Green Tips for Portland Holiday Recycling

Holiday Recycling Tips & Why Some Items Can’t Go In:

Portland allows us to recycle a lot of things curbside, including plastic plant nursery pots, empty spray oil cans, motor oil (next to bins in a clear milk jug) and food waste. (In fact, in 5 years of curbside composting, we’ve been able to turn food waste into over 400,000 tons of finished compost, which is enough Screen Shot 2016-12-04 at 3.45.12 PM compost to cover 2,400 acres of farmland, (about 4 square miles). That alone is a lot of volume kept out of our landfills!


Unfortunately it’s easy to contaminate our curbside recycling bins with well-intentioned attempts to recycle things we wish they would take, or with little things that we don’t realize can ruin the ability to recycle the rest of the material.

Screen Shot 2016-12-04 at 4.11.32 PMFor example, lids are almost always made of a different plastic than the bottle or tub they’re sold with. It’s too work-intensive for workers to remove them (too few people, too much recycling to pick through quickly, and everything still needs to get washed and processed or packed up to be processed elsewhere) and the plastic in the lid is a very different plastic, with a higher melting point than bottles and processed an entirely different way. Things like plastic bags and caps can also jam machinery when they get into the mix accidentally, so can cause damage and make them more likely to toss “contaminated” recycling instead of sorting it. A light bulb might be made of glass, but their different melting points and chemical compositions will ruin new glass bottles. If a buyer of glass sees a light bulb at the top of a load of glass, the entire load could be rejected for recycling. This kinds of hopeful recycling often means that all of our good intentions are foiled. When in doubt, leave it out!

Here’s a list of some common things that are mistakenly added to recycling, but could in fact be recycled elsewhere:

  • – Soft plastic bags can’t go into curbside,  but can be recycled at both Whole Foods and New Seasons (just not hard and crinkly bags like chip bags – those go in the trash).
  • – Plastic “clamshell” containers like spinach or to-go boxes can’t be recycled curbside, but can be recycled at both New Seasons and Whole Foods, as well as plastic things like yogurt/deli lids and coffee lids. (The coffee cups go in the garbage, because they contain waterproofing additives).
  • – Any paper made to contain frozen foods or takeout containers must go in the garbage. It also contains additives to make them waterproof and these additives make it non-recyclable.
  • – Any paper with decorative foil has to go in the garbage (though all other wrapping paper, tissue paperScreen Shot 2016-12-05 at 1.17.09 PM, cards and envelopes can go in, minus the ribbons).  Set up two collection bags ahead of time when it’s time to unwrap gifts. One for wrapping paper, tissue and cards, and the other for ribbons and foil. It can be fun for kids to be in charge of things, so make one little elf in charge of bringing presents to people to unwrap, and another little elf that can be in charge of grabbing that wrapping paper and getting it into the right bag. You’ll be amazed at how much tidier the livingroom looks after present opening! Don’t forget: Those foil covered papers and ribbons are great for kids’ craft projects.
  • – Packaging peanuts and styrofoam
 cannot go in curbside, but other places will reuse them. Places like the UPS store and Fedex are often happy to take your clean bagged styrofoam peanuts – call your local store and ask. Excess cardboard boxes and packing peanuts can be posted on Craig’s List or Next Door. People who are moving might appreciate them or small businesses in the neighborhood might use these for shipping and come take them off your hands.
  • – Styrofoam blocks are a challenge at the time of this writing. Check out this link for your options
Screen Shot 2016-12-04 at 3.46.41 PM
  • – When you take a toy out of a formed plastic insert, bring them to Whole Foods. They have a bin labeled “non-curbside plastic” which is good for caps, lids and other misc hard plastics (when you take a toy out of a formed plastic insert, for example).

– Corks can’t go in curbside, but they recycle them at Whole Foods.


Interesting things from your Holiday dinners that you can include in the compost bin:

  • – meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, bones
- coffee filters, coffee grounds, tea bags
- paper towels, paper   napkinsScreen Shot 2016-12-04 at 3.34.14 PM
  • -pizza delivery boxes
  • – pumpkins
  • – greens from wreaths and even your tree, cut down into 3ft. lengths and free of wire, tinsel, etc. (you might have to break it up over a few pickups as it can’t be sticking up out of the bin, but it’s a good way to have it picked up for free)
  • Stuff That Can’t Be in Compost:
  • – Cat litter, even the plant based ones we sell cannot be added to curbside compost (the fact that it clumps makes it so it can clog up machinery that’s used to process it)
  • Ashes from the fireplace can’t be composted curbside
  • – To-go boxes, parchment paper, or plastic bags and cups that say “compostable” are generally not allowed in our compost. Bummer, but true. Here are a few brands of approved compost bags you can use to collect food waste that have been proven to break down quickly in their facilities: BioBag  “Certified Compostable”, EcNow Tech  “Compost Me”, EcoSafe “6400 Line”, Glad “Compostable Kitchen”, Natur-Tec “Natur-Bag Compostable”. Everything else that says compostable must go into the garbage.
  • Note: You may not put pet waste in compost, even if it’s in one of the bags mentioned above. Compost is meant to be appropriate for food crops, and fecal bacteria could pose a risk.



Don’t forget – The greenest ways to handle waste are to choose products that come with less packaging, fix broken things when possible, and reuse items instead of recycling or tossing them into landfill.

Think about it like this:

  • When you buy a poop bag, resources and energy were both spent in creating and shipping that bag
    Check out this pretty mosaic made from soda bottle lids! Kids and adults alike can have fun turning waste into art!

    Check out this pretty mosaic made from soda bottle lids! Kids and adults alike can have fun turning waste into art!

    to the distributor who then ships it to the store (possibly traveling around the globe in the process). Reusing a bag that already exists, like the plastic bag your sliced bread came in, the Oregonian plastic wrapper, or the produce bag that you got from the grocery store, takes no energy or new resources at all. (Far be it for us to discourage you from buying poop bags from us though. It’s still more important to scoop the poop that contaminates our rivers when it washes down the storm drains than to boycott poop bags!)

  • Throwing away a small appliance creates landfill, recycling it uses energy and manpower to disassemble the recyclable components and ship them to their new purpose (perhaps to the other side of the world). The same elements come into play for every material then needed to build your new appliance and ship it to the store’s distributor, then to the store, and then to your house. Check out a free fix-it fair! Fix-it Fairs are free events where you can learn simple ways to save money and stay healthy at home this winter. Workshops are available in English and Spanish. led bu local experts about water and energy savings, home and personal health, food and nutrition, community resources, recycling and yard care, lead testing and more. There’s a free repair cafe at each fair for simple sewing and small appliance repair, staffed by Repair PDX volunteers (check that Repair PDX link for upcoming repair opportunities!)

At Green Dog, our mission statement can be boiled down to this: We believe that living sustainably does not have to mean making drastic changes in our lives. Simply considering where things come from and where they go when we’re finished with them can be a big step towards living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Check out this video showing what happens after your recycling is picked up!

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