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How to live zero waste in Portland:

(Summary of our workshop on 12/10/21, led by ReTreat and Utility Zero Waste)

1. Where to start and basics

  • Do a trash audit to see what you are using most

  • Reduce the size of garbage bin to motivate you

  • Refuse the unnecessary, such as free totes, pens, utensils, napkins, toothbrushes, etc. (If you did take it, donate it)

  • Compost over recycle: cut up cardboard and remove stickers, so it can be composted. If you don't have a compost bin, ask around in your neighborhood, maybe you can used someone's near you. Or request a bin if you live in an apartment.

  • Basic principles in order of importance: refuse - reduce - reuse - recycle. Recycling should be a last resort.

  • Have a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, lunchbox and shopping bag!

  • Packaging has become a way to transport goods but it is unnecessary, try to avoid extra packaging. Remember vegetables and fruits come from the Earth, no need to put each item in a plastic bag when you are shopping, just wash them at home.

  • Before buying something, ask, do I really NEED the item or do I want it? What went into making this item? Think of the beginning and and end of life of a product. Put things in your cart for a few days/week then check back, you might not want those things after all.


2. Grocery shopping tips:

  • Shop in bulk at: New Seasons, coops, Fred Meyer, Bob’s Red Mill, Azure Standard online, Waste Not Market, Winco, Whole Foods, etc.

  • Buy directly from farms or farmers: meet your farmer at farmers markets, find what you need and ask whether you can buy bigger quantities

  • Shop at your neighborhood farmers market to support local farmers, find your closest farmers market online

  • Sign up for a CSA membership at a local farm of your choice (Community Supported Agriculture - CSA)

      I love Winter Green Farm that delivers to given drop off sites in big reusable plastic tubs (as opposed to disposable cardboard boxes). You bring        your own tub, transfer it all and they clean and reuse the tubs (forever!)

  • I recommend to avoid Milk Run and similar services, it is just another convenience. Why not buy local directly at farms, farmers markets or even your closest store? Then you avoid creating more cardboard waste, plastic waste and food waste!

  • Meat: Farmer markets. Also, my favorite farm is Marion Acres chicken farm, watch the chickens roaming around and have a coffee there after you shopped. (Although being vegan is certainly preferred)

  • Milk: If you can’t go dairy free, buy glass jars in New Seasons and coops or go to your local farmers markets. Milk cartoons are very hard to recycle as it is a mix of materials: paper and plastic.

  • Dairy free milk: remember that the production of dairy free milk creates a lot of waste: the pulp that’s leftover after your milk is produced. I recommend buying aMylk. She donates the pulp for animal feeding. aMylk glass jars are returnable. Find it at farmers markets. Or make your own mylk with NutraMilk. Try to buy it used on OfferUp or craigslist. Buy the nuts in bulk.

  • Nuts: Choose local nuts. Hazelnuts and walnuts can be locally sourced in Oregon. Hazelnuts are one of the most sustainable nuts available and we have plenty of it right here in our state. Use organic nuts. I recommend La Mancha Orchards, which has a stand at the PSU market. Other nuts: Almonds: Bremner farms in CA. Pecans: Missouri Northern Pecan Growers. Pistachios: Country Classic Farms in Georgia. Check ETSY and filter for shop location: Oregon/Washington to find sources for nuts.

  • Dried fruit: Country Classic Farms is my favorite farm for dried fruit. They grow and dry their fruit on the farm, no sugar added. Or go to your local farmers markets!

  • Bastion Cafe in Sellwood sells house made chicken stock and coconut yogurt in glass jars and gluten free bread made in-house.

  • The Fermentista ferments seasonal veggies and takes back the glass jars to reuse. Find it at farmers markets.

  • Tofu: Ota Tofu is locally made and it offers discounts to customers who bring their own containers. They are located in SE Portland. There is also Bean Bar Tofu, a new tofu business in Portland run by a couple. Their tofu is fresh and delicious, they offer peanut and garbanzo bean tofu as well. Their tofu comes in a zip lock bag at the moment, but they are working on better solutions and zip lock bags are easy to reuse in your household. Find them at farmers markets.

  • Honey: I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to buy local, raw honey. When you buy local honey you ensure that the honey has the allergens native to your area (among all the other things why local is always better). You also don’t want bees to be shipped around and pollinate one crop only which is how commercial honey is made. Remember when you buy a commercial product that is sweetened with honey, it’s likely that that honey is mixed honey from many countries. Not to mention that it is common to dilute honey. So buy local at farmers markets, talk to your farmer and ask about their practices. Another option is use alternative sweeteners, such as maple syrup which is domestic.

  • Coffee: buy bulk in paper bags and transfer to a glass jar at home, do not buy in paper bags with plastic lining. Reuse the paper bag until it’s broken, then compost it. Support local businesses, there are many coffee roasters in town.

  • Produce : avoid stickers by shopping at farmers markets or signing up for a CSA membership. If you do have stickers on your produce, peel them off right away when you get home so they don’t get thrown into the compost accidentally. Stickers create a big problem in industrial composting.

  • Berries: Buy berries in season. Pick your own if you have the time. My favorite place is Bella Organic Farm at Sauvie Island, but there are many others. If you have the space, buy more in season and freeze them for winter. If you have a blue paper berry box, take it to farmers markets, they often take those back and reuse them. There are vendors at the Peoples’ Farmers Market who gladly accept those. Plastic clamshells are not recyclable at your curbside. Use Ridwell to recycle it if you do end up with one. 

  • Eggs: Some vendors at the Peoples’ Farmers Market will definitely take your paper egg cartons and reuse them. But I’m sure there are other ones too. They are also compostable.

  • Water: don’t buy bottled water, I recommend the Berkey filter.

  • Use ETSY to find local and small businesses, filter for shop location Oregon or Washington


3. Tips for take out food:

  • Use GoBox. Search on the GoBox app and see who accepts it. You can use it at New Seasons to buy hot food but also for bulk shopping.

  • Okapi cups: Returnable stainless steel cups. It’s a new service that just came out. They are still in trial period. Check them out and see where they will pop up next. 

  • Bring your own container and ask whether they accept it. I recommend using a 3 qt Pyrex with a lid or a lunchbox.

  • Carry a cutlery set and a cloth napkin with you, it takes up very little space. There are cute ones you can buy, but it is so easy to just use what you already have.

  • Have a food container with you at all times, just in case you eat out and have leftovers. It also makes it easy to get your lunch for the next day.

  • Avoid restaurants that use disposable plates and silverware for “dine-in”. You can sometimes tell by just looking at their social media and seeing what pictures they are posting. If they only have pictures of their food in take out containers, that's not good news.

  • If you have kids, mention to the waiter not to bring plastic cups for your kids. They can drink from glass or bring your own bottle and transfer the drink into that. 

  • When you get to-go orders mention that you don’t need silverware and napkins (since you have your own)

  • Order ice cream in a cone and not in a cup


4. Clothes, gifts, jewelry, etc.

  • Consign and buy used, find your favorite shop in your neighborhood and keep going back. I like Vein of Gold on Interstate and Rose Parks

  • Embrace slow fashion, buy quality, pay more but buy less.

  • Shop at makers markets: Unique Markets Portland, Slabtown Makers Market, PDX Moon Market, etc. Meet your designer and maker! I love Una Pluma.

  • Shop at vintage markets: Portland Bazaar, PDX Flea Market, Boheme PDX, Slabtown Outdoor Market

  • Buy natural clothes made with natural fibers, such as cotton, linen, wool, silk. Materials made from plastic contribute to micro plastic pollution every time they are washed: Avoid: polyester, nylon, spandex, acrylic, fleece etc. There are also semi-synthetic materials that are made from natural materials, but they use lots of chemicals in the manufacturing process and create toxic waste, these are: rayon (from wood), modal (from beech trees), bamboo viscose (from bamboo grass), seacell (from seaweed). Buy these only used. Read more here.

  • Gift experiences or gift cards instead of physical gifts. If you do buy physical gifts, buy locally made ones. Check out Makers Union PDX for ideas.


5. Household, skincare:

  • Utility Zero Waste makes their stuff locally and their bottles are refillable

  • Replenish PDX is a refill shop with a physical location

  • Null Refillery on NE Sandy

  • Kindred Homestead Supplies in Vancouver, WA

  • Shop at makers markets or farmers markets, those will have lots vendors that sell skincare and household products.

  • I love Paxos Skincare, their products are great and they refill your containers too. They also recycle your beauty product waste such as pumps etc.


6. Kids:

  • Diapering: Use cloth diapers. We used simple prefolds with Thirsties Cloth diaper covers. It’s easy to buy them used. You’ll also need to tie them somehow, I recommend Snappi. To wash them yourself, you’ll need a cloth diaper spray bucket and a bidet/spray. If you don’t want to wash them yourself, try Tidee Didee Diaper Service. They will provide and wash the prefolds for you (so no need to buy your own prefolds, only the covers). However, I think it is best to wash them yourself, and avoid using extra resources. For training pants, I love these Blueberry Training Pants. Also, kids can learn how to self toilet early, starting at 18 months (or earlier) they will be out of diapers in no time.

  • Avoid buying art stuff, such as pipe cleaners, markers, etc. Let your school do all the art projects.

  • Rent your books for your neighborhood library

  • Buy used toys and clothes: Beanstalk, OfferUp, Pinwheels Resale

  • Swap toys and clothes: St Johns Swap and Play

  • If you ever need new kids’ clothes, I recommend Throwing Tiny Fits

  • Make your own playdough: 2 cups flour, 2 tbsp oil, ½ c salt, 2 tbsp cream of tartar, 1-1.5 c water. Mix the ingredients then cook. Stir continuously until it becomes a sticky, combined dough. For food coloring, use turmeric, spirulina, beet powder, matcha… whatever you have at home. (This is the time to use that old oil that you don’t want to use anymore and you don’t know how to discard it). Store in fridge.


7. Where to take your used stuff:

  • Avoid taking your things to Goodwill, use local charity shops, thrift stores or consignment stores instead. Only good condition items! These shops are not your landfill.

  • Take used, good condition children’s books to the Children’s Book Bank. They will go directly to kids and they are so grateful.

  • Take used, good condition books to The Book Corner in Beaverton

  • Take used, good condition women’s clothes to Rose Haven

  • Take used, good condition furniture to Community Warehouse Bank or ReRun

  • Take unopened food to neighborhood food pantries and free fridges IG: @pdxfreefridge

  • Wood, carpet, artist supplies, metals, party decorations, mason jar lids, screws, nails, sewing stuff, old keycards, CDs, sunglasses, etc. to SCRAP

  • Appliances, lumber, paint, home goods, tile, windows, doors… to Habitat for Humanity ReStore

  • Furniture, metal, wood, antique, craft, hardware and tools to Reclaime It

  • Anything used that you wouldn’t buy/wear, recycle instead! Use Ridwell to recycle your used clothes. Please don’t throw textile in your garbage bin. Check out Ridwell's website about what they do with your old clothes. Old cotton clothes make great rugs too!


8. Zero waste cooking:

  • EAT greens of radish (stew), beets, carrots (pesto), kale and broccoli stems, celery leaf, tomato skin, fennel greens (salad), cauliflower stem (soup), overripe bananas (freeze for ice cream)

  • Don’t peel: carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, apples

  • Make ginger peels into tea

  • Roast pumpkin seeds

  • Use your leftover olive jar liquid for salad dressings

  • Make your overripe avocado into chocolate pudding

  • Make stale bread into French toast or bread pudding

  • Freeze your leftover coffee into ice cubes

  • Make leftover rice into fried rice or rice milk

  • Make your own ice cream with Yonanas (easy to buy used)

  • Make your own granola

  • Order ice cream in a cone and not in a cup

  • Use your freezer: Soak and cook beans in bulk then freeze them. Keep your bread in the freezer to preserve it (then just toast it before eating). Buy berries in bulk in season and freeze them.

  • More ideas here


9. Other:

  • Pick trash in your neighborhood once a week (buy a trashpicker tool used)

  • Avoid using your dryer, use a hanger instead (easy to buy used), if you have little space put a hanger above your bathtub that you can pull up and down. Check out this site.

  • Invest into buying a bidet. There are many out there, I recommend a spray.

  • Get yourself some cloth wipes and minimize your use of toilet paper. Reuse scraps from clothing shops, I love Circle Creations. If you buy toilet paper, buy recycled paper that's wrapped in compostable paper. You're not recycling until you buy recycled.

  • Avoid Amazon if you can, but if not, filter “used”. Most of these items will be returns anyway and will have a “like new” condition.

  • Choose local instead of what’s available in the world, acai berries are great, but they come from Brazil, aronia berries are locally available and they are very high in antioxidants too.

  • Opt out of junk mail: use and DMAchoice™ to opt out and use the app Paperkarma for the remaining. Put a sign on your mailbox: ”Addressed mail only” and “[Former Resident's Name] does not live here”. Call and email those that still send you junk mail. It's not easy, be patient but persistent.

  • Get a Ridwell subscription, and get rid off your things well! Use it for batteries, old clothes, plastic clamshells, styrofoam, lightbulbs, and more! Share your subscription with your neighbor.

10. Movies, books, articles:


11. How to recycle and compost in Portland: Please follow these instructions. If you do throw things in your recycling and compost bin that don't belong there, you can contaminate other things there that will end up in the landfill too. When in doubt, throw it in the garbage!

Follow the city guide at

How to compost if you live in an apartment:


More resources can be found at

The presentation can be downloaded here.

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