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Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


Is that lightbulb hazardous waste?

Disposing of leftover paint, fluorescent bulbs and other hazardous waste.

At some point, most of us have stood over the garbage can holding a half-empty can of oven cleaner or a burned-out compact fluorescent bulb and wondered, “Is dropping this in here really okay?”

Examples of hazardous wasteSometimes the answer is a strong, “No.” A partially full can of oven cleaner, complete with its many warning messages, might be an obvious no-no, but you may be dismissing many products as harmless when they are, in fact, hazardous.

Two hazardous items our sustainability advisors sometimes see in the trash are fluorescent bulbs (cfls, tube lighting, etc.) and leftover paint. The bulbs likely contain mercury. The paint might be able to be remixed and reused. These are just a few of the reasons that we encourage businesses to identify and develop a safe and consistent way to dispose of hazardous waste in their workplaces.

Taking care with these products not only protects you and your staff, but also all of the people “downstream” from whatever you discard — janitorial and building staff, waste and recycling workers, and the general public. Safely disposing of these items also minimizes the impact they could have on plants, birds, aquatic animals, bees, etc.

Contacting Metro is one of the best ways to identify what is or isn’t hazardous, and to learn how to safely dispose of it. It’s much better to be sure than to guess. Metro recycling staff can be reached at (503) 234-3000 or through their webpage at Metro’s Find A Recycler.

MetroPaintYou’ll learn that some hazardous waste can even be reused. MetroPaint is one of our favorite examples of this. Close the loop by donating leftover paint to Metro and then buying a “new” can of MetroPaint for your next project.

Images courtesy of Metro

What is the energy level of your green team?

CSG staffGreen teams play an important role in an organization’s efforts to operate more sustainably. They identify goals and initiatives, develop campaigns to encourage staff participation, measure and monitor progress and answer many questions about the hows and whys of proposed actions. Our sustainability advisors often hear just how challenging, slow and often times thankless this work can be.

If your green team has accomplished its goals or has picked all the low hanging fruit, it may be time to find a new focus and purpose for the team.

FMS staffHere are a few questions to think about when your green team is feeling challenged:

  • What impact are we having in our organization?
  • What is our purpose and are we meeting that purpose?
  • Are we focused on short-term projects or long-term goals?
  • Are we including all voices and perspectives needed to help us achieve our goals in the best way possible?
  • Are the goals set by this team agreed upon and supported by the entire organization?
  • How are we celebrating our big and small achievements?

Your team’s responses to these questions provide valuable insight and direction. By reflecting periodically and making needed adjustments, the group is kept fresh and relevant.

Need some support to refresh and re-energize your team? Give us a call. Sustainability at Work advisors can meet with your team to help identify new goals and purpose and strategize next steps. 503-823-7037,

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.