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.

As mentioned in an earlier post, we create an additional 25% more waste over the holiday period, and a part of that can be attributed to the increase in holiday parties this time of year.  Food waste in America is actually a big problem – some statistics say that 40% of food is wasted between farm to plate. Forty percent. An average family throws away 300 pounds of food each year. That’s a lot of food, a lot of money, and it doesn’t even take into account all the resources that went into getting that food from farm to plate either. For anyone who wants to geek out on food waste – and learn a ton of great tips fro preventing it and reducing wasted food – check out SaveTheFood.org. I especially love their recipes that are specifically geared to making use of food that may normally get tossed. (Check out this soup that uses the whole carrot!) Now, here are some tips so you’re not adding to the problem.


Plan,to Avoid Leftovers

If you’re hosting a party, sketch out a meal plan so you don’t buy – and waste – too much food. Delegating out what guests can bring? Be realistic. Everyone is not going to eat a slice of every kind of pie, so make sure you have all your bases covered but not to excess. Also, if you have a big meal planned, don’t fill your guests tummies with a lot of appetizers. That will ensure the big meal isn’t eaten and a lot will just go to waste. Hiring a caterer for a bigger event? Make sure they have correct numbers of people who will attend so they can plan accordingly.


Plan for Leftovers Anyway

Whether you are hosting a big meal, or attending a catered office holiday party, no matter how well you planned to avoid leftovers, you will still have some, so plan for how to transport them home. Ask guests to bring their own containers, have some back up zip lock bags available, or ask the caterer to set out To Go boxes. If there are platters that haven’t even been touched, look into your local food bank to see if they will accept a donation. Still have a bunch of leftovers? The freezer is your friend, your pause button on that food’s lifespan. Use it liberally.


Choose Reuse

Don’t have enough cups and plates to serve everyone? Your impulse may be to grab some disposables, but that just adds to the excess of holiday waste Americans are bringing to the curb this time of year. It’s important to remember that like many communities, plastic or paper cups and plates are not recyclable here in Deschutes County. Take a quick trip to any thrift store right now and you can stock up on everything you need, and even score on some holiday themed varieties if you choose.  The best part?  Donate it all back to them after the party. You don’t have to store if for a whole year, and you get to find a new set again next year! If you don’t stock up on extra reusable cups or glasses yourself, you can always ask your guests to BYOC – Bring Your Own Cup. Really, it works. (And they will remember which cup is their’s throughout the night, reducing wasted drinks, cups and your clean up in the morning.)

Prevent. Eat. Share. Donate. Freeze. Cook. Then Compost.

Composting is great, and way better for our environment for many reasons than feeding a landfill. But this should be the last in a line of other wasted food tips. Fresh fruit and veggie waste can be composted in your backyard bin or yard debris bin if you have that service. For other food waste, if you’re having it at a facility that you are renting out, check with their policies as they may participate in commercial composting for the rest of your food.  If you’re having it at a restaurant that already participates in composting, they will be doing this as part of their regular cleaning up. When you are booking a restaurant for an event, it’s good to ask if they compost. (This service is available to businesses like restaurants and supermarkets in Bend & Redmond City limits).  If they don’t already do this, they may be encouraged to participate if enough customers request this service, so it doesn’t hurt to ask!


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

Lisa Marie Sipe's encaustic work at The Workhouse.

Do It Yourself


My husband is awesome with a sewing machine. He’s made upcycled bike pannier bags, tote bags, mittens, and more for holiday gifts. Together we’ve made chalkboard mugs and home made dog biscuits for friends and I often give people upcycled jewelry I’ve made.  Of course if you plan on making stuff yourself you need to get a move on it as the holidays are quickly approaching.  Lucky for us THIS weekend there are at least 3 local handmade marketplaces happening. So you get to support local artists and creatives while getting some green holiday shopping done.

Buy Local, Buy Handmade

Buying from local artists supports our local economy and conserves resources. Items are made right here in Central Oregon, not shipped from overseas. They often choose materials that are also local and sustainable, and that money stays here in Central Oregon, instead of padding the pockets of corporate CEO’s.

This weekend is your chance to support local artists and buy handmade! Saturday & Sunday December 10th & 11th there are lots of options to buy from Bend creatives of many kinds.

Saturday there will be a FREE SHUTTLE going to all 3 of these unique marketplaces. Catch it at the stop that is closest to where you live. If you missed the show, you can still find a ton of local products from The Workhouse throughout the holiday shopping season.

Photograph features encaustic work by local artist Lisa Marie Sipe. You can find her work at The Workhouse.


The holidays – a time to get together with friends and family, share laughs and spread joy, give and receive gifts, and create a ton of waste in the process.  Sorry, TONS of waste. Across the country, an average of 25% more waste is brought to the curb between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. Here in Deschutes County, the amount of waste we generated per capita, and then disposed at the landfill, increased in 2016 from the previous year. In fact it has increased every year since the recession. Recycling has remained a bit more steady, but per capita we recovered less in 2016 then the previous year.

So if there was ever a time to try and curb it, it’s now, at the time when we create the most.  To that end, here are some ideas for things you can give locally (or plant ideas for things you might want to get) for things that last the longest – memories, skills, experiences. These ideas also work for family living in other states, just look them up for their area.

Go Outside:

  • Check out new places with an Oregon State Parks Pass – you can also find these for family in other states.
  • Give gift certificates for rentals to try out a new sport – skis, snowshoes and ski trailers to tow the little one are available at Pine Mountain Sports and many small businesses around the country offer this.
  • Get on a fat bike with Cog Wild (or buy punch cards for mountain bike shuttle rides) or on snowshoes with Wanderlust Tours.
  • Offer to babysit so that your parents of young ones can get outside together, often a rarity.

Give a Skill:

  • COCC Community Learning has classes for youth and adults, from making kombucha and beer to writing your autobiography or discovering enneagrams.
  • Bend Parks and Recreation has classes for kids and adults, from art to swimming to ski touring and more.
  • DIYcave has welding date night workshops, other classes and memberships to use shop tools on your own time.

Get Culture:

Kiddo’s Only:

What ways are you gifting experiences this year? Let us know in the comments, then learn more tips to Reduce Waste Over the Holidays.



Since opting out of junk mail a couple years ago, I don’t get nearly as much as I used to. Phone books? I use my phone. Catalogs? I go to a store. Still, I have a long way to go when it comes to dealing with paper clutter, from switching to paperless billing to simply having a system for mail when it comes into the house. Paper clutter aside, the best reason to opt of of all that junk mail? The part you don’t see. The upstream impacts of deforestation, water pollution and toxic runoff – all upstream impacts from harvesting, processing, manufacturing, printing, transportation that all have huge impacts – just so we could get some mail that we might not even look at before tossing in the recycle bin (or the trash, where unfortunately 44% of it ends up). Here’s some more disturbing facts from 41pounds.org (the average amount of junk mail you receive every year!):

  • More than 100 million trees are destroyed each year to produce junk mail.
  • The world’s temperate forests absorb 2 billion tons of carbon annually to help keep the planet cool and healthy.
  • Junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars.
  • The average adult spends 70 hours a year dealing with junk mail.


Got Mail?

If you have a lot of mail coming in, and want to reduce it either from a paper clutter perspective (the less you have, the less you have to organize) or from a waste prevention angle, the first thing to do is take stock of what mail you get.  If you really want to get into it you could even count, or weigh, how much junk mail you receive in 1 week. The weekly average is 16 pieces of junk mail.  Catalogs? Credit card offers? Ads? Coupons? Sweepstakes? Bills?



If you only get a few catalogs, you can simply call the number on the back and ask to be removed one by one as you get them. If you get a lot you can also sign up with Catalog Choice (a project of The Story of Stuff Project!) that will contact catalogs on your behalf to get you off their list. Remember, the catalogs are there to make you feel like you need more, newer, bigger, better stuff anyway – so by removing these consumption drivers you’ll prevent more waste in the form of realizing you don’t need more stuff.


Phone Books:

Do you really need one anymore? Do you even use it? I can’t remember the last time I used a phone book, or even had one delivered. Opt out of all of them today.  Here’s the link to cancel the Yellow Pages and here’s the Dex Knows phone book opt out.


Credit Card Offers:

If you really need a new credit card or want to seek out a low balance transfer rate, just go online. Get this junk mail out of your house. (Good to know-these can also be a source of identity fraud if found by others, so best to just not have them exist). Opt out of Credit Card offers today.


Marketing Junk Mail:

You can cut out a big slice of your junk mail by signing up with Direct Marketing Association. You can actually choose the things you want to receive, and cancel everything you don’t.



Stop paying bills. Wouldn’t that be nice? No really, set up all your bills to be paid directly form your bank account. If you have reliable cash flow and can have it happen automatically, all the better. If not, you just log in each month, or couple times a month, and hit send. Once you’re in the flow of that, you really don’t need the paper bill, so go paperless and get those all by email. That’s my next step.


Seem like a lot of legwork? It really isn’t, but you can pay a non-profit to do all this opting out – and more – for you. Named for the amount of junk mail the average person receives each year, 41 Pounds does exactly that.

Have you opted out yet? If you have, or you do, let us know how it changes your mailbox in the comments below!


Visit these pages for more tips to prevent and reduce waste:


Upcycling is the practice of taking material that has no value in its current state, and turning it into something that does.  Some entrepreneurs are turning discarded material into a business venture. Local business SaraBella turns plastic bags into fashionable bags, purses, pouches, and even dresses. Green Guru Gear, out of Colorado, makes backpacks, bike panniers and more with old bicycle inner tubes, wet suits, tents and more. But the best part about upcycling are the limitless opportunities for Do It Yourself projects to make something unique, yourself.

For the recent Bend Open Streets event, we were inspired by Park(ing) Day to make a pop-up mini park using reclaimed materials for our seating and table. We had plenty of pallets, from all of the LED light bulb deliveries for our Bend Energy Challenge program (get your free LED’s today). A volunteer used leftover wood pallets to deconstruct and turn into foldable wooden chairs. A quick google image search gives you plenty of ideas and inspiration, which often lead to tutorials with step by step instructions for the beginner pallet furniture DIYer.

Scrolling through pop up park images we came across tires turned into tire-seat-webseating, and it turned into a relatively easy, cheap and fun way to upcycle bald tires into unique functional outdoor furniture. Les Schwab let us have as many free tires as we wanted, so the only cost was 52′ feet of parachutes cord and a can of spray paint.

Lastly we wanted a table. It didn’t take long to find a free coffee table put out by the curb, but the Free section on Craigslist is another great source of material when I’m not so lucky. In fact today there are multiple old entertainment centers listed for free, and Pinterest has thousands of ideas for upcycling old entertainment centers into clever entryway storage, kids kitchens and more. A quick coat of paint on the legs and chalkboard paint for the surface turned a beaten down table into a kid friendly outdoor play/eat/art table.

Upcycling is fun, creative, unique, and a great way to not only reduce what gets sent to the landfill, but also inspire people to rethink the stuff in our lives. Here’s a short list of some great places to find materials or ideas to upcycle something clever for your home.

What upcycling projects have you done? Let us know, we’d loved to feature it!

Open Streets initiatives temporarily close streets to automobiles so that people may use them for healthy and fun physical activities like walking, jogging, biking and dancing. Today, there are more than 90 Open Streets initiatives in the United States and Canada. We’re so excited to be a part of the inaugural Bend Open Streets!

Rethink Waste Project will be on site at the Hawthorn Bus Station, one of 4 activity hubs along the open streets route. Stop by to see our parklet gathering space for mini lessons and discussions every half hour from two programs of The Environmental Center, the Rethink Waste Project and Bend Energy Challenge.

12:30 – Less Is More: How can we have access without ownership? How can we create communities of sharing? Stop in for a short discussion to inspire how less really is more.

1:00 – Light It Up: Learn how you can join the lighting revolution, save money, and the planet – all with a few light bulbs.

1:30 – Choose Reuse: How are you repurposing, reclaiming, reinventing the stuff in your life? Visit our reclaimed tire and pallet sitting area to share ideas.

2:00 – Rays the Roof: Show us your best dance moves or hang out for a bit to learn about producing power on your roof with solar.

2:30 – Recycle Right: Can you recycle it or not? We’ll answer your questions, and clarify what you can and cannot recycle locally, and why.

3:00 – Light it Up: Learn how you can join the lighting revolution, save money, and the planet – all with a few light bulbs.

3:30 – We Compost: And you can too! Bring your questions, we’ll help you troubleshoot your compost bin or just check out our worm bin.

And all day long we’ll be hula hooping, baking cookies in our solar oven, chillin’ in our little temporary reclaimed material parklet. Come say hi! {See details, including the route, here.}

Plastic bags. They keep our food fresh and safe, conveniently hold stuff together, and litter the heck out of our land and sea. So above all, the best plastic bag is the one not needed. That being said, despite our best efforts, plastic still comes into our life. It then becomes imperative that we deal with it responsibly.

Can I recycle plastic bags?

No, plastic bags cannot be mixed at our curbside mixed recycling bins (and neither should these things), mostly because plastic film gets caught in the machinery at a Material Recovery Facility and mucks up the whole system. Plastic film, however, CAN be recycled at many grocery stores across Central Oregon. Look for bins usually located indoor or outdoor near entrances.

What is plastic film?

Grocery shopping bags are considered plastic film, and so are a lot of other common products that you’re probably currently tossing in the trash or tossing in hour home recycling bin, unaware of the headaches you’re creating down the line. Here’s a quick list of what you can bring:

  • Plastic shopping bags
  • 100% plastic shipping envelopes (bubble mailers) – paper label removed
  • Bread bags – clean!
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Case wrap (think case of water bottles)
  • Air pillows
  • Food storage bags (zip-locs) clean!
  • Bubble wrap
  • Product overwrap (like toilet paper for example)
  • Newspaper bagsNew_Magnet

Where can I recycle plastic bags and film?

When we posted our video on social media, one of the questions was WHICH grocery stores accept plastic bags. Well I didn’t have a recent list so I called around to the major grocery stores around Central Oregon to get an accurate list of which stores provided a bin where customers could recycle their plastic shopping bags. Here is a current list of those stores:


  • Safeway: All 3 locations – Westside, Midtown & Eastside
  • Albertson’s: Both North & Sounth locations
  • Fred Meyer
  • Food For Less
  • Target
  • Best Buy
  • Lowe’s


  • Safeway
  • Albertson’s
  • Fred Meyer – at the apparel entrance only
  • Lowe’s


  • Ray’s Food Place


  • Ray’s Food Place (currently no bin out front but they will accept them at ther service counter )
  • Shop Smart


  • Safeway


  • Ray;s Food Place

See more info at PlasticFilmRecycling.org (but please know that the list compiled here of participating stores is more current than their list. Trust me, I called lots of stores!). Be sure to tell a friend as not a lot of people know about this!

See more of our Recycling Resources here!

It’s always busy come springtime here at The Environmental Center, but this year there are even more events to participate in thanks to our partnership with COCC and our collaborative month of events called Sustain Central Oregon.  The last week is themed Consumption & Waste, and here’s everything going on you don’t want to miss!

Lecture: ECO-nomics: The True Cost of Global Consumption Patterns

Tuesday April 26th, 12:30 – 1:30
@ Willie Hall, COCC Bend

Today’s human economies are designed with little attention to the residuals of production and consumption. Among the most visible unintended byproducts of the current economic system are environmental problems like air and water pollution and landscape degradation. Learn more about Global Consumption and Waste with COCC Geography Professor, Mick McCann

Spring Repair Cafe at The Gear Fix

Tuesday April 26th, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
@ The Gear Fix, 550 SW Industrial Way, Bend

A Repair Cafe connects people with broken stuff, with people that like to fix stuff. Repairing instead of replacing prevents waste and saves resources. Doing it with other people makes it fun and cultivates community!

Items to bring include:

  • Small appliances
  • Clothing (just repairs, no alterations please)
  • Outdoor Gear
  • Small furniture
  • Jewelry
  • Electronics
  • Boots and shoes
  • Bikes
  • If you’re not sure, bring it!

If you have questions about this event, or are interested in becoming a volunteer fixer, please contact denise by email or phone, (541)385-6908 x14

Read up about our Repair Cafes.



Tour: Knott Landfill and Deschutes Recycling Center

Wednesday, April 27th, 1:00 – 2:00 pm
@ Knott Landfill – 61050 SE 27th Street, Bend

There is so much more to Knott Landfill than a depository for our trash! Join Chad Centola, Operations Manager, and Rigo Ramirez of Deschutes Recycling for an overview of waste management in Deschutes County and a wealth of information about what can and cannot be recycled in our County.


Lecture: Rethink Waste

Thursday, April 28th, 1:00-2:00pm
@ COCC Redmond Technology Education Center Room 209

Rethink Waste – what we view as waste, how we can prevent it, and what we can do with it. Get ideas, tips and resources to help you reduce your waste, reuse what’s possible, and recycle and compost the rest. Presented by Denise Rowcroft of The Environmental Center / Rethink Waste Project.


Film: Trashed – Redmond

Thursday April 28th, 2:00 – 4:00
@ COCC Redmond Technology Education Center Room 209

Trashed looks at the risks to the food chain and the environment through pollution of our air, land and sea by waste. The film reveals surprising truths about very immediate and potent dangers to our health. It is a global conversation from Iceland to Indonesia between the film star Jeremy Irons and scientists, politicians and ordinary individuals whose health and livelihoods have been fundamentally affected by waste pollution. Visually and emotionally the film is both horrific and beautiful: an interplay of human interest and political wake-up call. But it ends on a message of hope: showing how the risks to our survival can easily be averted through sustainable approaches that provide far more employment than the current ‘waste industry.’



Film: Trashed – Bend

Thursday April 28th, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
@ Cascade Culinary Institute Demonstration Theater 118

Trashed looks at the risks to the food chain and the environment through pollution of our air, land and sea by waste. The film reveals surprising truths about very immediate and potent dangers to our health. It is a global conversation from Iceland to Indonesia between the film star Jeremy Irons and scientists, politicians and ordinary individuals whose health and livelihoods have been fundamentally affected by waste pollution. Visually and emotionally the film is both horrific and beautiful: an interplay of human interest and political wake-up call. But it ends on a message of hope: showing how the risks to our survival can easily be averted through sustainable approaches that provide far more employment than the current ‘waste industry,’ followed by Rethink Waste by Denise Rowcroft of The Environmental Center.



All events free and open to public!