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Finding opportunity in a recycling challenge

When recycling non-curbside plastics was no longer an option, New Seasons Market looked for opportunities for positive change.

NSM staff and recycling bins

For years, New Seasons Market has invited customers to take their hard-to-recycle plastics to stores, to make it easier and more convenient for customers to recycle “extra” plastics that aren’t allowed in their blue recycling bins at work or at home.

This October, new restrictions in the international recycling markets meant the store’s previous options for recycling “extra” plastics stopped. With no place to send the collected material, New Seasons had to stop offering the collection service.

New Seasons saw these changes as an opportunity to reevaluate plastics and packaging across their business. They focused on three key areas: educating and retraining staff, addressing packaging, and examining plastic in the customer shopping experience.

Following the hierarchy: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Using the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle hierarchy for guidance, they spoke with staff, suppliers and customers to discuss ideas for reducing and reusing in each area.

Here are some of the ideas – some are just getting started and others have been in place for years:

 BYO coffee mug sign at NSM  NSM customers with reusable bag NSM Bag it forward

Engaging customers

To help answer questions from customers about the changes to plastics recycling, New Seasons Market added educational messaging and resources on their website. They also posted educational signs in stores, and have brought in a Master Recycler volunteer to help answer questions at one store location (with more to come).

In stores, staff and signs encourage customers towards reusable options:

  • Reusable dishes for in-store dining.
  • Safe use of reusable customer containers and bags for bulk and produce.
  • Financial incentives for using a reusable coffee mug and bringing reusable grocery bags.

Sign in diary case with tips for using less packaging

Educating staff

At each store, employee Green Teams focused on reminding staff about which items can and cannot be recycled, and the importance of sorting properly and making sure items are sufficiently clean.

Working with suppliers

New Seasons Market staff contacted vendors to discuss options for switching shipping materials and packaging to more recyclable or reusable options.

Products made with less stuff: New Seasons' thinner plastic produce bags are an example of lightweighting, or reducing the quantity of material that goes into the manufacture of an item, thereby reducing the environmental impact of resources used and the environmental impacts derived from transporting it. The thinner bags use 35 percent less material.

Reusable shipping containers: Most of New Seasons' wellness products arrive in plastic reusable shipping totes that get returned to the vendor.

Deposit containers: New Seasons sells some local dairy products in reusable, glass deposit bottles.

Local bike transport: By partnering with a local trike-delivery service, B-line, local products are delivered to stores with fewer transportation emissions and less packaging.

Continuous improvement

For New Seasons Market, looking for opportunities and partnerships to improve sustainability is a continual process. This spring they plan to look at their internal packaging (grab-and-go foods), with an eye towards reducing, reusing and recycling.

How can you find opportunity in this recycling challenge?

Take advantage of the incentives New Seasons and others offer for bringing your own coffee mug and reusable bag. Avoid packaging by buying bulk products – and bring your own reusable containers. If you work downtown and eat out, sign up for reusable take-out containers.

Reusable alternatives

You can do a lot at your workplace as well, including buying items in bulk to avoid individual packaging, switching to reusable dishware in the breakroom and at catered events, and talking to vendors about reducing their packaging and shipping materials.

ResourcefulPDXAt both home and work, avoid one-time-use disposable items, and aim to buy products that you can use for years to come. Long-lasting products will save you the time and hassle of frequent replacements, reduce packaging and product waste, and likely save you money in the long run.

Find more ideas for reducing, reusing and “buying smart” at ResourcefulPDX.

Learn more:

Thanks to New Seasons Market for sharing their story. All photos of stores, staff and customers credited to New Seasons Market.

Keep on recycling, Portlanders!

Updates on recent headlines about global recycling, and tips for how to recycle right.

You may have seen recent news stories about changes in the international recycling market. Please know that Portland’s curbside recycling service 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

Is recycling changing?

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, if you were collecting “extra plastics” to recycle, you've probably noticed local recycling depots and grocery stores have stopped accepting them. (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.)

State and local governments, recyclers and garbage and recycling companies are working together to address current recycling market conditions and to work on longer term options. Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality is leading this effort: You can find more information on the recycling market conditions and what it means for Oregon on their website.

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

Leadership in Equity: A highlight from GoGreen 2017

Learn more about the organizations and efforts recognized at GoGreen 2017 for their leadership to advance equity.

Leadership and Innovative Partnerships to Advance Equity

Leadership to Advance Equity

This year’s GoGreen Conference recognized business leadership and innovative partnerships to advance equity in the Portland area. If you’re looking for fresh ideas and new local resources for integrating equity into your workplace, here are some highlights:


Emerging Leaders Internship (ELI) places amazingly talented college students of color, first-generation to go to college, or low-income college students with Portland's top companies. After just 18 months from its founding, Emerging Leaders Internship received 670 internship applications and has 140 open intern positions to fill at these companies. They are creating a community of companies who believe in the importance of diversity in leadership and are actively creating pathways to leadership in their companies.

Recognized: Ryan Buchanan, CEO, eROI and Founder, Emerging Leaders Internship and Cinthia Manuel, Director of Internships, Portland Leadership Foundation

We Hire Refugees

Indow partnered with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), a nonprofit organization, to form We Hire Refugees. We Hire Refugees is a platform for businesses of all sizes to declare that refugees make our communities, companies and country stronger. Companies can sign if they welcome, hire or support refugees. Employers can also find best practices and resources.

Recognized: Sam Pardue, CEO & Founder, Indow and Lee Po Cha, Executive Director, Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization


Partners in Diversity (PiD) operates as an affiliate of the Portland Business Alliance Charitable Institute and seeks to address employers’ critical needs for achieving and empowering a workforce that reflects the rapidly changing demographics of the Pacific Northwest. They do educational programs, job postings and distribution of information for CEOs and for those who work in human resources or in diversity roles. PiD also helps recently relocated professionals of color connect with the multicultural community through major networking events such as their signature Say Hey! event, civic engagement opportunities, social media, our website and personal relationships.

Portland General Electric (PGE) has partnered with Partners in Diversity to host the PGE Diversity Summit. The 2015 summit drew an audience of over 1,000 people from across the region to discuss diversification of workforces. They anticipate a similar crowd at the 2018 PGE Diversity Summit.

Recognized: Mari Watanabe, Executive Director, Partners in Diversity and Kurt Jun, Diversity & Inclusion Director, Portland General Electric


Organized by the Corporate Sustainability Collaborative


The Leadership and Innovative Partnerships to Advance Equity session was organized by the Corporate Sustainability Collaborative (CSC) with support from CSC members Sustainability at Work and GoGreen. Session judges were Tastonga Davis, Deputy Director, Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon, Mary Moerlins, Community Affairs and Environmental Programs Manager, NW Natural and Thuy Tu, Principal and Founder, Thuy Tu Consulting, LLC.

The Corporate Sustainability Collaborative is a no-cost membership organization for sustainably minded employees in the Portland area to share ideas and learn from others.

How to host a holiday (waste-free) workplace silent auction

Workplace silent auctions are a great way to raise money for a local non-profit and get sustainable gifts for friends and family.

Make holiday gift giving fun, convenient and charitable

workplace silent auction

How does this sound for your holiday shopping experience?

  • Items are brought to your workplace for you to choose from.
  • All the money you spend goes to a good cause.
  • Gifts include unique, local experiences and time-saving services.
  • No waste is created in the purchase or delivery of the item.

You can make this happen by organizing a workplace silent auction, where employees auction off their talents – baking, gardening, sailing – and bring in items they no longer use, but others would like.

It’s fun! You get to learn about, and benefit from, your coworkers’ talents: homemade baked goods, hand-knitted hats, home-brewed beer.

shared talents

Plus, people love to compete over a coveted item: Usually the most ridiculous white elephant, like a one-hour video of a spinning pizza, or an adult-sized chicken costume.

re-purposed White Elephant gifts

It’s great place to shop for holiday gifts. Instead of the same old gift cards, socks and scented candles, get unique gifts like tickets to your friends and family members' favorite sports team, or music show, or kid-friendly activity like OMSI or the zoo. Or how about a gift of an expert-led mushroom hunting trip, cooking class, sailing adventure on the Willamette, or weekend at a beach cabin?

It feels good to give back to your community. The proceeds from the auction go directly to a local non-profit: The organizing committee can choose one, or have staff submit suggestions and then vote to pick the final one (or two) non-profits. 

Our office has organized a silent auction for the past ten years and has raised over $30,000 for local non-profits. It’s also something people look forward to every year – a little friendly competition, especially over a terribly excellent white elephant gift, can be great for workplace camaraderie.

Gifts of experience

Tips for organizing a workplace (waste-free) silent auction

Be specific about what people should donate. Ask staff to bring in used (but still usable) items, or “gifts of experience.” Emphasize that it’s a “clean out your closet” event, and staff should not buy new items for the event.


  • Sports, theater, music or museum tickets.
  • Skills to offer or teach: bike repair, photography, baking, mushroom hunting, horse-back riding.
  • Adventures: sailing, kayaking, beach or mountain home rentals.
  • Food: certificates for restaurants, coffee, brewpubs.

Home-made items

  • Jams, preserves, baked goods.
  • Knitted scarves, gloves, hats.
  • Art, craft, photography.

Clean out your closet items

  • White elephant items (as-seen-on-tv gadgets, CDs of 90s music).
  • Vintage: Vinyl records, rotary phones, classic books.
  • Children’s books and toys (in good condition).
  • Hobbies that never came to be (cheese making kits, home-brew kits, etc.).

Who organizes?

  1. A crew leader (you!) steps forward.
  2. The organizer recruits other staff volunteers – as many as would like to participate. 

Timeline and tasks

Early December is a good time to hold the auction, since many people are in “gift-buying” mode. Does your workplace have a winter party? If it’s early enough in December, that’s a great time.

Start soliciting re-used items and “gifts of experience” from staff a month or two before the auction (October or November if you’re aiming for a December event).

Choose the organization the auction is raising money for. Register the auction on the organization’s website or contact them to let them know about event.

Start putting items on display one week or more before the auction day.

Remind people the week or day before the auction to bring cash and checks. Designate a volunteer to follow up with any people that haven’t collected their items or paid for them (people may not realize they were the highest bid). Collect funds immediately after the auction ends.

Contact the organization to come retrieve funds, or drop off at their office.

Changes to “extra plastics” recycling (September 2017)

If you collect non-curbside plastics at work or home, Portland area recycling depots are no longer accepting these plastics, due to changes in the recycling market.

Do you collect non-curbside plastics to drop off at a local recycling depot? Commonly collected non-curbside plastics include plastic bags, take-out containers, and other plastics that can’t go into your regular work or home curbside mixed recycling bin.

Non curbside plastics

If you collect these items at work or at home, please be aware that many recycling drop-off facilities have suspended their acceptance of these plastics:

  • Far West Recycling, a recycling depot with multiple Portland locations, has stopped accepting non-curbside plastics as of September 12, 2017. They are still accepting limited types of plastic bottles.
  • B-Line, which has offered pick-up service for these extra plastics, will continue picking up polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam), but has suspended collection of all other plastics.
  • New Seasons Market stopped accepting plastic bags, to-go “clamshells” and other non-curbside plastics as of October 1, 2017.
  • Other grocery stores may or may not continue to accept plastic bags or other plastics; please check with the individual store.

Metro, the Portland area’s regional government, is tracking the issue.  Read more about the change on Metro’s website. To get the most up-to-date information on where non-curbside plastics are being accepted, use Metro’s Find a recycler online database or call their Recycling Information Hotline at 503-234-3000.

For plastic bags specifically, you can also use this online tool to look up location drop-off options. For grocery store locations, it's best to call the individual location to confirm before making a special trip.

Why the change? Changes to global recycling markets are making it too difficult for local recycling depots to sell these types of plastics. The countries that typically accept non-curbside plastics for manufacturing new products have stopped buying material at this time.

Is this temporary or permanent? It is currently unknown when, or whether, the markets will improve for these plastics.

What now? For plastics that are not currently being accepted anywhere, you should put them in the garbage. You could also store them and check back with Find a recycler to see if anything changes in the future, but we don’t currently know when, or if, this will change.

Curbside recycling remains the same

These changes do not impact your work or home curbside mixed recycling.

Plastics allowed in Portland's curbside recycling program

Recycling is great, but reducing and reusing is even better

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

How? Buy in bulk to avoid packaging, bring your own reusable water bottle and coffee mug, and if you eat out, sign up for a reusable take-out container program.

Reusable alternatives to one-time-use plastics