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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


Keep recycling, it matters!

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.

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

EcoChallenge returns: Get ready for 10.11.17

This October’s EcoChallenge is a two-week-long fun, free motivator for you and coworkers to try a new green practice.

This year’s EcoChallenge starts on October 11 and ends on October 25.

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

  1. Choose a new sustainable action to take (at home or at work).
  2. Stick with it for two 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 two 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 planet: 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

Join others around the world

Last year nearly 15,000 people from over 40 different countries took the challenge!
Map 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
Based in Portland, Oregon, Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire people to take responsibility for Earth. They believe the solution to many of Earth’s biggest challenges lies in the power of collective change. The EcoChallenge is an annual event to help people kick-start change and make smalls steps that lead to big changes for our planet.

Trim your waste by bulking up

Reduce waste and save money by switching from single-use items to bulk.

Next time you grab coffee or tea from your breakroom or kitchen, take a look at your kitchen supplies with fresh eyes. You may have overlooked a great opportunity to reduce waste and expense without sacrificing any perks.

Sugar packets and bulk sugar dispenser

Bulk up on sugar and cream

First, consider your coffee and tea set up. Assuming you haven’t done so already, stop providing single-serve creamers and sweeteners in packets. Buy cream, sugar and other sweeteners in bulk.

If you contract for all of this through a beverage service, ask them to switch to bulk items on your next order. If your coffee and tea is provided in single-serve packaging, don’t forget to explore opportunities for providing them in bulk, too.

Ditch the disposables

If you’ve already made the switch to bulk items, there are other opportunities for you to reduce waste. Start by replacing single-use coffee stirrers with reusable spoons. Even if your office doesn’t have a dishwasher, cleaning a cupful of dirty spoons each day doesn’t take much time, and thrift stores are a great source for affordable utensils and other kitchen supplies.

If you are fortunate enough to have a dishwasher at work (either a machine or willing coworkers), you can take a big step forward by replacing all paper plates, cups, bowls, and plastic utensils with durable dishware. Get started by asking employees to donate unwanted plates, mugs, glasses, and bowls from their personal kitchens to the work kitchen. Then fill in the missing pieces at the thrift store. Of course, if it’s important to your organization’s image that you buy new matching plates and silverware, you’ll still save resources over the long run. However, do try the reuse route first if your organization is willing.

Coffee cups and stirrers

Don’t forget about paper towels and napkins

Paper towels are often the biggest source of paper waste in large offices. Some workplaces have made a switch to cloth kitchen towels and napkins. For this, you’ll need a collection basket or box for the dirty linens and a volunteer strategy to ensure linens are washed and returned as needed. Read about a Portland office that made the switch.

If that seems too much right now, start by encouraging everyone to bring in and use their own cloth napkins. Even if only a percentage of employees embrace this approach, it’s a start and gives everyone an opportunity to make a change on their own.

*But what about things that are recyclable or compostable?

Rule of thumb #1: Less is more.

Generally speaking, the less “stuff” you’re disposing of (in trash, recycling or compost), the better: Just think about all the energy, water, resources, and transportation that go into making and delivering something that gets used once and then tossed. Even if an item can be recycled or composted, it’s still better to reduce waste first.

Rule of thumb #2: “Recyclable” and “Compostable” labels don’t always mean it should be recycled or composted.

Things that are not compostable or recyclable

None of these items should go in Portland’s curbside recycling or compost bins:

  • Single-serve creamers or sweetener packets
  • Single-serve coffee and beverage pods
  • Stir sticks
  • Disposable cups, plates and utensils (regardless of what they’re made of)
  • Paper towels

“Recyclable” and “compostable” labels are not regulated. What’s allowed in recycling and compost differs by geographic area, depending on a variety of considerations including local processing facilities, the environmental value of recycling a particular material, and the market for reusing the recycled materials.

Want more ideas for bulking up your office kitchen? See what we’ve done at our office.

And check out: