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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


Highlights from regional green business gathering

Businesses from Portland and surrounding areas gathered to discuss workplace sustainability on February 27, 2019.

Businesses from around the Portland metro area gathered to discuss workplace sustainability challenges and successes on February 27, 2019.

Tables filled with attendees listening to speakers

Business highlights

Widmer straws upon request signWidmer Brothers Brewing shared their success in reducing plastic straws:

  • First business to #DitchtheStraw with Surfrider’s Portland Chapter.
  • Avoided using 1,883 straws in the first month.
  • Saved money by using less straws.
  • Supported the city-wide ordinance to reduce single-use plastics.

Crave Catering explained the many ways they prevent food waste:

  • Staff consistently monitor food use to minimize waste.
  • Around 200 pounds of food are donated to Union Gospel Mission per week.
  • Vegetable scraps become chicken feed and meat scraps are commercially composted.

Laughing Planet shared how small changes have reduced waste and cut costs:

  • Serving dine-in burritos without foil ("naked burritos") has saved 4,900 feet of foil.
  • Improving recycling cut their trash by two bags a day.
  • Turning off lights at night led to substantial utility bill savings.

Attendees talking with one anotherDelta AV and The Partner's Group offered tips for workplace sustainability efforts:

  • Show how sustainability can save costs and attract customers.
  • Be vocal about your interest in sustainability and inspire others in your organization to follow their passion.
  • Start small and get help from local green business programs.
  • Connect with other green businesses to get ideas and inspiration.

Attendees share good ideas

We asked attendees to share the best ideas they'd heard in conversations throughout the event, and here's what they shared:

  • Collecting deposit bottles for donation can motivate staff to recycle.
  • Refocus a green team's efforts by asking staff for their ideas, and then having them lead a project team. 
  • A business located near Fred Meyer discovered they could bring their plastic pallet wrap to the store to be taken turned into composite decking by local manufacturer, Trex.
  • Spin Laundry Lounge pairs up left-behind socks to donate to shelters in Portland.

Behind-the-scenes tour

The Oregon Convention Center has many award-winning sustainability efforts including:

  • 6,500 solar panels, providing 25% of the facility's energy needs.
  • Rain gardens that filter water from 5.5 acres of roof area.
  • Advanced recycling and reuse sorting systems.

Rain garden at Oregon Convention Center
Water (frozen at the time of photo!) flows into one of Oregon Convention Center's large rain gardens.

Recycling sign with attached examples of recyclable items 
Recycling signs show examples of items that can go in recycling.

Learn more

Read more about the event in an article from the Gresham Outlook.

Get help with your workplace sustainability efforts: Contact us at 503-823-7037 or


Can I recycle this? (Plastics edition)

Find out which plastics can go in your recycling bin, and which can’t.

You’re holding a plastic cup, hovering over the recycling bin, but doubting yourself. Does it go in recycling? Or maybe trash? 

Plastics are especially confusing when it comes to recycling. Here’s a run-down of what goes where and why:

Can I recycle these?
Plastic lids, cups, containers, straw and utensils

No. These plastics should not go in your regular recycling container.Plastics not allowed in city-wide recycling system

At work, and at home, the only plastics you should put in your recycling container are bottles, tubs (6oz or larger), buckets and jugs.
Plastics allowed in city-wide recycling system


Sometimes it’s because the items are too small (like lids), making them too hard to sort out from paper, cardboard and other recyclables.

Other times it’s because the global market for a particular type of plastic changes too frequently. Recycling only works if it makes financial sense for companies to buy the used plastics to turn into new plastics.

What about the numbers on the bottom of plastics?

1-7 Recycling number labels for plastics

Ignore the numbers. The numbers on the bottom of plastics are used by manufacturers to mark what the product is made of. They are not indicators of whether or not a plastic item is recyclable in Portland.

It's about size and shape. The allowed plastics – bottles, tubs, buckets and jugs – are the right shapes to get successfully sorted, and they’re the types of plastic that recycling companies want to buy.

What about plastics labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable?”

Never put plastics labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable” into any recycling container. These “plastics” are made to break down quickly and will contaminate the plastics recycling process and reduce the quality of goods produced from the recycled materials. (Also never put them in compost, at home or at work. They should go in the trash.)
"compostable" & biodegradable plastics

Order free posters for your workplace that show what goes into recycling, compost and trash.

Recycling for a good cause

It's easier than ever to collect deposit bottles to support a cause you care about.

How to collect bottles and cans to donate

Bottle Drop Give logoThrough Oregon's BottleDrop Give program, it's easier than ever to collect and donate bottles to support your favorite nonprofit.

  1. Pick up bags coded for your favorite local nonprofit.
  2. Fill them up with deposit bottles at home or work.
  3. Drop the whole bag off at a bottle drop center.

No need to feed the bottles into a machine one at a time, they’ll take whole bags!

Where to drop off your bottles

While some grocery stores still have bottle redemption areas, there are also BottleDrop centers around Portland that make redemption fast and easy. Look up the closest locations to you

Never used BottleDrop before? This step-by-step photo tutorial walks you through it.

Which bottles have a deposit

Soda, beer, and water beverages in plastic or glass bottles or metal cans have a 10-cent redemption. Since January of 2018, so do coffee, tea, kombucha, energy and sports drinks, hard cider (under 8.5 percent ABV), and juice beverages in plastic or glass bottles or metal cans.

Contact us to request posters showing deposit containers.

Cans and bottles of water, soda and beer

Bottles and cans of coffee, tea, kombucha, juice, hard cider, sports drinks

Note: All beverage containers can still be recycled in your home or work recycling. 

Learn more about the Bottle Bill

Did you know that Oregon was the first state to create a Bottle Bill back in 1971? Learn more: FAQs about Oregon’s Bottle Bill.

Small change adds up

Staff at Barlow High School in Gresham created student scholarships from the return of hundreds of bottles and cans: watch the short video.

4 tips for choosing goals and sticking to them

The new year is a great time to set new green goals for your workplace.

It's a new year and a fresh start. Time to make a plan.

The new year is a great time to set goals for yourself and your workplace. We've put together some tips for choosing goals and seeing them through.

1. Take stock of what you’ve already done

Start by downloading a checklist of sustainability actions that fit your business: office, restaurant, retail or grocery.

These checklists are actually our certification applications, but they’re a great list of actions to start from: They cover recycling and waste reduction, water, energy, transportation, employee engagement and community involvement. Or find more actions to choose from.

Check off the actions your workplace has already done – you may be doing more than you think! Making note of what you’ve already done should give you confidence for moving forward: You’re not starting from scratch, you’re building on your accomplishments.

2. Choose what to take on in 2019

Look at what’s left on the checklist and decide which actions to focus on in the coming year.

Start by looking for one or two easy ones – these will provide quick wins that will be helpful in motivating you, your colleagues, and your leadership to continue pushing forward.

Then choose a bigger goal that may take longer to achieve. Think about how you can break it into smaller milestones to help keep you on track and make it seem less daunting.

You’ll likely need support from leadership and other colleagues to achieve your goals. Think about what they’re motivated by and find ways to connect your goal with theirs.

3. Find others to help

Working with others will help you move faster and create accountability. You may want to find one other person to partner with, or go bigger and create a workplace “Green Team.”

Our Green Team Guide is filled with helpful tips, whatever the size of your team.

4. Reward yourself

While the accomplishment of achieving your goal can be a reward in itself, having something extra to look forward to, whether it's recognition from leadership or a celebratory lunch, can help keep up the motivation.

If getting certified is your goal, we’re happy to give you well-deserved praise in our newsletter, social media and in a full-page ad in Willamette Week.

More resources

Keep on recycling, Portlanders!

It's more important than ever to follow the list.

Over the past year, you may have seen news headlines about recycling that sounded pretty dire. Please know that Portland’s curbside recycling has not changed. You should keep recycling at work and at home! If changes occur in the future, we’ll let you know. 

Portland has one of the highest rates of recycling in the country – and that’s thanks to you! Recycling has many benefits, and one of the biggest is the environmental benefit of reducing the amount of raw materials and energy needed to make products from scratch. 

Recycle right: Follow the list

Recycling Guide poster

As individuals, we can help the recycling system work well by putting the right things in the recycling bin and keeping the wrong things out.

  • Do follow the list of what’s recyclable in Portland.
  • Do not assume a product with a recyclable label means it should go in your blue bin.

When in doubt, throw it out. If you’re not sure if something can be recycled, and you don’t have time to check the list, put it in the garbage. Being a “wishful recycler” can do more harm than good, increasing cost and hassle for sorting facilities to remove the unwanted materials and send them to the landfill. 

Make sure your workplace waste containers are well-labeled with our free posters (we have stickers too) and detailed Recycling Guide poster. You can also contact us to schedule a Recycling Refresher presentation for your workplace.

Reduce and reuseReduce and reuse

Recycling is a great way to reduce the energy and natural resources needed to make products — but you can save even more energy and natural resources by reducing the amount of plastics and other “stuff” you use.

Make the switch from throw-away items to reusable items. Buy in bulk to avoid packaging. Bring your own reusable water bottle and coffee mug. If you get take-out food, tell the staff up front you don't need a bag, napkins and/or one-use utensils. Or, where possible, sign up for a reusable take-out container program.

Recent news about recycling: FAQs

Has what's allowed in recycling changed?

No. Portland's curbside recycling has NOT changed. Your mixed and glass recycling at work and at home remains the same. We will let you know if any changes are made in the future.

While curbside recycling hasn’t changed, the changes in international recycling markets have meant that most local recycling depots and grocery stores have stopped accepting extra plastics. Plastic bags are still accepted in some places: Use this online tool to find locations. We recommend calling individual grocery store locations to confirm before making a special trip.

Where do our recyclables go?

Some materials are recycled locally, others internationally. Most cardboard, glass, metal, and plastic from the Bottle Bill get recycled locally.

Other materials are sent to international markets, where demand for recycled materials from the U.S. has been huge. Pallets of recyclables often fill cargo ships that have brought goods to the U.S. and would otherwise return empty.

Learn more about where recyclables go after they leave your home or workplace.

Why are some things labeled “recyclable” not allowed in Portland’s recycling?

Recycling labels, including the recycling number labels on plastics, do not mean the item is recyclable in Portland’s system. The list of what’s recyclable in Portland was decided using a variety of factors, including what materials have a strong, steady market (that is, manufacturers want to buy them to make new products), as well as whether or not items can be sorted in local sorting facilities.

Plastic bags, for example, can be recycled into products like composite decking, but the bags cause major problems at the sorting facilities; they get caught in the gears of the machines, shutting down the facility while staff have to clean out the gears.

Are “compostable” plastics a good alternative?

No. “Compostable" packaging is not allowed in Portland’s compost collection – this is true for both residential and business composting.

Food is what makes nutrient-rich compost, not packaging. Additionally, “compostable” plastics and packaging don’t always break down and can lead to confusion that results in regular plastics contaminating compost.

“Compostable” packaging is also not recyclable. If it ends up in recycling, it causes problems for recycling facilities and contaminates the plastics that could be recycled.

Anything labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable” should go in the trash

Read more