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Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


When is compostable not compostable?

Items labeled compostable or biodegradable should go in the trash, not in your compost bin.

To-go packagingWhat should you do with an item labeled compostable or biodegradable?

Put it in the trash.


We know.

Labels like compostable, biodegradable and recyclable, are well-intentioned, but they’re not always accurate. Many products labeled compostable or biodegradable don’t break down properly at our local composting facilities. And compostable and biodegradable products should never be put in recycling, as they cause major problems for the recycling industry.

We know it’s hard to throw things away, but that’s where all take-out items (to-go boxes, cups, utensils) should go. To keep our regional composting program running, we need to keep it clean, and that means focusing on the food. And food should be the focus – it’s what gives compost the nutrient-rich punch that makes gardens grow.

FAQs about composting at Portland businesses

Q: What do I do with items labeled compostable or biodegradable, like take-out containers, cups and utensils?

A: These items go in your garbage container, not in recycling or compost.

This is true both at home and at businesses. Many products labeled compostable or biodegradable don’t break down properly at the composting facilities. Compostable and biodegradable products should also never be put in recycling, as they cause major problems for the recycling industry.

Learn more:

  • What goes in your compost cart at home.
  • What goes in your compost at work.

Q: But I thought compostable products were the greenest option? Now what?

A: The greenest option is the one that’s used over and over again. Re-useable coffee mugs, water bottles and real dishware and utensils are environmentally better than their throw-away counterparts, even if the throw-away item is recycled or composted. Just think of all the energy and resources that go into making something that only gets used once!

Encourage your favorite restaurants to switch to re-usable dishware and utensils for eat-in orders. For to-go orders, take away as little packaging and paper as possible. Bring your own coffee mug, and ask your local coffee shop to offer discounts for bringing your own mug.

Learn more:

Q: What happens to food scraps from businesses?

Food waste converted to energy

A: Most of the food scraps from Portland businesses are processed in a facility in Lane County that generates electricity from the food scraps before they are turned into fertilizer.

This facility does not accept yard debris or other non-food items like paper products or cups, containers or utensils (even if they're labeled compostable). That’s why many local businesses have moved to collecting just food scraps.

How does food turn into energy? Watch two kids explain it in under 3 minutes:

JC Biomethane for Kids from Kelly Lyon Photography on Vimeo.

Already composting at your business or want to start?

Find more composting FAQs, how-to information for restaurants and offices, and Food Only posters and stickers here.

Questions? Contact us at 503-823-7037 or by email.


Getting bottled water delivery? Consider the tap.

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


bottled water dispenserWhen visiting businesses, our sustainability advisors sometimes 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.

Environmental costs

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.  

Water quality

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.

Options for filtered water

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 bottlesDitching disposables

Whatever 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!

Going paperless takes the hassle out of hiring

An interview with Ashley Frias of Three Degrees restaurant.

When Portland’s Three Degrees restaurant moved their hiring process and employee resources online, they found that it made life easier for both staff and applicants. It also saved time, reduced printing costs and cut paper use by over 9,600 pages per year.

Interview with Ashley Frias, Three Degrees restaurant

Three Degrees restaurant is part of the RiverPlace Hotel, located on Portland’s west-side esplanade, overlooking the Willamette River. The restaurant and hotel are part of the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants group.

Beet salad  Front of restaurant  Dinner

Why go paperless?

The initiative came from our parent company, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. They wanted to move all of their properties – 65+ hotels and 75+ restaurants – to a paperless online employee system.

Kimpton already had sustainability initiatives in place for paper; they required all paper have 35% recycled content and that soy inks be used for printing. But they saw reducing paper as an opportunity to push their sustainability goals further. 

Paper reams

The amount of paper printed, per year, before the switch to an online employee system. 

What switched from hard copy to digital?

Job applications Applicants now apply through online forms. If an applicant is hired, their information is automatically transferred to their New Hire forms, and a manager helps them get set up in the Kimpton online employee system. In the old paper system, they had to fill out two sets of paper work – once when applying and again when they were hired.

New hire paperwork Personal information like social security and checking account numbers are now entered by the employee into a secure online system, rather than in paper form. Our New Employee Handbook – which is 72 pages long – used to be printed for each employee. Every time the handbook was updated, we’d give printed copies to all staff. Now the handbook is online, and staff can log on to the website to read the handbook and sign-off electronically that they’ve seen the information.

We've reduced our paper by 130 pages per new hire. That's about 800 pages per month.

Paychecks Unless an employee requests a paper paycheck, they're set up for automatic deposit and digital paystubs. Employees can also download W4s and W2s from the online employee system.

Employee benefits Each employee has their own log in to the Kimpton online employee system, where they can request time off and review their benefits and performance reviews.

Staff scheduling Scheduling for restaurant staff is now available online, making it more convenient for staff to check their work schedules.

Three Degrees bar menuMenus for staff review Whenever the menu changes, staff are provided detailed information about new items. This information used to be printed, but now PDF versions are emailed to staff.

How long did it take?

It took two years of planning and we made the switch in December (2014). It took time to learn the new system, but now everyone’s used to it, and it’s working really well.

Any tips or take-aways?

We have a computer onsite for employees who don't have easy online access outside of work. Managers help employees get set up in the online system and continue to be a resource if they need help.

The online system is available in Spanish and French, so employees can access information in whichever language they're most comfortable with. We're hoping to make more languages available in the future.

It's great to have everything in one place. Employees can access information on their own, rather than having to go through different people to track it down.

The online system automated many of the administrative processes related to hiring and HR, saving time as well as paper and printing costs.

Which software do you use?

We use Vantage through ADP.

 Log in page  Employee handbook

Employee login page and PDF of employee handbook, available through the online employee system.

What’s next?

Kimpton is looking into moving from a paper to a digital system for conveying restaurant orders to the kitchen staff.

Upcycled Bikes, Beautiful Creations

A conversation with Brian Echerer about his business, Velo Gioielli.

Brian holding one of his upcycled wheelsBrian Echerer is passionate about bikes. He has raced, toured and ridden the dirt all by bike. In 2010, Brian started Velo Gioielli to sell upcycled bike art and jewelry. Velo is French for bike, and Gioielli is Italian for jewelry. Brian got started making bike jewelry as a fundraiser for his bike club. Then his mom, who makes jewelry, helped him get started selling bike jewelry and bike themed art at Portland’s yearly bike craft show, Bike Craft, and Portland Saturday Market. 

Brian works closely with his customers to make what they want. Often they ask him to make something and it becomes the start of a great idea.

Business Support

Velo Gioielli has received a lot of small business support along the way from Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO), Portland State University and Saturday Market. Brian received an IDA savings grant from MESO to get a new welder and a branded canopy for his booth. MESO connected Brian with PSU Business School, where a group of students helped him build the art side of his business. The Saturday Market also provided Brian with an opportunity to incubate his business with other local craftspeople and customers. 

Upcycled from bicycles.Gears sorted in Brian's workspace

Brian upcycles used bike wheel rims, gears and chains into beautiful art. He’s developed great relationships with the local bike shops where he sources worn out and damaged parts, including Metropolis Cycle Repair, Upcycles Bicycle Shop and WTF Bikes. Brian collects, cleans, and sorts the parts by size and type, so they’re ready to be turned into art.

A lot of Brian’s pieces feature stained glass within the steel structures he creates. Since he only needs small pieces, he's often able to purchase "ends" and irregularly shaped glass from Portland stained glass manufacturers, which might otherwise be sent to the trash.

The future of upcycled bike art.

Brian is continuing to grow his business using reused materials. This year he’s attending the Recycled Arts Festival in Vancouver and Cracked Pots in Portland, where everything needs to be 75% recycled.  At Brian’s last event, he sold every piece of yard art he’s made, so he’s listening to his customers and making more. 

Brian's Corgi with garden art