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  • Jenica Barrett

9 Things I Learned from the Zero Waste PDX Conference

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

On September 14th, I attended the very first Zero Waste Conference in Portland, Oregon. It was hosted by Recycling Advocates and Zero Waste PDX. For being the first zero waste conference here, it sold out way quicker than anyone could have imagined and had a 100 person wait-list! It was a four hour long conference with six different speakers discussing reusable container laws, zero waste in business, and getting to one trash can a year. I was also asked to come speak about the basics of zero waste and gave a presentation on implementing the 5 R's in our homes.

If you weren't able to make it to the event though, don't fret! There will be video footage coming soon. The information was also so good that I can't help but share with you just a few of the many things I learned myself.

Zero Waste PDX Conference

1. Portland goes through 50 billion coffee cups every year.

Yep, according to Brion Hurley of Recycling Advocates, they collected data for the Portland Metro area that shows every year we are throwing out around 50 billion coffee cups. Unfortunately all of those cups can't be either recycled or composted in the curbside bins. That means we are throwing them straight into the landfill.

2. According to the Multnomah County health code (4-603.17), vendors are allowed to place liquids in your own clean container.

Which means that if I coffee shops cites "against health code" as their reason for not putting your beverage in your container, that's not necessarily the case (or they just don't want to tell you your thermos is too dirty).

Nossa Familia

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3. Nossa Familia was the first coffee shop to be registered as a B Corporation in Portland.

They also recently started implementing a 25 cent up-charge for to go coffee cups at their Division street location. Now only around 31% of their customers get a disposable coffee cup (as compared to 52% and 80% at their other locations). If you're looking for a delicious cup of Joe, this is a business trying to make that more sustainable!

4. The Portland Zero Waste PDX Map has information about tool libraries, repair shops, and so much more!

Chloe, from Conscious by Chloe and the founder of Zero Waste PDX has created an interactive map to find all the zero waste resources you could ever need! I have already explored this map to find bulk stores and thrift shops but also learning it has so many other settings as well!

Zero Waste City Guide

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5. The City of Portland is working to create a plan to reduce disposable straws without actually implementing a ban.

As Pete from the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability explained, the decision to not enact a full ban comes after lots of input from residents and members of the ADA community. Since some individuals with disabilities need plastic straws to drink (and many reusable alternatives don't work for them), the city is proposing a much more educational campaign directed towards businesses and customers. This may also include making it so plastic straws are still available but by request only.

6. You can rent your neighbor's car, with Getaround.

Well, okay, maybe not your neighbor's car but with Getaround, you can rent by the hour cars people in your community own. You can even sign up to rent out your car while your not using! According to their site, registering your car takes is the equivalent of taking 10 other cars off the road. It sounds to me like a great way to share something and make the most of our resources!

Zero Waste Conference

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7. Scrap PDX will take the weirdest items.

As it turns out, there is a place in Portland you can take your bottle caps and candle ends. It's called SCRAP! They are a company focused on repurposing odd and hard to recycle items by selling them back to the public as craft supplies, school projects, and knick-knacks. If you're a teacher or parent, make sure you shop here first before buying new art supplies!

8. Recycling Advocates is running a BYOC campaign.

Their goal is to have 600 people sign the pledge to commit to bring their own cup for coffee and other drinks. Have you signed up yet? Whether or not you already bring your own cup, make sure to pledge your support as to encourage others to do the same!

Smiling painted wall

9. I am not the only zero waster in Portland, not by far.

Sometimes I can feel a little isolated living such a drastically different life than most of my friends. It doesn't always impact what I do, but it can be difficult when I am the only one voting not to eat at a fast food restaurant or refusing to take something because it will make waste. Going to this conference though was like going home. There were so many people inspired about the zero waste movement and all doing the same thing as me! So if you're living in a city or a town where you don't feel like anyone else gets you, hang in there. Because you will find your group and this movement is spreading!

Interested in attending a zero waste event to learn more? Check out our list of events online and in-person!
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