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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


7 things to keep out of your recycling bin

Recycling right is more important than recycling more.

Don't put these in your blue bin: 

  1. Plastic bags
  2. Plastic lids
  3. Plastic clamshells
  4. Frozen and refrigerated food boxes
  5. Paper cups
  6. Pizza boxes
  7. Batteries, of any kind

Why shouldn’t these go in? Find out.

Bottom line: When in doubt, keep it out. Recycling right is more important than recycling more, because putting the wrong thing in the bin (like plastic bags) can cause big problems (like jamming the machines that sort recycling).

A behind-the-scenes look at where your recycling goes

Once your recycling leaves your work or home bin, that jumble of paper, metal and plastic, all has to be sorted. The sorting involves conveyor belts, blowing air, giant magnets, and sorting by hand. See it here:

Vinod Singh explains how recyclables are sorted at Hillsboro's Far West Recycling, and where they go from there.

Once the recycling is sorted into material type – paper, cardboard, metal, etc. – then it’s sold to buyers in the region and around the world to be made into new products.

Read more.

Before recycling, can any items be reused?

We often focus on recycling, yet it’s actually at the bottom of the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle hierarchy.

If you want to save energy, water and resources, the best thing you can do is reduce the items you consume (products, packaging) and then reuse the items as many times as possible.

Learn more and then check out Portland’s many free and low-cost reuse, swap, repair and share organizations.

Thanks to our program partner, Metro, who produced the articles and videos referenced here.

When is "compostable" not compostable?

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

What should you do with an item labeled "compostable" or "biodegradable?"

Put it in the trash.

Not in compost. Labels like "compostable" and "biodegradable" are well-intentioned, but they’re not always accurate. Many products labeled "compostable" or "biodegradable" don’t break down at our local composting facilities.

Additionally, these products add little or no nutrients to the compost, and the goal of compost is to provide nutrients to the soil.

Not in recycling. Compostable and biodegradable products should also never be put in recycling, as they cause major problems for the recycling industry. 

Focus on the food. 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.

Compostable products go in the trash

FAQs about composting

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 compost or recycling. This is true both at home and at businesses. Learn more:

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

*The one exception is BPI-certified compostable bags, which are allowed in business compost.

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 items could be 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:

Business Compost PosterAlready composting at your business or want to start?

Read more composting FAQs, how-to information for restaurants and offices, and get free compost posters.

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

Certified businesses shine in Willamette Week (2017)

The May 31, 2017 issue of Willamette Week highlights Sustainability at Work certified businesses.

We’re happy to recognize all* Sustainability at Work certified businesses in a full page ad in the May 31, 2017 issue of Willamette Week.

Thank you to our certified businesses for demonstrating a commitment to climate action through efforts in recycling and compost, energy and water efficiencies, sustainable transportation and community engagement.

*All businesses certified before the press deadline of May 1, 2017 were included in the ad. Those certified more recently can be found in the Green Business Directory. 

Download the full-size PDF.

Sustainability at Work certified businesses WW ad 5-31-17 

Not yet certified?

It’s free! But it will take some sweat equity — you’ll have to make sure your workplace has its sustainable operations in order.

Download the certification application that best fits your organization and give us a call or email if you have questions: 503-823-7037.

Test your road IQ

From bike boxes to the Dutch reach: know your lingo to keep everyone safe on the road.

Sharrow symbol and Dutch reach

A sharrow is:

A) A fancy breed of sparrow.
B) A shovel for making rows.
C) A double-arrowed road symbol for low-traffic streets that are great for people biking, walking, skateboarding, and more. 

A bike box is:

A) A specially-shaped box for gift-wrapping bicycles.
B) A cardboard carrying device that can be attached to bike racks (only works in rain-free environments like Arizona).
C) A small patch of road at intersections, often painted green, where cyclists wait in front of car traffic at red lights. See one here.

A Dutch reach is:

A) When you reach down to adjust your clogs.
B) When you reach for the bill, to pay your half.
C) After parking, you reach to open your driver's side door with your right hand, thereby naturally looking behind you for cyclists.* 

*Why is this called the “Dutch” reach? Because the Dutch bike more than almost anyone else, in big, busy cities, so they’ve learned a thing or two. See the Dutch reach in action.

Door-ing is:

A) Shopping for a new front door.
B) Standing between the TV and a person trying to watch the TV.
C) Opening a car door into the path of a cyclist.*

*You can avoid door-ing a cyclist by using the Dutch reach (see above).


If you chose all Cs, you've got a high Road IQ!

If you chose As or Bs, you're a creative thinker, but unfortunately not correct. Review the C answers to raise your bike IQ and keep everyone safe on the road (but don't lose that creativity!).

Help others get in the know

Print a poster for your workplace to help your coworkers get up to speed on sharing the road. Or read more online.

Download a poster of bike road symbols

Easy ways to get your coworkers excited about Earth Month

Tips, events and a BYO coffee cup campaign.

Earth Month 2017

Engage your coworkers – just cut and paste!

Corporate Sustainability Collaborative, a group of green teams from dozens of Portland businesses, has made it easy to get your coworkers thinking about sustainability in April. They’ve organized an event every week in April, filled a calendar with Portland Earth Month happenings, created a downloadable poster to promote Earth Month, and brought back their Reduce Reuse Recaffeinate campaign for the third year.

Earth Month calendarPromote events

Send tips to your workplace

Win prizes for using your reusable coffee mug

The Reduce Reuse Recaffeinate campaign, organized by the Corporate Sustainability Collaborative, encourages Portlanders to bring a reusable mug to coffee shops April 1-30.

  • Print a poster at your workplace.
  • Hand out punch cards.
  • Let coworkers know they can win prizes this month by using a re-usable coffee mug.

Find more tips for how to encourage your coworkers to participate.

Organized by Corporate Sustainability Collaborative

CSCThe Corporate Sustainability Collaborative (formerly PDX Green Teams Unite) is a group of green teams from different Portland organizations who work together to engage employees around sustainability.

Check out their website, follow them on facebook, and consider joining the group.