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 (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
  • Plastic shipping envelopes (yay, this is new!)
  • Bread bags
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Case wrap (think case of water bottles)
  • Air pillows
  • Food storage bags (zip-locs)
  • Bubble wrap (what!)
  • Product overwrap (like toilet paper for example)
  • Newspaper bags (though here in Bend Sarabella Upcycled loves upcycling these!)New_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 (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!



A couple weeks ago I got a call from a Bulletin reporter asking about my take on how certain event organizers handle their waste. My response? They could all do better. But there’s a lot more to it than that, and as we talked she changed the angle of her article and decided to do a whole series on recycling, which will be found alongside the article here: Of course we’re thrilled to have any topic that relates to preventing or reducing waste put front and center for our community, and thought we could expand a bit on zero waste events specifically to pass on some insight we’ve learned over the years.

When we talk about planning a zero waste event, we are really talking about zero waste as a goal and as a mindset. Yes, there will still be some waste, but efforts are taken from the get go to minimize waste.  Still, it is assumed that a zero waste event is one that avoids disposables headed to the landfill through some combination of reuse, composting and recycling, making sure that the right stuff goes in the right bin and minimal trash goes to the landfill.

Since events of most sizes serve some kind of food and beverage, there has to be something for it to go in. The best option by far, is to reuse durables. This is common for an event like a wedding, but less so once you get bigger due to the expense and logistics. However, a little creative thinking can get around some of that. Local events like Last Saturday at The Old Ironworks ask people to buy one of their ceramic mugs and if they bring it each month they can fill it for free.  The result? People remember to bring their mug, and there are always new ones for sale every month. Bigger events like Pickathon are plastic free and don’t use ANY disposables, by providing water fill stations, souvenir kleen kanteen steel cups, and a system of wash stations for reusables you can bring or buy on site.

To that end, here are some things to keep in mind at the beginning of an event planning process that will help in the long run:

  • Figure out if you can replace any disposables with reusables, or at least reduce the disposables by selling some. 4 Peaks Music Festival encourages attendees to buy a souvenir Sillipint or bring their own, reducing a lot of potential cup waste.
  • If you don’t have reusables, you’ll need compostables. Almost all the items involved in disposable food and drink service is not recyclable locally (including plastic cups), so it’s all headed to the landfill. However, you can divert almost all of that by requiring your vendors to have commercially compostable food and cup ware, and providing compost bins.
  • Let vendors, organizations and other participants of your event know about your zero waste intentions and requirements up front. If even 1 food vendor doesn’t have compostable materials, it gets contaminated with plastic, and there is a good chance none of it can be composted.
  • Biodegradable is not the same as compostable. It has to be labeled “Commercially Compostable” for it to actually breakdown in the commercial composting system out at Knott Landfill that Deschutes Recycling operates.
  • Clearly label your bins. We have labels available for download or laminated ones to borrow.
  • Have clear signs on/above your bins. We have some available for download, laminated copies to borrow, or let us help you create ones specific to your event.
  • Always pair recycling bins with trash bins (or temporarily remove extra trash bins during the event).
  • Either staff waste stations with volunteers, have volunteers make rounds, or plan to sort through it later. If no one is monitoring it however, you will find compostable cups in all 3 bins, guaranteed. Keep in mind that people will also ignore signs and base their choice on what they see inside the bin, further contaminating everything.
  • Did we mention volunteers? 🙂

Still interested? Check out our Zero Waste Event page where you can download labels, signs, and our Guide to Hosting a Zero Waste Event.

Overwhelmed? New local business, The Broomsmen, has made it their business to provide the waste, recycling and composting set up and removal for events so that it is done properly, and you don’t have to deal with it.

Love is in the air, so we here at Rethink Waste Project couldn’t help but ponder how we love our stuff, or don’t for that matter.  More Love, Less Waste.

Love Your Stuff (and get rid of the rest)

Surround yourself with things that you love, which is the idea behind “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. Does it bring you Joy? No? Then let it go. Let someone else love it. Don’t let it suck space, energy and time from your life anymore. (Especially if you’re saving it for a future need. You’re operating from a place of scarcity, instead of abundance. This is a note to self.)

Maintain the Stuff You Love

If you wait to long to repair something, then it just gets unrepairable. You’ve had a lot of adventures with that jacket/backpack/boots. Small repairs now mean you have more adventures together in your future. Get inspired about “The Stories We Wear” at Patagonia’s Worn Wear program. Seriously, it makes me regret I passed along my fuzzy green Patagonia fleece jacket that I patched with purple material on the back after a mouse nibbled on it in my backpack. But since it was a men’s jacket, it never quite fit me well, so there’s that.

Have Good Stuff

Good stuff usually costs more. But it lasts, often is repairable or better for your and the planet somehow. So think Quality over Quantity when you can…

…and when you can’t…

Buy PreLoved Stuff!

When I buy new I think about how much it costs and all the resources it took to make this thing and get it to me. When I buy used I don’t think at all about any of that because its already out there in the world, I’m not buying new and it’s usually a good deal. Choose reuse! The best part is that if you end up not loving it down the road, you’re less attached to holding onto it because you’re not invested in how much you spent on it. Love it or let someone else love it.

(And remember, it’s not the stuff that gives us the real joy and happiness – it’s the experiences we have in/with/around/because of the stuff. More Love, Less Waste!

{Credit to Patagonia for the photo, and Center For New American Dream for the #MoreLoveLessWaste inspiration}




OK,  not mantras exactly, but choose just one of these “R” words to hang your hat on for the new year. Like mantras, they’re easy to remember, and can kick start a new habit for a simpler, greener, year to help you live with less stuff and more fun!

This year, resolve to:

  • REFUSE free stuff when it’s offered to you. I’m looking at you, cheapo pen from an insurance company or bank.
  • REDUCE the amount of stuff in your home, whether through a one room at a time decluttering cleanse, or an all out minimalist mission like the one Marie Kondo expouts on her bestselling book, “The Magic of Tidying Up”.
  • REPAIR one item now, while it’s still repairable, before it has to be tossed and replaced. I’m taking my boots to the Gear Fix tomorrow!
  • REUSE your coffee cup, water bottle or shopping bag – whichever one you MOST need to be reminded about and results in the most waste.
  • RECYCLE old electronics, like phones and cords, that are cluttering up a drawer in your house, then Find A Recycler for your stuff.
  • RENEW your library books! No need to keep buying books that you read once and fill up your shelves, just get them from the library! They even have e-books, and you can download free songs every week through Freegal.
  • RENT things that you don’t plan on using very often, or just trying something out to see if you like it. (truck, tools, outdoor gear, etc!) This idea can also apply to buying used items from a thrift store or consignment shop. Buy it cheap, use it for the event/experience you need it for, then resell or donate it again.
  • REARRANGE your living space as you start the new year. It freshens things up, helps you see your space and stuff differently, and curbs the desire to buy new stuff. Enlist a friend to help!


Read More:

Photo Credit: Design Sponge

With America’s biggest shopping day of the year creeping into Thanksgiving, it seems like a good time to step back and think about how we want to spend our holidays.

Before we get caught up in holiday shopping it’s a good time to remember that as consumers when we shop is when we have the most control over the most important “R” of Reduce Reuse & Recycle. This season, we’ll focus on ways we can reduce waste around the holidays. Check back as we expand each tip to give you more ideas and resources. Think it can’t be done? Pick one and see for yourself, then let us know how it went!

1) Plan Ahead and Prepare:

Spend time really thinking about the person you are buying a gift for.  You’re more likely to get them something they will really want or need that won’t end up at a white elephant party or worse, in the trash. TIP: If they are on Pinterest, your job just got easier.

2) Make Memories, Not Garbage:

Support local businesses while making memories through experience based gifts like dining, outdoor recreation, theaters, spa treatments and more!

3) Quality Over Quantity:

You might save a few bucks up front, but how long before it ends up in the garbage?  Holiday sales are a great time to get a higher quality product that will last, for less.

4) Buy Handmade:

Try Etsy online or The Workhouse locally for handmade products.  There are tons of eco-friendly, unique and upcycled gifts available from independent artists.

5) Buy the Product, Not the Packaging:

10% of what you spend goes to the packaging, most of which winds up in the landfill.  Avoid buying over packaged goods.

6) Buy Local:

If you’re going to spend money, keep it local.  More of your money stays in Central Oregon when you support local businesses. Gift cards are one way to keep your money local support a local while being sure your loved ones get what they want.

7) Choose Reuse:

Shopping bags and coffee mugs for shopping. Plates, cups and napkins when entertaining. Gift bags and ribbon for gift giving. Avoid unnecessary waste by avoiding disposables and using reusables throughout the holiday season.

8) Think Outside of the Box:

Don’t get stuck wrapping boxes in paper that often just ends up in the landfill, even though wrapping paper is recyclable.  Have fun with reusable tins, gift bags, ribbon and fabric for unique gift giving.

9) Buy Used:

Last year’s gear is this year’s bargain.  Try local resale stores or craigslist for great deals without all the waste.

10) Spend Time, Not Money:

Instead of buying something for someone, do something with them or for them.  Go sledding, bake cookies, string popcorn, have a tea party, make gifts, babysit, repair a bike, build a bookshelf, surprise them with breakfast in bed.


Did you catch the recent guest commentary in The Bulletin, “Recycling, Is it Worth It?”  “The Reign of Recycling“, a New York Times opinion piece by John Tierney, and published in local papers all over the country, was basically an argument against recycling, claiming it’s better to just landfill everything. As I was reading this article, many of his points struck me as inaccurate or one sided, particularly this one:

“The environmental benefit of recycling comes chiefly from reducing the need to manufacture new products – less mining, drilling and logging. But that’s not so appealing to the workers in those industries and to the communities that have accepted the environmental trade offs that come with those jobs.”

That’s it. That’s all he has to say about the chief environmental benefit of recycling. To that statement, we should not dismiss the biggest environmental benefit of recycling (reducing the need to acquire virgin raw material, which has documented environmental and health impacts including air and water pollution) for the argument that it provides jobs. The recycling industry also provides jobs. Just because something provides jobs does not mean we should keep doing it. True, we might not ever run out of landfill space (though transporting our trash from urban to rural areas is not a benign impact) but eventually, we will run out of virgin mined non-renewable resources, or ruin our available freshwater or fresh air, making our world uninhabitable – whichever comes first!

Now 2 weeks after the article was published I see I wasn’t alone in feeling like his article was off base. Treehugger responded with “Idiocracy in the New York Times: John Tierney on recycling”, and Grist’s article “Is recycling as awful as the New York Times claims? Not remotely.” takes a stab at 5 of his main points, including the one I took fault with above.

I also love this visual fact check, where you can both read the article and see the red-inked comments on the margins to point out fact checking inaccuracies from the organization Closed Loop.

Yes recycling has a cost -everything does – but it is still a necessity to deal with our ever increasing amount of waste in our current disposable society. For the last 20+ years, our trend here in Oregon – and in particular Deschutes County – has been to increase the percent of our waste that gets composted or recycled. That’s great, we’re recovering more. However, the actual amount in tonnages also increases every year. Meaning we just have more stuff that we bring to the curb, year after year. So yes, it’s great that we are recycling more of that, but the bigger call to action – the tougher one – is to not create so much waste in the first place. And that, is really where we makes the biggest impact.