes at 503-234-3000. For assistance with additional sustainability actions, green team support or staff training, get in touch with one of our sustainability advisors.

Tap water instead of bottled water delivery

Save money and environmental impact by switching from water delivery to tap water.

Water dispenserWhen visiting businesses, our sustainability advisors often see bottled water dispensers in break rooms and kitchens. Some offices choose to have water delivered out of concern for the quality of their tap water. Others like the ability to get hot water on demand. Some simply reply, “We’ve always had bottled water service.” Whatever the reason, it’s important to think about the impact and expense of your decision.

There’s an environmental cost involved with manufacturing the bottles, as well as with transporting bottled water to and from your workplace on a regular basis. There’s also the expense of paying for a service twice: delivery of water through your taps and delivery of water by truck.  

If you’re worried about the quality of your tap water, have it tested rather than make assumptions. Portland has some of the best water in the country, but the quality and taste can be affected by a number of factors. Portland’s Water Bureau will mail your business a free kit that lets you test for lead, copper and iron in your water. (Request the kit by calling 503-823-7525.) You’ll have results in 4-6 weeks to both inform your decision and share with staff. There are also private companies that, for a fee, will test for a broader range of contaminants. However, not all labs are accredited to test for all contaminants.  Details about accredited labs can be found at the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program.

If you decide you still want or need filtered water, you have options other than having it delivered by truck. Consider installing a filter directly to your faucet or to the water line under your sink. If you prefer having a floor or counter-top dispenser, there are models that can be plumbed directly into your building’s water supply. In addition to filtering the water on site, many of these dispensers also have a hot-water feature. If you currently contract with a water delivery vendor, check with them about options for dispensers that use your tap water instead.  A number of companies offer both types of service.

Reusable metal water bottlesWhatever solution you settle on, don’t forget to encourage employees to use durable bottles and glasses rather than paper cups. Regardless of whether you can reduce the energy impact of bottled water, you can reduce waste generated through disposable cups!

What about LEDs?

Learn more about LED lighting for your office or shop

Exit sign

Wondering if you should switch from fluorescents or halogens to LED lighting? Although they provide highly efficient lighting, LEDs aren’t the best choice for every application. They are a definite consideration for EXIT signs, display cases, and some spot and outdoor lighting, among others. LED manufacturers continue to better mimic the soft light of incandescent bulbs, and their cost continues to drop. Energy Trust of Oregon also has new LED incentives available.

If you want to learn more about the best application for LEDs, check out these two PGE seminars being held September 24 and 25 in Portland: LED Indoor & Outdoor Lighting and Human Centric Lighting. If you are a Pacific Power customer thinking about upgrades, give them a call and learn what’s best for your project.