Rethink Waste Project Goes Full Time!

The Rethink Waste Guide was launched in 2011 as a one stop shop print resource, as a place for Deschutes County residents to go to find information on ways to prevent and reduce waste, as well as manage materials through the online Find a Recycler/Reuser database. Shortly after its launch, the guide became the Rethink Waste Project (RWP) and expanded to include education and community outreach. At that time, I (Denise Rowcroft) took over managing the RWP, in addition to our Kansas Avenue Learning Garden. Since then our community has grown, and along with it our programs here at The Environmental Center have grown as well. So it is with great excitement that I announce that we beginning this January, Ani Kasch, our Rethink Food Waste Campaign Coordinator (and LED program scheduler extraordinaire), will be taking over the Rethink Waste Project full time. This is exciting, because for the first time since its launch the RWP will have a staff dedicated just to that one project. This will also allow me to focus on our growing Garden for Every School initiative, of which our on-site learning garden is just one of 5 strategies.

For the next 6 months I will be working alongside Ani as she takes on this project and learns all its ins and outs, and contributing to special projects like focusing on what we can do as a community to reduce tourism related waste and educate our visitors on how we treat our community. (And if you play a role in our tourism industry, or have a perspective to lend, please get in touch with Denise to find out how to get involved.) We will also be co-presenting on waste prevention through the Deschutes Public Library Know Less (Waste) events this February at various branches, come say hi! We’ll be in East Bend, Sunriver, and Sisters.

I am excited to see the larger impact that a program can have when there is a single focus of its manager, both for Ani and myself in our new respective programs, and I look forward to continuing to work alongside Ani and to continue to be a resource for her and you moving forward. On the horizon, you can look forward to seeing an updated Rethink Waste print Guide to include developments over the past 8 years and to be released later in the year, integrating the Rethink Food Waste campaign into the RWP existing program offerings, creating shorter single topic presentations to be made available to the community, and continuing to assist Deschutes County think through the future of our landfill and our waste stream. And of course, I plan to help out at our next Repair Cafe at The Gear Fix on April 2nd.

In a meeting recently I heard about a wonderful gift idea. A jar filled with 365 slips of paper, each with it’s own memory, given to a parent. It turns out, memory jars are really popular projects on Pinterest and have a variety of applications. It’s too late in the month for me to realistically carry out such an idea, but it made me wonder, what are other gift ideas like this, that are really meaningful, require very little in the way of cash, maybe more of a time input? Dear reader, I’ll buy you a Hydroflask cup of your choice if I like the idea. We’ll be sharing them on our Facebook page over the next week.

In the meanwhile, here are some other ideas along those lines, the most of which can be found on the website New Dream.

What alternatives to traditional gifts have you come across? Let us know in the comments or email denise today! (really, we’ll enter you to win your choice of Hydroflask cup!)


In the past we’ve written about 10 things to do other than shop on Black Friday. 4 years ago REI started their #OptOutside campaign, and began closing its doors on Friday to make a pretty bold statement about using this day as an opportunity to choose being outdoors over our cultural push to just keep.buying.more.stuff.  Oregon State Parks recently announced that once again they are waiving all entrance fees as a way to encourage people to make Black Friday a Green Friday.  Almost every year I do my best to celebrate Buy Nothing Day, which is easy when it means don’t go to a big box store (that technically opened on Thanksgiving…thanks corporate America). But this year I’ve been thinking about how I’m in the minority on this topic, and most of our society is just going to go ahead and buy.more.stuff. So if you insist on shopping on Black Friday, consider adopting one of these 3 standards to guide your spending and use your hard-earned dollars in a way that strengthens our community and prevents future waste.

  • Buy Local: Yes there’s also Small Business Saturday, but hey, you can’t hit every local store in one day and many have sales the whole weekend, so spread that love around! For instance, Pine Mountain Sports is donating half of all sales that day to Family Access Network, allowing your money to go even deeper into our community.
  • Buy Energy Efficient: It seems that Black Friday is not just about holiday shopping for others, but about scoring big deals for yourself. So, if you find that you are using Black Friday as a day to stock up on appliances, use this opportunity to buy ones with an Energy Star rating. Check out this article and resource on Energy Saving 101 with appliances from The Energy Challenge, (another program of The Environmental Center).
  • Buy Quality: The one thing that sales are good at (other than getting our dopamine all jacked up for getting a good deal on crap we don’t need) is allowing our money to go further by allowing us to buy a better product at an amount we can afford. This may be in the form of a gift, for your home, or for yourself. Think Quality Over Quantity. Do your research and read reviews so that you buy something that will not break within 6 months, is made to last for years, and is made with repairability and source materials in mind.

For most of us, our time is exchanged for money. So when you spend your money, you are essentially trading your time for that item.
Was it worth it?



On Thursday, October 18, 2018, it was exactly nine years since Martine Postma organized the very first Repair Café in Amsterdam. Today there are over 1,600 Repair Cafés in 33 countries on six continents. Here in our own backyard, The Environmental Center’s Rethink Waste Project organized the first local event five years ago at Pakit Liquidators, which has since transformed into the shared maker space, DIY Cave.

Repair Cafés are events that connect people with broken stuff, with people who like to fix stuff. Over the past five years, over 400 items have been repaired through 15 local events with different host partners including The Gear Fix, DIY Cave, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, Deschutes Public Library, Central Oregon Community College, and more.

“For us, Repair Cafés fit into the mission of the Rethink Waste Project by preventing tangible waste through repair instead of replacement,” said Denise Rowcroft, Rethink Waste Program Manager with The Environmental Center. “But the really cool side effect of having repair events is less tangible – it’s about connecting people to their stuff in a way that gets them thinking about how they consume and the purchases they make, which is ultimately where we have more impact.”

Repair Cafés are free and staffed by volunteer fixers. Volunteers bring their own tools and variety of expertise, and will often troubleshoot difficult-to-repair items together or share tools. They have expertise in small appliances and electronics, clothing, outdoor gear, jewelry, and small furniture. Rowcroft added that volunteers receive a lot of satisfaction in keeping things out of the landfill, and attendees often really enjoy their interactions with volunteers and learning more about repair.

“It’s exciting to be a part of a global network of people, helping each other out by fixing stuff. It’s building community and resilience, and it’s just really fun.”

Shortly following International Repair Café Week, October 13 -21, the next local Repair Café will be on October 30, 2018 at the Redmond Public Library from 5:30 -7:30 p.m. People can bring in multiple items for repair, but are asked to sign up for one at a time so as not to dominate one volunteer for the whole evening.

“Repair café events are a perfect fit for Library programming,” said Liz Goodrich of the Deschutes Public Library. “These fun, community-based events provide opportunities for the volunteers to share their skills with participants.”

Back to school means school lunches! In our house we have a 5 year old Food Hero (she’ll try it, but she often just doesn’t like it), whose tastes are not reliable. When I took these photos she decided she didn’t like yogurt covered raisins anymore (cause raisins are on the outs, at least for now). With her finicky ways, I’m trying to get her more involved in preparing her own school lunches in the hopes of reducing packaging waste and preventing food waste.

10% of what you pay for a product is packaging. So if you’re grabbing the individually bagged snacks you’re paying more, creating more waste, and have less actual product.  Buy in bulk to sample new things (like yogurt covered raisins) that way you can dial in something they love – at least for now – then buy a full jars worth in the bulk aisle next time. They can help the night before scooping the snacks into small reusable bags, saving you time in the morning and building up their independence.

I recently found Bumkins reusable snack bags, and they were well made, easy to clean and relatively affordable. You can also sew your own reusable snack bags or fuse plastic bags to recycle disposable products into a waterproof fabric to turn into snack bags.

It’s not a zero waste lunch. I still put in individually wrapped fruit leather, because the only way around that is to make my own, (I plan to try this soon while fruit is dropping off trees all over my neighborhood!).  And often food comes back uneaten and goes into the trash, to the dog, in the compost, or to future smoothies. (Example A: apples).

What are your zero waste school lunch tips?

We hate waste. But even more than that, we hate to see people being wasteful when they’re out enjoying nature. Camping can be super fun and a great way to get outdoors and connect with nature, but if you’re packing up a bunch of disposables for your meals, it’s a real burn on Mother Earth.

SO, let’s show people some actual ideas on how to have a clean camp to keep our beautiful outdoors unspoiled with our paper plates and plastic cups.

Here’s the deal:

Take a picture of something you do, or pack, while camping, that allows you to make less waste. Here are some ideas of things you can do to make your camp less wasteful:

  • Bring your green BottleDrop bag to collect your cans from all your friends in camp so you can cash in back in town after the trip.
  • Pack reusable cups, bowls plates and silverware. Thrift stores are great for supplies.
  • Pack a washtub and soap (we like to use Dr. Bronner’s).
  • Practice Leave No Trace principals when washing dishes outdoors if your camping somewhere with no facilities.
  • Use pop up/collapsable bins (we like to use small laundry bins) to separate recyclables from trash.
  • Keep trash secure so animals can’t get into it, and always to a micro-trash sweep at the end of your stay.

Help us get some ideas out there for ways that people can be better campers and reduce waste through a little smart packing. We will choose a winner randomly from photos shared through August. The winner will receive an awesome supply of reusable camp items, listed below.

#CleanCampsite Giveaway Kit:

Giveaway Details:

  • Post your picture on your social media of choice and include #cleancampsite and #rethinkwaste to help spread the word.
  • Tag us so we can find you.
  • You can post multiple times (with different pics) for more chances to win!
  • You need to be EITHER a resident of Deschutes County OR camping somewhere in beautiful Central Oregon when you take the pic!
  • We will be drawing our winner randomly out of all the pics posted AFTER LABOR DAY WEEKEND and the winner will have to pick up the package in person at The Environmental Center.



There are so many amazing food waste prevention initiatives happening in the world right now. Below are some incredibly positive changes happening from businesses and individuals that are really making a difference!


Here in Deschutes County, 213 households have participated in the Rethink Food Waste Challenge. Folks have been learning all about small things they can do to make change in their habits to reduce the amount of waste in their homes. The challenge is finishing up on June 10, but all the information, resources and tips that were generated are available on our website. Are you interested in the challenge? You can implement your own! Try recruiting your neighbor, or neighborhood! Or maybe your book club or church.

The challenge was implemented by the EPA and has already been used in dozens of cities including King County Washington and, separately, the City of Seattle, the Cities of Gresham and Beaverton plus Clackamas and Washington Counties, City of Jersey, and so many more! If you are connected with an entity that might be interested in implementing this, the tool kit is available to anyone!


The High Desert Food and Farm Alliance (HDFFA – whose mission is to support a healthy and thriving food and farm network in Central Oregon through education, collaboration and inclusivity) has a program called Grow and Give dedicated to getting healthy food to the food banks: because everyone deserves access to fresh produce! You can donate extra produce from the farmer’s market or from your own garden and they get it to folks who will eat it. Look for the grow and give booth at the NWX and Downtown Bend Farmer’s Markets

HDFFA has a lot of incredible collaborative food-related programs that are worth learning about including a food recovery program in partnership with Central Oregon Community College (COCC) and professor Owen Murphy’s Sustainable Food and Nutrition course. HDFFA recently conducted three food waste audits in the dining hall at the campus. Students volunteered to help collect and weigh extra food from their peers plates in order to get some familiar and tangible data for in class poster presentations surrounding wasted food on their campus.

COCC has an active Food Recovery Program through their Sustainability Committee. In partnership with the COCC dining hall and Sodexo, they have diverted 775 pounds of food to Cascade Youth Services and the LOFT so far this year!

Agricultural connections specializes in distributing farm fresh food around the Deschutes County. They work in conjunction with local and regional farms to deliver produce year round. Check out what they do, written up in this Source Weekly article. They work directly with HDFFA and NeighborImpact to deliver the food from the Grow and Give program to the food banks in the county.

NeighborImpact’s Food Recovery Program operates year round to divert 1.3 million pounds of food annually from Deschutes County grocery stores, businesses, and residential donations. That’s 1.3 million pounds of food that is getting to people’s bellies instead of to Knott Landfill!

OSU Hospitality Management and Computer Science major students, under the supervision of professor Todd Montgomery, are trying to find solutions to the issue of food waste, specifically in restaurants. Over the last nine months, the students have built a functional prototype to help restaurants measure food waste. The students did 30-minute demos of the prototype at restaurants around Bend from May 20 – June 3. During these demos, they demonstrated the prototype and explained the concept of how it could help the restaurant combat food waste by recording the amount of food left on each plate at the end of the meal. If the restaurant knows what is being wasted, they would be able to adjust portions accordingly. Is that green salsa always left on the plate after the meal? Maybe we should put a little less on the plate. Do only half the rice and beans get eaten? Let’s change the portions to reflect demand. That way, less food gets wasted. These projects are wrapping up this week!


Have you heard of the Campus Kitchen Project? It’s a nation-wide that partners with schools to recover food from the cafeteria and engage students as volunteers who prepare and deliver meals to the community. The Food Recovery Network is another organization where students are working to recover food.


An Australian woman named Ronni Kahn started a huge initiative down under after seeing such massive food waste as a corporate events manager. She made a documentary about her story called Food Fighter that tells why and how she created OzHarvest: an Australian food rescue organization.

British chef Jamie Oliver is very active in food waste issue. Here is a great article about how to have a zero waste kitchen according to him and other chefs in the restaurant industry.

Denmark’s Stop Wasting Food program is a national initiative with dozens of projects that aim to combat food waste.

Here is a great blog article about how governments around the world are encouraging food waste initiatives.

There are also an incredible number of apps that restaurants and food businesses are using to help prevent food waste. There are so many creative ideas out there being shared!


  • Tell your friends and family about the challenge! Let them know what you have learned and how they can make changes, too.
  • Donate your food that you know you wont eat to NeighborImpact.
  • Do you have a garden? Just a little too much cabbage than you can eat? Drop it off at the Grow and Give booth at the farmer’s market!
  • Want to help out in another food-related way? In HDFFA’s recent monthly newsletter, they are asking for volunteer recipe testers!
  • Keep using the tools that you have learned about during the challenge.
  • Choose to buy the lumpy tomatoes and the slightly blemished citrus at the grocery store.

Spread the word. Let people know how big an issue this is.


Smart storage is a lot of things.

The main idea is, however, to store stuff correctly and store it in a place where you will find it. So we need to concentrate on methods of storage AND organization!

Tip #1 – Know how to store different kinds of produce

First, check out this Store Smarter Information Sheet from the Rethink Food Waste Challenge tool kit all about smart storage, particularly for fresh produce.

Tip #2 – Use your freezer, but know how to do it!

  • Make sure your food is completely cooled BEFORE you put it in the freezer.
  • When freezing fruits and veggies, you want to keep the air out and the package and the moisture inside. So put the produce in an air-tight (heavy duty freezer bag) container and suck the air out. Small and think sandwich bags are not the same as a heavy duty freezer bag. Don’t want to use plastic? Here is an article all about how to freeze without plastic.
  • Don’t overload your freezer. You don’t want an empty freezer, but if you pack it all the way full, there isn’t room for air to circulate, which is important.

Tip #3 – Learn about ethylene.

Ethylene is something present in produce that helps it ripen. Some fruits and veggies produce it like crazy, and others are very susceptible to its effects. I found it difficult to research; there seem to be conflicting statements about some produce. But I thought this article from United World Transportation was pretty comprehensive and helpful.

Tip #4 – Learn about Humidity Control Drawers

You know, those drawers in your fridge. The ones with the sliders and numbers. Those exist for a reason! One participant uses them like an Eat First basket. “Left = leave it, Right = ready”. That’s a great idea! Also, here is an article about what they were designed for: humidity control!

Tip #5 – Organize your fridge and keep it that way!

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but seriously. Organize your fridge. I know it can be hard to keep it that way, but it’s so much easier not to lose things in there if you know where stuff is! Here is a great article about a suggested fridge organization method. The same goes for your freezer. Organize it.

Tip #6 – Learn all about dates on your food

Part of storing smart is knowing about shelf life of food products. There are all kinds of dates that are listed on food products. Sell by, best by, use by… sometimes it gets confusing. But did you know you can often eat products well after the date says you can’t? Yogurt, for example, keeps for a very. Long. Time. Still Tasty is an excellent website with a seemly exhaustive list of products and how to tell if they are still edible.

Are you confused about mold on cheeses? This article addresses just that!

How about eggs? This is a good article about the observation that in the US we refrigerate our eggs while in most other countries they do not. Ever wonder why?

Week 4 RFW Challenge Prizes

The Rethink Food Waste Challenge is headed toward its final days: Week 4 (June 4-June 11). The challenge began on May 14th: 213 households signed up to participate! Learn more about the challenge here.

If you enter your week’s wasted food data, you will automatically be entered in the prize drawing, which will happen on Tuesday, June 13. Also, if you have entered at least 3 of the 4 weeks of your food waste data, you will be entered in the grand prize drawing for $410 worth of Harvest Bucks from Dome Grown Produce!

Check out this week’s prizes:

Week 4 RFW Challenge Prizes

Draw #1: $100 gift card to the grocery store of your choice and an Oxo jar spatula!

Draw #2: A set of 8 Oxo nesting glass containers with snapping lids!

Draw #3: A set of 3 reusable Chico Bag produce bags and a set of 3 stainless steel nesting containers!

Dome Grown Harvest Bucks Grand Prize

The final week of the Rethink Food Waste Challenge is about to begin. The challenge began on May 14th: 213 households signed up to participate! Learn more about the challenge here.

Folks who entered their wasted food data for at least 3 of the 4 weeks of the challenge will be entered into the grand prize drawings. 2 people will win $440 worth of Harvest Bucks from Dome Grown Produce!

$440 is a lot to spend at the Farmer’s Market. We know! And we just learned lots about how not to waste food. So you have some options.

—Eat your heart out! And preserve those veggies. Canned goods make great gifts, after all. Or freeze it for future use!
—Give a card or two away to your friends.
—Donate a card to a food-related cause. Check out the Grow and Give Program through the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance. HDFFA works with NeighborImpact to get fresh produce to folks who need it. Because everyone deserves access to fresh and healthy food.
—Donate a card to the Family Kitchen whose mission it is to serve anyone who needs a nutritious meal in a safe and caring environment.


Dome Grown Harvest Bucks Grand Prize