A  Waste Free Life  in PDX 

By Jenica Barrett 

When people think of Portland, Oregon, they think of bridges, bike paths, microbreweries, and coffee houses. The word “eco-friendly” comes to mind. This is exactly what I imagined when I moved to Portland last summer. As someone living zero waste, I knew that I needed to move to a city filled with bulk bins, second hand stores, and alternative packaging options, and Portland fit that bill. The terms zero-waste or waste-free mean that I live more in-line with the environment by sending as little trash to the landfill as possible. I do this by purchasing in bulk everything imaginable from syrup to soap, to beer on tap. And if I can’t find it in bulk, I strive to buy it in compostable packaging or don’t buy it at all. In 2017, I sent a total of 1.6 pounds of household trash to the landfill as compared to the average 1,054 pounds produced by the typical American each year. Now happily cozied up in Northeast Portland, I’m looking back on what it’s like to be “zero waste” in Oregon’s largest city. 

Before moving to Portland, I lived in Bellingham, Washington where I had been practicing a zero waste lifestyle for two and a half years. I had mapped out each type of bulk food provided by the local grocery stores, researched composting practices, and tailored my shopping habits to what was available locally and without packaging. Moving to Portland, I had to relearn everything. 

My first task once I moved was locating a grocery store that allowed me to bring my own containers and had a large selection of bulk foods. New Seasons immediately stood out and the Grant Park location was within a bike ride of my house. New Seasons allows customers to bring their own containers to the store and fill up bulk items like honey, granola, flour, and chocolate chips. The stores even let me buy items from the deli by putting them on a plate “for here” and allowing me to transfer them into the container I brought. With the biggest hurdle of buying in bulk apparently resolved, I moved on to composting… 

Portland, like my old city, thankfully has a curbside composting program. I found a rental house that had its own compost bin out back! The only tricky thing for me was learning what was allowed in the curbside bins, as compared to where I lived before. Back in Bellingham, I could place paper cups, napkins, wax paper, and industrially compostable items all in the city bins. But Portland isn’t quite so lenient about what they accept. I had to step up my game a little by always carrying my own reusable napkin, pop-up container, and utensils. I was also surprised by how many businesses still provide styrofoam take-out containers and don’t offer discounts for bringing your own cup or bag. Slowly, I’ve been able to find my favorite coffee shops that offer real mugs, but in such a large city, it has definitely been a challenge. 

I’ve also had to relearn the recycling system, which has gone through some major changes since I moved. Public transportation has been pretty easy and I find that riding the bus or MAX to almost any destination doesn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would. I’ve also appreciated the quantity of bike lanes around the city and the focus on walking paths as. The local attitude is very supportive of environmental initiatives which increased the social acceptance I felt when I first arrived. Quite a few times I have been stared at for pulling out my own straw at a restaurant or refusing to take wrapped Halloween candy at a party. Although my transition to living in Portland hasn’t been completely straight forward, I have found a way to practice my waste free lifestyle in this bustling metro city. 

Jenica Barrett maintains a zero waste website, post blogs, and holds local workshops at various locations around the city. 

For more info: www.zerowastewisdom.com

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