Although the unofficial American mantra seems to be “Bigger is Better”, thankfully there is a strong cultural trend swinging the other way towards downsizing. And while tiny homes aren’t for everyone, they are assisting a cultural shift towards at least looking at, or considering, the idea of smaller space. What we put in it. What we hold on to. What we need versus what we want. What a larger space demands. How much is enough, and how much can be really too much. Because the bigger the house, the more stuff you put in it, the more heat you need to warm it, the more power you need to light it, the more money and time you need to maintain it.

So while tiny homes aren’t for everyone, one thing that has gained popularity around a similar idea is an Accessory Dwelling Unit. You know, the apartment over a garage. A small “mother-in-law” studio behind a larger single family house. There has been a surge in popularity in ADU’s for a multitude of reasons.

First, people usually go down this path for a long term income generator. They can be rented out as a vacation rental or a long term rental. But from a community perspective, ADU’s offer flexibility. A family could live in the larger house and rent out the ADU, maybe they take over both residencies as their family expands, and then when it’s empty nest time, maybe the older couple downsizes to the smaller residence, taking advantage of renting out the larger one for continued income into their twilight years. This allows a family residence to expand and contract, without building bigger houses.

On the renter side, ADU’s offer a smaller living space that may meet the needs of singles, couples, or even small families. In a time when Bend has an extremely low vacancy rate, and yet is growing and building large homes, there are fewer options for renters. Building ADU’s creates housing opportunities within many walkable neighborhoods through infill, rather than pushing housing out to the edges.

What does any of this have to do with rethinking waste? Oregon DEQ has done a lot of research into how the size of your home (including what it’s made out of, how it’s heated and powered, and how you behave inside of it) which points to one of the biggest ways you can prevent waste: choose to build/buy/rent and live in a smaller home.

For those that really enjoy geeking out on this kind of stuff, check out this report: A Life Cycle Approach to Prioritizing Methods of Preventing Waste from the Residential Construction Sector in the Residential Construction Sector in the State of Oregon. The report states that “materials from construction, remodeling, and demolition projects are a significant contributor to waste in Oregon, and buildings themselves and the materials used to make them have significant environmental impacts. Using lifecycle analysis, DEQ evaluated waste prevention practices (reduction or reuse of materials) in residential buildings to determine which practices have the largest environmental benefits over the life of a home. Results indicated that among the 30 different material reduction and reuse practices evaluated, reducing home size and multi-family living achieved the largest greenhouse gas reductions along with significant reductions in other impact categories.” In other words, size matters: you can have a smaller footprint in a regular smaller home than you often can in a super green but very large home, and ADU’s are one way to build intentionally smaller living spaces.

Interested in learning more? Lucky you, there is an ADU focused Green Drinks coming up this Thursday, followed by an ADU workshop in May with Portland ADU expert Kol Peterson. If you’re serious about looking into building an ADU, or just want to check out some small space eye candy, his website Building an ADU is chock full of images and resources.


The Environmental Center and Whole Foods Market in Bend are teaming up to accept #1 plastic clamshells for drop-off recycling.

Deschutes County currently accepts plastic bottles, tubs and jugs in the curbside recycling carts, at Deschutes Recycling and the county-wide transfer stations. Clamshells are often mistakenly thought of as an acceptable plastic in the mixed recycling, and this leads to contamination.

“People often assume that if a container has a recycling symbol on it, that it is automatically recyclable,” stated Denise Rowcroft, Rethink Waste Project Manager with The Environmental Center. “When it comes to plastic, all containers will have that symbol, and the number just indicates what type of plastic it is. It is always important to check locally, as it varies regionally.”

Rowcroft stated this is more important than ever, because it is this kind of contamination that led to China cracking down on what they are accepting from other countries in the global recycling market. Rowcroft also encourages the use of reusable containers, jars and bags when clamshells are avoidable.

Whole Foods worked with their distributor to find an alternate solution, as they sell numerous products across several departments that come in the clear, plastic clamshell containers. Whole Foods bails the plastic on site and returns it to Portland with their distributor, DCI. The bails are then recycled through EFI Recycling.

Whole Foods reached out to the Environmental Center to help educate customers and support their staff on drop-off days. Drop-off days have been scheduled for the last Saturday of the month, 10:00am-4:00pm. The clamshell return will kick off on January 27 and will be followed up on April 28th. The containers don’t need to be sterile, but should be rinsed of all food residue.

“Our customers and vendors have been asking for this for a long time,” said Becca Burda, the Marketing and Community Relations Liaison for the Bend store. “Given our green mission, we’ve long felt a responsibility to keep these clamshells out of the landfill and couldn’t do it without the support of our friends at the Environmental Center.” 

WHEN: Clamshell Return and Recycling – January 27 & April 28,  Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Please note, due to shifting markets in the global recycling industry, these clamshell recycling events at Whole Foods have been cancelled for the remainder of 2018. If you have been collecting them they will need to be put in the trash. When possible, please consider bringing your own containers/bags and make bulk purchases to avoid bringing home more material. 

WHERE: Whole Foods Market – 2610 NE Highway 20, Bend 

Media interested in an interview should contact: 

Denise Rowcroft at the Environmental Center
[email protected] or (541) 385-6908 x14

Becca Burda at Whole Foods
[email protected] or (541) 389-0151

 A Guide to Reducing Waste Around the Holidays

It’s estimated that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, more than 1 million tons of additional waste is generated EACH WEEK nationwide. And that doesn’t even take into account all the waste and resources used upstream, around the world, to create all the new stuff people buy this time of year. Now is the time prevent and reduce waste, and all it takes is some thoughtful planning. Whether you’re planning for a shared meal or a family gift exchange, take a few extra steps this year so that you’re not contributing to the problem.

Now is a good time to prepare for Christmas morning, or whenever you plan to exchange gifts. Hopefully you’ve chosen gifts well-suited for the recipient, bought them an experience, or made them something yourself. But regardless, here’s a handy guide to dealing with the inevitable waste.

For starters: Don’t just prep one big, black bag! If everything ends up in one garbage bag, it’s guaranteed to be headed for the landfill. Instead, set up a station before you begin a gift exchange, using containers to separate what can be reused next holiday, what can be recycled, and finally what goes into the trash.

REUSE THIS:rethink-waste-holidays-1

Prep a reusable gift bag, a basket, or some other kind of container to collect your reusables.

• Fabric ribbons, long twine and decorative material
• Reusable containers like metal tins, cloth wrapping and boxes
• Gift tags, as long as they still look good
• Gift bags
• Tissue paper that’s in good shape
• Wrapping paper that you really like


Prep a cardboard box, paper shopping bags, or another container that can be easily associated with recycling. (PS – plastic bags are not recycled in your curbside mixed recycling, so it is important that you don’t put your recyclable wrapping paper in one!)

  • Wrapping paper (except the foil kind)
  • Paperboard packaging (think cereal box). If it has plastic on one side, pull off the plastic and toss, then recycle the cardboard.
  • Cardboard boxes, flattened
  • Paper holiday cards
  • Ripped paper gift bags


The only use for your one garbage bag!

• Tissue paper you can’t reuse
• Foil wrapping paper
• Plastic ribbon
• All plastic packaging on toys, electronics, etc
• Photo printed holiday cards

There are many other actions you can take to help curb your personal impact this time of year. Get more holiday tips and ideas to Reduce Waste Over the Holidays.

Repair is having a moment. Two generations ago, most people could handle simple repairs, and most things manufactured were inherently repairable. Fast forward to our current state of fast consumerism, where things are made to be obsolete (“planned obsolesence)” within 6 months. Sometimes that’s through new colorful designs, sometimes by changing power cords, but often goods are now poorly made and will just break within the year. We’re working to earn money, we spend that money on stuff, and that stuff quickly breaks, forcing us to buy it again. It’s costing us money, and it’s costing our planet.

All that “instant garbage” has to go somewhere. But the bigger impact, the one we don’t witness, is all the materials extracted/mined/logged, then burned/released/wasted to turn various raw materials into products, that are then shipped over seas then trucked across the country then bought at a store – only to break within the year.

Enter repair. It’s back. It’s resurgence can be attributed to many things – a growing maker movement sweeping the nation. People getting fed up with cheap crap that fails us time and time again. A feeling of being self-reliant and taking care of one’s things. The popularity of Patagonia’s Worn Wear program. Or the emergence of repair events where people who don’t know how to repair their stuff can connect with people who can. Whatever the reasons, people are getting into repair all over the world.

Repair, the origination of the Repair Cafe idea, has been tracking repair cafe events all over the world. As of 2017, there are 1400 repair cafes in 33 countries! And it’s especially taking off in America, where the idea has seen a lot of recent press. Even here in Oregon, there have been many state level funding options (DEQ’s reuse/repair business grants and Business Oregon’s  Small Business Expansion Program) aimed at repair businesses, recognizing it as both a growing economy sector as well as it’s potential to prevent waste and resource use by keeping things in use longer.

Since 2013, the Rethink Waste Project has organized 11 Repair Cafes, fixing over 300 items, and giving DIY instructions on another 50. Our volunteers are hobbyists, professionals, and avid tinkerers. Our Fall Repair Cafe will be Saturday November 18th, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm at the Bend Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Our Spring Repair Cafe will be Thursday April 5th at Ensworth Elementary School, from 5:30 – 7:30.


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
[email protected]

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