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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


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:


Don't flush your Franklins down the toilet

Save money and water by fixing leaky toilets or upgrading to a water-efficient one.

Running toilets lose money

Is your toilet running?

[No, this is not a prank call.]

You could be losing $300 a month* in unnecessary water costs if your toilet’s running.

The good news is, you can often fix a toilet leak yourself with a little elbow grease and a low-cost replacement part.

Use this short, easy-to-follow guide to find and fix a toilet leak.

Replacing an old toilet?  

Choose a water-efficient toilet and get $50 per toilet!

The Portland Water Bureau is currently offering a $50 rebate for replacing an old toilet or urinal with a WaterSense labeled high-efficiency model. Rebates apply to tank-style toilets or urinals and flushometer-style toilets.

Have more than one old or broken toilet? Businesses are allowed rebates for up to twenty toilets.

Before purchasing toilets, read the full rebate details, including eligibility requirements and steps to obtain your rebate(s).

*$300 a month from one running toilet?! Yes, it’s hard to believe. Here's the math:

Businesses pay, on average, 2 cents per gallon for water (for the fresh water coming in, plus processing the waste water that goes down the drain).

A toilet that leaks 500 gallons per day is very common, and it can be even more!

10 dollars per day is how much you’re paying for a running toilet (2 cents x 500 gallons per day).

$10 per day x 30 days = $300 per month


Contact the Water Bureau's Water Efficiency program at 503-823-4527 or by email.

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.