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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


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

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

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.

You can make this happen by organizing a workplace (waste-free) silent auction, where employees auction off their talents (like baking or home-brew), share their time (like vacation rentals or kayak trips), or bring in fun or useful items they no longer use. The proceeds from the auction go directly to a local nonprofit.

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 terrible / excellent white elephant gift, can be great for workplace camaraderie.

 What a waste-free silent auction looks like

shared talents

Encourage coworkers to offer items that they enjoy making, like baked goods, or knitted hats, or framed photographs they took. Or offer expertise, in the form of a mushroom hunting trip, cooking class, guided kayak trip, or wildflower hike.

re-purposed White Elephant gifts

You can also encourage people to bring in items they no longer use, but think others would like. Sometimes the most popular items are things like a vintage vinyl record or an adult-sized chicken costume.

Gifts of experience

People can also donate tickets to see a game, or show, or a kid-friendly activity like OMSI or the zoo. 

Tips for organizing a waste-free silent auction

Rally the team

You'll want a leader (or two) to plan the event, plus other volunteers for event prep, check-out, and clean up.

Plan ahead

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. The organizing committee can choose one, or have staff submit suggestions and then vote to pick the final one (or two) nonprofits. 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.

Think about payment options. If cash or check is the only option, remind people ahead of time 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 them off at their office.

Be specific about donations

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.).

Take the EcoChallenge this October

The challenge takes place October 3 - 24, 2018.

The 2018 EcoChallenge starts on October 3 and ends on October 24.

EcoChallenge 2017

Get your team together

Create a team – even if it’s just two people – and register. It’s free (and fun)!

Take the challenge

Choose a new sustainable action to take (at home or at work), and give it a try for three weeks.

Pick an action from a variety of categories — waste, food, energy, transportation, community and more — or make up your own. Actions range from easy, like using a reusable coffee mug or taking shorter showers, to more challenging, like taking steps to insulate your home or install a rain garden in your yard.

Go for the win

A win for you: There are some great giveaways and grand prizes to reward you and your teammates for taking the challenge. But the long-term reward is feeling good about doing the thing you always-meant-to-do-but-never-got-around-to — that, after three weeks of doing, has become second nature.

A win for your workplace: This friendly peer-to-peer competition builds enthusiasm for workplace sustainability and is a good way to kick start or strengthen sustainability initiatives.

A win for your community and the environment: The daily actions we take can feel small, but they add up to a much larger collective impact. Here’s the impact EcoChallenge participants have had over the past three years:

Collective impact of EcoChallenge participants

Tips for engaging your workplace

Set up a workplace team

  1. Register for the EcoChallenge
  2. To start a workplace team, select “start a team” and NWEI will help you invite coworkers to join. Or if a coworker has already created a team for you, select “join a team.”
  3. Choose your own EcoChallenge action(s) and encourage others to share their actions and goals, through the EcoChallenge site, an employee newsletter, a bulletin board, or wherever employees get information.
  4. Make a plan to achieve your EcoChallenge, and encourage your coworkers to do the same: Think through what you’ll need to take your new action – if you need to prepare anything, get it ready now so it’s easy from day one.
  5. Look through the tips for being a Team Captain for more ideas and a helpful timeline.

Set up a (friendly) competition

Team captains can challenge another team, and the team with the greatest number of EcoChallenge points wins. Do you share a building with other businesses? Get to know your neighbors through some friendly competition.


NWEIAbout NWEI, the organization behind EcoChallenge

Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) is a sustainability organization that provides innovative social and digital tools designed to change the way individuals live in and interact with natural and built environments. Since 1993, NWEI has based its programming on the idea that individual action compounds to larger, collective impact.Their April and October EcoChallenges are free and open to everyone, everywhere. In the last year, nearly 32,000 people participated in 80+ countries. You can also use the EcoChallenge platform to create a custom event to meet the needs and goals of your workplace, college, or community.

Composting at work: It's different than at home

Business compost goes to a different processing facility and has different guidelines than your home green bin compost.

business compost goes to a biodigester and creates energy

Did you know that your compost bins at home and work have different guidelines? They go to different processing facilities and have different rules about what's allowed.

Business compost makes energy. The food scraps collected at Portland businesses (restaurants, offices and more) go to a facility that turns them into energy.

How it works

Food waste is blended into a liquid and is broken down by bacteria. The bacteria create methane, which is captured and burned to make electricity. The leftover materials are used as fertilizer to enrich soils.

Food gets picked up and taken to biodigester facility

This 1-minute video from across the pond shows how an anaerobic digestion facility turns food waste into energy.  

It's food only

Food is the only thing allowed in business compost, with the exceptions of BPI-certified compostable bags, used paper coffee filters and tea bags. Non-food materials gum up the system and have to be filtered out. See examples of what's allowed and print posters for your workplace.

Things you should NOT compost at work

Items not allowed in compost

While the following items are allowed in your green bin at home, they should not go in compost bins at Portland businesses:

  1. pizza boxes
  2. napkins, paper towels
  3. yard debris, flowers*

Also, to-go containers, cups and utensils are never allowed in compost, at home or at work. This applies to all types of containers, even those labeled "compostable" or "biodegradable." They should always go in the trash. 

*Wondering why flowers aren't allowed? The stems are tough and woody, which makes them difficult for the microbes to break down.

Want to start composting at work?

We've got getting started guides for restaurants and offices, or contact us for help. 

Find more detailed information: