By now you’ve probably heard of China’s impacts on US recycling markets through their more stringent recycled material standards. Due to increasing environmental awareness in China, they are cracking down on imports of scrap material by refusing contaminated loads and potentially banning certain materials outright.  This program, called ‘The National Sword’, is a strong message to the United States to clean up the material stream. What does it mean for you? Keep recycling, but recycle right.

Here in Central Oregon, the mixed recyclables collected from your curb are baled up and sent to a Material Recovery Facility, where they are sorted. “MRF’s”, using machinery and people power, sort and separate what they can. Fans blow paper, magnets attract metals, and people pick through everything else along a conveyer belt that moves at a pretty good clip. These MRF’s are slowing down their lines so they can do a better job of removing contamination (like plastic bags). While this process slows down, the recyclables keep coming in at their regular rate. Because of this back log and limited space, some MRFs have applied to Oregon DEQ to permit dumping their recyclables into a landfill for temporary relief. DEQ released a statement regarding this issue, along with a FAQ here. The Oregon Refuse & Recycling Association (ORRA) also issued a release and a fact sheet on what China’s actions mean for recycling, and Portland Metro has written about how the global market shift will change drop-off recycling in Portland.

If those facilities are granted permission by DEQ to landfill recyclables, it is still viewed as a temporary measure.  Our recycling is still being baled locally and sent to the valley to a MRF for recycling, and we should continue to recycle, regardless of whether or not those permits are issued. However, what we should stop doing is putting things in there that don’t belong there.

Now is an opportunity to make sure your household, office, school and anywhere else you regularly go, are educated and up to speed about what can go in the bin.  What is accepted here has not changed in a long time, but whether you are a wishful recycler or a new resident, everyone would benefit from a refresher. Here’s a quick break down:

  • PLASTICS: Like we tell kids in our school presentations, “bottles tubs and jugs” can be recycled here. If it’s not one of those, it doesn’t go in your mixed recycling bin! It doesn’t matter if it has a recycling symbol on it – virtually all plastic products do, it just tells us what kind it is. (Check out more of our Recycling FAQ’s here).
  • PAPER: Paper, paperboard and cardboard are recyclable. If it has to be lined with something to keep liquids in (or out), it can’t be recycled (picture that paper shredded up and continuing to repel water at a paper mill). Examples of unrecyclable paper include coffee cups, milk cartons, frozen food boxes, and most paper plates.
  • METAL: Cans, pie plates, and clean tin foil are recyclable. All other scrap metal can be recycled at the landfill, but please don’t put it in your mixed recycle cart.
  • GLASS: Yes, glass jars and bottles, but absolutely they must be in the separate container that is provided.

While recycling requires a lot of energy, it is still so so so much less then extracting virgin material from the earth to make new stuff. So yes, keep recycling. But recycle right. We have signs to help you. Then, go beyond recycling to waste prevention. It is much more important, from an environmental life cycle point of view, to be thinking not just about where something goes, but rather where it came from and all those associated impacts.

The most direct way we can take control of this is to do our weekly shopping with waste prevention in mind. Reuse bread bags to buy loose lettuce instead of a buying the lettuce mix in  plastic containers. Use a cloth bag for apples so you can forgo the plastic molded 12-pack of apples. Weigh glass jars at the register before filling up on bulk items like grains. Use waxed cloth instead of plastic wrap to wrap leftovers. And keep your office, car, or bike pannier stocked with a coffee mug, a water bottle and a bag. Start with those and your recycling bin, and all the people who have to deal with it along the way, will thank you.

Whatever your plans are for the upcoming eclipse, it’s inevitable that you’ll be joined by – or impacted by – a large number of people in our area. And with more people visiting our communities, more trash will be generated. So let’s be a little proactive as hordes of people hit our state, region, and towns! We have an ask out to our community: Pitch in. This could look different for everybody, so here are 4 ideas to Rethink Eclipse and Plan for Before and After:
  • Pack It In, Pack It Out: Heading to a campground, festival, or one of the many eclipse-related events in the area? Since you’re local, just plan to bring your trash home. There are only so many dumpsters and cans to go around, so why add to an overflowing can? Pack some black garbage bags for trash, clear ones for recycling, and green Bottle Drop bags for your bottle and can deposits. (And shop with this in mind.)
  • Prevent Waste: Whatever your plans – emergency preparedness, camping, or festival style – leave the cases of water bottles at Costco and opt to fill up big jugs of water from home. Now is a great time to buy some if you don’t already have these in your camping gear bin.
  • Share Resources: We have flyers clarifying what goes in recycling and what goes in our landfill, and this may be helpful to your neighbor, a stranger, or for a vacation rental or an event. Here is a link to our “Recycle This” & “Landfill This” flyers, with detailed images for home/office use, as well as our NEW event flyers with more simplified images for a public space or event. Print some out and post them where needed! 

If you can commit to doing at least one of these things in the next 10 days, please join our Facebook virtual event, “attend” and share with your local network of Facebook friends. If you have more ideas to help out our community during this time, please add them in the comments!

Deschutes County is seeking applicants for a new Solid Waste Advisory Committee.

Committee members will provide input on how Deschutes County processes solid waste after Knott Landfill reaches its capacity. The County is currently conducting a study that will outline different disposal options. The committee will evaluate the economic and environmental impacts of those options and will examine other aspects of the solid waste system, such as collection, recycling and transfer.

Solid Waste Advisory Committee members will be expected to attend one meeting per month and will not be paid for their time. Residents with experience in finance, engineering and transportation are encouraged to apply.

Residents who are interested in serving on the Solid Waste Advisory Committee should send a letter (by mail, e-mail or hand delivery) explaining their interest and any related experience by Friday, July 28, at 5 p.m. to:

Deschutes County Department of Solid Waste
C/O Timm Schimke
61050 SE 27th Street
Bend, OR 97702

For more information about the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, please call Department of Solid Waste Director Timm Schimke at (541) 317-3177.

Food waste is a big deal in the United States, with global implications when it comes to climate change.  On a day to day basis, you might feel like you don’t waste much food, but here are a few quick facts.

  • 40% of food in America is wasted.
  • 90% of us throw away food too soon.
  • 20% of the food we each buy never gets eaten.
  • Each of us tosses nearly 300 pounds of food each year.

Here at the Rethink Waste Project, we’ve previously focused our efforts around organic waste towards composting. And while we’re still proponents of composting, the bigger piece of the puzzle is preventing food waste in the first place. We’ll be doing research and building out our website to be more robust in including ways to prevent food waste, but in the mean time check out for the best tips we’ve seen so far on this topic.


The compost demonstration area at The Environmental Center is towards the back of the Kansas Ave Learning Garden. We were recently the recipients of a beautiful Little Free Library, installed on an old tree stump near the compost area. This was the perfect excuse to revamp this whole area to make it more attractive and user friendly. That involves moving bins, and if you’re going to move bins, well you might as well see if there’s any good compost in there to use. After a tough winter here in Central Oregon – with many weeks of not even feeding any fruit and veggie scraps to any of the compost bins as they were buried under snow – it was finally time to open things up and see how they look. While the top of the bins often still had unprocessed food scraps at the top, digging just beneath the surface revealed a ton of red wiggler worms – even in bins where we hadn’t put any – and well processed compost. Here’s how we deal with it so we have a nice finished product to spread.

TIP – Unless it s a tumbler/spinner kind of bin, add red wiggler worms to your bin, ASAP. Make sure they get regular food, and they don’t dry out in the summer heat. Come back to this blog post next spring.

Now, in order to get to the good stuff, and get it without the worms, I had to do a few steps. They are quickly illustrated in the pictures below,  but I’ll explain the process too.

Lay out a tarp next to your bin, and scoop it out, lift if off or dump out your compost bin onto the tarp. You can immediately scoop off bigger things like dried out paper or corn cobs, dried out avocado shells and pits, some uncrumbled eggshells, etc. These tended to be on top and around the edges where there was less moisture and less worm activity. Put them either back in the empty bin, or in a new spot or another compost pile that’s still working.

TIP – Find something you can use as a screen, not like a window screen but more like a grate, that can sit over a wheelbarrow. ReStores are good locations for these types of things.

If you have the space, pile the compost in pyramid piles on the tarp. Even one big pile will work to start. Worms like it dark and will burrow down low to avoid the sunlight. This allows us to scoop off the top relatively easy. Grab handfuls of compost, scan for worms, if you don’t see any then drop it onto the grate. Designate where you are putting your worms, like an empty bin, another compost pile, or even a temporary bucket. You can go relatively fast here – its okay if some worms are transferred to your garden bed – though keep in mind if you have kids working with you on this part, they will meticulously look for the worms, without really harvesting the compost. When you get to the clump of worms you can easily put them in their designated spot, and rebuild pyramids of compost so you can keep scooping off the top. (Eventually you’ll be at the bottom where most of the worms are, and at that point you just gather all that material to kick off your new round of composting.)

When your grate looks full, stop adding and scan it for any worms that you missed the first time. Then you can shake the grate, run your hands back and forth, anything to help break up the chunks of compost so mostly the little stuff gets through and the big stuff doesn’t. Knock off the top of the grate back into the new compost pile to continue decomposing. Keep doing this until your wheelbarrow is full. The fun part? Spreading it all out onto your garden beds. I know where I’ve already spread compost by looking for the bits of crushed eggshell pieces 🙂

You can keep going in rounds like that, or do it in spurts. Last week when I photographed this process, I did this process long enough to fill one wheelbarrow, which is a decent amount of compost to spread on garden beds. I wrapped the rest of the exposed pile in a tarp to keep it dark and moist until I have time to finish processing this week.



Bottle & Can Deposit Increased to 10 cents on April 1st, 2017.

Save those bottles and cans! Oregon was the first state to enact the Bottle Bill, and now we’re the first state in the nation to boost a previously established deposit amount. On April 1st our deposit went from 5 to 10 cents (even if it still says 5 cents on the label). The following types of beverage containers under three liters are included in Oregon’s Bottle Bill:

  • Water: Regular, flavored, mineral & soda water, though we’re a fan of good ol’ Central Oregon fresh tap water.
  • Carbonated soft drinks (soda): This doesn’t include kombucha.
  • Beer & Malt Beverages: This doesn’t include cider or wine.

Stay tuned for the following types of bottles and cans being included in 2018!

  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Hard cider
  • Fruit juice
  • Kombucha
  • Coconut water

This year, instead of stocking up on expensive, packaged, specific cleaners for every single thing in your home, get rid of them for good. The average person in the U.S. uses some 40 pounds of household cleaners each year, and many of those products have harmful or toxic ingredients. And the irony is that most of them time, you don’t need any of them.

I hate the cleaning aisle in most grocery stores. On the shelves you’ll find a specific product for every possible thing you can clean, and the overwhelming amount of choices kind of makes you feel like you need lots of different ones. Looking down those aisles you end up thinking you need a separate cleaner (with all its packaging, costs, storage space and chemical exposure) for every room, and often separate ones for specific appliances, areas or materials. Really, a separate cleaner for the toilet, the tub, the sink and the mirror, all in one room?

Resist the pressure, there’s an easier solution that will save money and storage space, conserve resources and prevent waste, and reduce your exposure to daily chemicals. Instead of buying toxic cleaners for each specific item, choose all natural household products to turn into almost any specific cleaner you need, mostly with the same non-toxic materials you may already have.  We have 1 spray bottle with vinegar, eco-friendly dish soap, and water, and we use it for 90% of things we need to clean. Straight up vinegar works for the other 5 %, with vinegar and baking soda together making up the other 5%.

Check out our Non-Toxic Alternatives page to find great regional resources to help you reduce your exposure to chemicals. You’ll find a guide to hazardous household products, how to properly dispose of them and effective alternatives. Simple cleaning recipes (including my go to all-purpose cleaner) for a safer home, from Air Fresheners to Wood Furniture Polish. For your yard and garden you find links to great information on sustainable gardening and using less toxic alternatives in your yard to keep your yard and garden safe for people, pollinators and the planet, including a consumer guide to lawn and garden products to see how they rates in terms of toxicity.



Looking to brush up on your recycling know-how? Got compost questions? Need ideas for creative reuse? Wondering if less really is more? The Rethink Waste Project offers FREE community presentations that can be tailored to any time frame and group needs and we cover all this and more! We have presented at neighborhood association meetings, for rotary clubs, in staff meetings and formal or informal community organizations.  Basically, if you have a gathering of people, we can come and chat! The presentation is a visually engaging overview of the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, as well as covering all compost options available in the area.  Contact us today to book your free Rethink Waste community presentation!

Email denise or call 541-385-6908 x14 to schedule your Rethink Waste presentation.

Once again, I’m kicking off the year with a re-energized burst of wanting less stuff, and more time.  More stuff breeds more stuff, which has huge upstream impacts in terms of waste, greenhouse gasses, toxins, water use etc. Here at the Rethink Waste Project, we recognize that materials matter, that the biggest impacts are upstream, and that there are ways to discard things responsibly. Yet no matter how little I actually buy new things, I still often feel overwhelmed with the amount of stuff in my small home. Papers. Gloves. Toys. Pens. Business cards. I feel like no matter what, I am CONSTANTLY putting things away, and it eats into my free time. Wouldn’t this be easier if I had less? If everything had a home? If I had daily systems and rituals? Wouldn’t I have more time for playing, planning and powder days? At the very least, having a tidy space gives me a sense of calm, so here’s how I’m going to try it, this time.


1. Deal. With. All. The. Mail.

This is where I will start, because it’s the biggest issue in our household. I wish it was all junk mail. That would be easy, but I already opted out and get very little junk mail at this point. Junk mail that does come I try to recycle right away without it getting into the pile. I just don’t have a system in place for dealing with mail, papers, bills, things i need to file, etc. In fact, I’m the worst case example in this blog, which is why I am going to use the 6 suggestions from Zen Habits. Create a mail center (we have one, cluttered with old mail and papers.). Have 1 inbox (again, have it, but’s its overflowing with old mail/paper). Process 1x/week (OK, that’s what I don’t do.) Pay Bills immediately. Enter stuff into calendars and To Do Lists. File Immediately (Again, something I don’t do).  I’m going to add onto that, to sign up for paperless bills for as many as possible while I’m at it. Here’s to forming new habits, I’ll let you know how it goes!


2. Does It Spark Joy?

This is how Marie Kondo would start it. Her “Konmari” method is to start by piling up all similar items together, for example ALL your jackets (from multiple closets, storage, etc), then one by one holding the item, and letting go of those that don’t spark joy. Thank it for its service, and let it go. Start with easy to let go things, like clothes, then move on to tougher more sentimental items. With less random things in your home, whats left are things you only love. I read the book last year and I have gone through my clothes, and I must admit I have taken up her weird sock folding method, but I need to revisit this with the rest of the items. I downloaded this list to help, and just found her new app. We’ll see which is better.


3. A Place for Everything, and Everything In Its Place.

Although Benjamin Franklin said this eons ago, this is an idea that I learned in preschool. Not my preschool, unfortunately, or I might have better habits as an adult. But my daughters Montessori classroom. Everything has a spot, and the kids practice putting their work away before they begin the next project. So my new quest is to make sure everything I love/want/need to have in my home has a place. If something gets a spot in my little home, I better love it. It better be worth the real estate. If not, I’m going to cull it and pass it on to someone else who can love it. If everything has a place, tidying up goes way faster leaving more time for other things. In our post Christmas gift exchange house, new spots must be found, so another round of culling is in order.

As I’m reminded from previous blog posts I’ve written on this same topic, the less I have, the less I have to organize.


Prepare for Christmas morning, or whenever you are exchanging gifts, with a few handy containers to avoid things from all heading to the trash. (And if you stuff this all into a big black garbage bag, then trust me, it’s all headed to the trash). Our handy guide keeps it simple:


Set up a box, bin or bag to stuff in ribbons and things as you go. We often use a reusable Christmas gift bag for this.

  • Fabric ribbons, long twine and decorative material.2016-12-14-22-42-32
  • Reusable containers like metal tins, cloth wrapping, boxes, etc.
  • Name tags can be reused as long as they still look good.
  • Gift bags can be used over and over.
  • Tissue paper  – I keep some of this that’s in good condition to reuse, because otherwise it goes in the trash.
  • Wrapping paper that you really like (or was wrapped around a gift from your husbands grandparents who’ve been reusing wrapping paper since the depression and it would be a sin to even recycle it at this point).


Almost ALL wrapping paper can go in here, with the exception of the foil kind.  Find a cardboard box, an  empty storage container, or a couple paper shopping bags – anything will do –  to put the wrapping paper in while or after the wrapping frenzy happens. Just don’t use a big black garbage bag, because those aren’t recyclable and inevitable people will think it’s a garbage bag and put garbage in there anyway. Things that can go in include:2016-12-14-22-52-01

  • Wrapping paper (all except the foil kind).
  • Paperboard packaging (think cereal box). If it has plastic on one side (say, around a toy) then pull off the plastic and toss, and recycle the cardboard.
  • Cardboard boxes – flatten.


  • Tissue paper ( I know, so much).
  • Foil wrapping paper.
  • Plastic ribbon.
  • All plastic packaging. (Locally we recycle bottles, tubs and jugs, but none of our gifts are likely to be in one of those).

If you liked this, you may be interested in our other recent holiday related blogs, Avoid Leftover LeftoversExperience Based Gift Ideas, Handmade Holidays. For more ideas, check out our page on how to Reduce Waste Over the Holidays.