Practical Reducing, Reusing, Recycling Tips


Talking Trash

If you are an eco-geek or confused by proper trash disposal or wondering why markets for disposables are not as robust as we would like, check out Talking Trash a green tips podcast with host Peggy LaPoint at 101.9 Kink FM.  Talking Trash is presented by the Energy Management & Water Conservation Programs at Lane Community College.

Reduce Your Waste Project Founder and Sustainability & Waste Reduction expert Betty Shelley

Reduce Your Waste Project Founder and Sustainability & Waste Reduction expert Betty Shelley

Each episode explores sustainability, solid waste disposal, recycling, reuse vs single use products and packaging and so much more. 

My dear friend and Eco guru extraordinaire Betty Shelley of the Reduce Your Waste Project was featured on Episode 32.  As a Master Recycler, former Recycling Information Specialist at Metro Regional Government in Portland, and Northwest Earth Institute Founders Award honoree, Betty is a wealth of information about upstream and downstream waste reduction.  She uses guilt-free socratic teaching to encourage to make mindful purchasing decisions.

Other episodes examine the utility of Repair Cafes, electronics recycling, zero waste initiatives and so much more.

Metro’s new recycling resource  is a super handy quick reference

Metro’s new recycling resource is a super handy quick reference

Recycling guidelines are getting more and more confusing as market demands shift. Staying on top of the latest curbside requirements is tricky. It’s important to remember that recycling is not the top strategy in our Eco-tool belts for environmental stewardship.

The most solid advice The Practical Sort can offer is to reduce intake by being mindful of purchases. Buy only what you need or the things that will truly knock your socks off. If you’re not sure about an item, pass it by. Your budget will thank you and your home storage will be more ample.

But you have things that need disposal now, what do you do? Not certain if something is recyclable curbside in the Portland Metro Area? Check out this new online resource for a quick reference on which disposal bin to use. Metro also likes to remind us that “when in doubt, throw it out” into the trash can rather than contaminate and gum up the works. Contaminated loads lead to loss of markets for our waste.

Recycle or Not is a community resource created by Metro and local government partners.

Sticky Situation

I am almost embarrassed to admit this since I feel like I am supposed to be up on all the eco-stuff, but every so often when working with a client or even in my own home, I am compelled to do some homework to determine whether a particular item is recyclable or not. Rules change and different haulers have their own set of guidelines for what they will recycle or not. It can be confusing at times even for those of us who used to work at the EPA in the Recycling Program.

Over the last few years, I have been inundated with address labels from various non-profit organizations who use these gifts as a direct marketing fundraising tool. Sometimes the organizations are responsive when I ask them to stop sending gifts and remove my information from their database. Other times, not so much. Yes, it is rather frustrating taking the time to phone them once let alone multiple times. I totally get it that they need to spend money to make money, my preference is that they save the money they spent on my labels and postage, and spend it on their constituency (just my 2 cents worth or more like 55 cents for current postage). Now if I lived to be 200+, I don’t think I could possibly use up all these labels. Rarely using the USPS is not helping my efforts to deplete the label piles. Some people love getting labels, notepads, and other novelties, and that’s great. According to some statistics, the over 60-70 crowd are especially appreciative and more likely to respond in kind with a donation. Me, not so much, and if they pegged me in that demographic, they have double hurt their cause.


To make matters worse, these adhesive labels CANNOT be recycled by the Portland metro trash haulers. So when you receive these gifts in the mail, if you do not intend to keep them, they need to be trashed. The pressure-sensitive adhesives (PSA) on the label backing do not dissolve in water which is how the recyclers process the paper into pulp for making new paper.

Additionally, according to a Recycling Tip on All Green Electronics Recycling website, “The particles from PSAs are difficult to screen out or filter from this pulp and can become lodged in paper-making equipment. The particles can even become lodged in the paper itself, creating holes or weak spots in the paper that can cause the paper to rip or tear easily and cause jams in printers and copiers.”

The caveat is that one address label on an envelope does not cause a huge amount of contamination for the load, but the entire packet is a no-no.

Beware of using your shredder to destroy the labels, they could destroy your shredder.

Those hefty bags and boxes overflowing with donatables that you have been tripping over for months have finally been carted away.  You walk around your home soaking in all the unimpeded pathways, cleared countertops, and organized bookshelves when your stomach drops faster than an amusement park roller coaster.  It dawns you that a few years ago, during a home remodeling project, you stored some heirlooms and other valuables in unlikely places for safekeeping.  As panic consumes your body, you tear through the house in search, but to no avail.  With fingers crossed, you reach out to the Thrift Shop, but your merchandise immediately turned over.  You are now in a deflated heap of tears.

Shake out shoes and boots before donating.

Shake out shoes and boots before donating.

Inspired by the recent Marie Kondo Netflix fad, donation centers are experiencing an extraordinarily high influx of household goods. Transferring unwanted items out of our homes into those experiencing desperate need is heartwarming and mutually beneficial.  Unfortunately, on occasion, I hear sad tales of valuables given away inadvertently.  A recent news story featured a mom who donated a reusable mug to Goodwill.  Unbeknownst to her, there was $6500 in the mug.  Her son had sold his car on a Sunday, the banks were closed, so he chose to keep the money safe in a mug stowed in a cabinet at his mom’s home as he was in the midst of a move.  Timing is everything.   

A few weeks ago, a woman confided to me that she would love my help in organizing her home.  Yet she is hesitant and deeply troubled.  Fighting back the tears, she explained that she recently donated a pair of boots.  She had forgotten that some time ago, she had placed her engagement ring and a family heirloom in the boot for safekeeping.  This loss left her understandably devastated and fearful about making another misstep in her attempts to clear out any excess.  I felt her pain and the sadness in her voice was still so fresh.   

A receipt falls out of a shaken book.

A receipt falls out of a shaken book.

We all make mistakes and yes, some are more heartbreaking than others.  And, I know that she needs time to grieve and process this loss. When she is ready to move on, I will be there for her.  With both of these incidents happening back to back, it was a reminder to me to share with you a very important tip. 

Before taking your goods to the donation or recycling center, remember that old KC and the Sunshine Band song, “Shake, Shake, Shake!”  Shake out your shoes, shake clothes and check every pocket, feel around for hidden pockets as well.  Gently shake out books there could be cash, checks, receipts, or love letters inserted in the pages.  I find this especially true with seniors who through the years stash valuables in unlikely places.  Open boxes, bins, lidded cups, pots, and pans and carefully search every nook and cranny.  Don’t presume you know what the contents are because someone aside from yourself may have tossed something in for safe-keeping.  Or as in the example above, you may have done so, but forgotten.

Next time you decide to it’s time for those old clothes, books, decorative trinkets, college mugs to be on their merry way, take the time for one last dance with them and shake, shake, shake!

Rechargeable batteries, CFL bulbs, and plastic bags recycling bins at Home Depot

Rechargeable batteries, CFL bulbs, and plastic bags recycling bins at Home Depot


How Do I Get Rid Of This Stuff?
Here Are Some Handy Options

Check out these bright new recycling bins at my local Home Depot.  Disposal options are available for compact indoor or outdoor non-tube fluorescent light bulbs, non-leaking rechargeable batteries (batteries used in tools, cellphones, and laptop computers), and plastic shopping bags.  As not all Home Depots offer the same recycling opportunities, please phone ahead to verify what they are collecting.  And yes, I am bummed that they are providing those rolls of plastic bags.  Baby steps I guess.

If you have other items for which you are not certain where or how to dispose, check out  This site provides scads of valuable information on how to prepare materials for recycling, ways to reduce waste accumulation, and locations near you for disposal if available.  Plug your zipcode into the recycling locator and it will search the database.  If exact matches are not found, it will suggest alternatives for related materials.  That is helpful in the event you did not word your search precisely.

And if you really want to geek out on this stuff, earth911 offers quizzes to test your knowledge about recycling and waste disposal.  Yikes, I have to admit I was stymied by some of the questions.

#HomeDepot, #Earth911, #CFL, #plasticbags, #batteries


Use your pre-heating shower/bath water for your gardens and flower pots

Use your pre-heating shower/bath water for your gardens and flower pots

When Beauty Comes with a Price

Wow, the weather this spring and early summer in Portland has been spectacular.  I can't complain about the dry, mild winter either.  Not to burst any bubbles, but the beauty and lack of rain come with a price.  We experienced the second warmest January and May on record.  As for "Junuary", we had some chilly, gray days last month, yet the lack of precipitation is concerning as we approach the height of fire season and witness the current wildfires in the state.  According to meteorologist Rod Hill, "Portland may go into summer with the least amount of April-June rainfall in more than 30 years!"  And we are on track for the driest April-June on record.

A Powerful Visual

Have you ever considered how much water runs when you are awaiting the shower or bath water to heat to a comfortable temperature?  This powerful visual was an eye opener for my husband and I.  Recently I began filling 1.5-2 watering cans before the water is tepid.  My watering cans are over 2 gallons which renders enough to water all my flower pots.   Emptying the dehumidifier soaks some of the smaller garden beds daily as well.

Save Money, Save Water, and Save Your Plants

Using this wasted bathwater and if you own a dehumidifier, using that water for your gardens is a great way to save on your excess water usage, reduce your water bill, and keep your plants and flowers alive.  One caveat, be ever so careful of the weight of the cans.  Support your back and knees as you lift it out of your shower or bath stall to avoid injury.  In fact, one trick is to only fill it halfway, turn off the water, hydrate your plants, then start again if you have time.  This may sound crazy, but when the first can gets about half full, I open the bathroom window and pour the water down onto the hydrangea bed below.  Then I turn the water back on and finish filling the bucket until the water heats.  After my shower I bring the can(s) downstairs for use when the plants start begging for TLC. 

Mesh bags tote groupings of fruits and vegetables

Mesh bags tote groupings of fruits and vegetables

Do you bring reusable sacks with you to the grocery store?  If so, that is awesome.  You are doing your part to save trees or prevent plastics from ending up in the waste stream and clogging our oceans and other water bodies.  Furthermore, you are likely saving money since many stores award cash-back for bringing along your own bags. 


But when it comes to produce are you still grabbing plastic or paper bags from the dispensers?  Until recently I was doing the same although I reused them until they were at the point of shredding.  Then a friend gifted me some Norwex produce bags which I love.  You can also use mesh laundry bags.  These bags help to keep my homologous fruits and vegetables together so I can easily toss them in the refrigerator bin when I get home.  

Use a zippered cloth bag for loose items like beans and peas

Use a zippered cloth bag for loose items like beans and peas

Or another idea, I had old throw pillows which I no longer need and inside were zippered cloth bags which held the stuffing.  I have repurposed those for produce and laundry.  These bags are perfect for items like fresh beans and peas.

Finally, I have gotten to the point where I rarely bag my leafy produce anymore.  I used to be concerned about what it came in contact with in my cart.  However, as I reasoned it through, as long as I keep it in the top section of the cart, segregated from my meats it is likely no dirtier there than it was on the farm, handled by a multitude of shippers and store clerks and nestled among the other heads of lettuce, spinach, beets or whatnot. 

After each use, I toss them in the next load of laundry so they are fresh for the next trip to the store.  I keep all my grocery sacks nested inside the largest bag on the headrest of my car seat so that they are always with me if I stop on the fly.

Donate Your Sewing & Quilting Equipment & Supplies to Change a Life

A very special thanks to April K., a recent Simplify Your Green Lifestyle workshop attendee, for this super tip and these local resources for donating or purchasing sewing and quilting machines and supplies.



Two local sewing centers support the Coffee Creek Women’s Correctional Facility where incarcerated women are given the opportunity to learn a new life skill through the Coffee Creek Quilter's Program (CCQ).  The students' first two quilts are donated to charity.  The student may choose to keep the third quilt or gift it to a loved one. Graduates are given a quilting release kit in which to use to apply their skills when the return to life after incarceration.

Montavilla Sewing Centers

Montavilla Sewing Centers will service donated machines prior to sending to Coffee Creek Women's Correctional Facility's Quilting Program either for student use or for CCQ to sell to fund their programs.

Montavilla Sewing Centers will also accept full yardage fabrics, thread, batting, and sewing tools for donation in support of Quilts of Valor.  "The Quilts of Valor Foundation is a non-profit whose mission is to cover U.S. service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor. "


In the market for a machine?  Purchase a used sewing machine or get an estimate on a trade-in. 

8326 SE Stark St
Portland, OR 97216
Mon. - Sat. 9:30am - 6pm
Sun. 11am - 5pm

4955 SW Western Ave
Beaverton, OR 97005
Mon. - Sat. 10am - 6pm
Sun. 11am - 5pm

971 NE Kelly Ave
Gresham, OR 97030
Mon. - Sat. 10am - 6pm
Closed Sundays

Quilter's Corner Store

12580 SW Broadway Street
Beaverton, OR 97005
Tuesday– Saturday 10:00am – 5:00pm

The Quilter's Corner accepts donations of sewing tools (rotary cutters, seam rippers), sewing machines, cotton yardage (no scrap), quilting and sewing books.

These items support the quilting program at Coffee Creek Women’s Correctional Facility either for use by the program or to raise funds for ongoing support.

For many more donation, recycling, thrift, consignment, and green building resources, visit The Practical Sort's Resources page by clicking here.

Don't Flush

Were you able to partake in National Take Back Day on Saturday, April 28?  If not, options exist around the region for dropping your unused, partially used, expired, and unwanted medications safely and securely at any time.  For a list of permanent prescription disposal drop-off locations in Oregon, click here.  This is the perfect excuse to incorporate cleaning out your medicine chests in an environmentally responsible way as part of your spring cleaning.

medicine-2207622_1920 pixabay.jpg

To avoid prescription and over the counter drugs getting into the wrong hands, for years the message was to flush them down the drain.  However, medicines in our water supply can adversely impact fish, aquatic plants, and even humans as we consume the water.  It is true that our bodies may not fully metabolize medicines ingested meaning it potentially passes through us into the wastestream.  Wastewater treatment plants may not catch 100% of the substances.  Therefore, it can reenter the environment.  Unfortunately, this is rather unavoidable, so we should be mindful about flushing the medicines in their entirety.

Not all locations collect medicinal creams, sharps (hypodermic needles), or mercury-containing thermometers, so verify before you go.  Sharps are extremely hazardous to haulers as well as other humans and animals therefore, they are not permitted in the trash.  Approved sharps containers are available at Metro hazardous waste facilities, pharmacies, and medical supply stores.   Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas residents can participate in the Metro container exchange program.  For $5 you can purchase a container, then exchange it for free each time you return a full bin.  Note, there is an additional $5 hazardous waste disposal fee for up to 35 gallons.

Thermometers containing mercury should be disposed at Metro Hazardous Waste facilities or take them to Household Hazardous Waste Collection Events.  Click here for a spring 2018 schedule.

If you were unable to participate in National Take Back Day, here are some suggestions for proper disposal at your home according to the FDA along with additional information (click here).

Disposing Medicines at Your Home

“Disposing medicines in household trash: Almost all medicines can be thrown into your household trash. These include prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in pills, liquids, drops, patches, creams, and inhalers.

Follow these steps:

Remove the drugs from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter. This makes the medicine less appealing to children and pets and unrecognizable to someone who might intentionally go through the trash looking for drugs.

Put the mixture in something you can close (a re-sealable zipper storage bag, empty can, or other container) to prevent the drug from leaking or spilling out.
Throw the container in the garbage.

Scratch out all your personal information on the empty medicine packaging to protect your identity and privacy. Throw the packaging away.

If you have a question about your medicine, ask your health care provider or pharmacist.

Disposing of Fentanyl Patches

Some prescription drugs — such as powerful narcotic pain medicines and other controlled substances — have instructions for flushing to reduce the danger of overdose from unintentional or illegal use.

One example is the fentanyl patch. This adhesive patch delivers a strong pain medicine through the skin. Even after a patch is used, a lot of the medicine remains. That’s why the drug comes with instructions to flush used or leftover patches.

Disposing of Inhaler Products

One environmental concern involves inhalers used by people who have asthma or other breathing problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Read handling instructions on the labeling of inhalers and aerosol products. These products could be dangerous if punctured or thrown into a fire or incinerator. To properly dispose of these products and follow local regulations and laws, contact your trash and recycling facility.”


As mentioned above, it is wise to remove all personal information from labels before disposing medical waste in your trash or at any of the collection facilities.  You can soak the labels in water to aid in removal.

Watch for details about next year's National Take Back Day.

What to Do With Foam Packaging?

Did you receive holiday gifts embedded in polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) packaging?  Your trash can is likely overflowing after the celebrations, and you might be loathed to toss the foam into the landfill.  Polystyrene generally does not biodegrade which makes it a useful packaging material and insulator for our hot beverages.


Labeled as PS #6 for the recycling symbol, it is rarely accepted in curbside or other recycling programs.  But we need to be mindful that polystyrene is hazardous to animals and marine life who could mistake it as food and it is highly flammable.  As of 2006, Portland was one of roughly 100 localities* to ban polystyrene foam use in restaurants, yet there are a multitude of other uses.  Chances are you received at least one gift package that contained the foam. 

So what do you do with it?  Far West Fibers is no longer collecting it, but Agilyx in Tigard has a no-fee 24/7 collection receptacle at their facilities (business or large quantities require special arrangements).

Their patented process can transform the foam into crude oil.  They also produce a liquid used in food packaging, pharmaceuticals, construction, durable goods. etc.

According to their website "Agilyx is committed to demonstrating not only the economic viability of our technology, but also the environmental value. We have completed an extensive Life Cycle Analysis on our process to measure carbon impact against traditional forms of crude oil extraction, with the results indicating a significantly favorable environmental impact."

Drop off your polystyrene at:

7904 SW Hunziker Street
Tigard, OR 97223

If you need more information contact them at:  503-271-3160 or visit their website for additional facts.


Last Bits

Some may say I am cheap.  I prefer to think of myself as eco-minded, thrifty, and resourceful. 


Before tossing a used up bottle of shampoo into the recycling bin, I opted to turn it upside down to ensure that it was fully depleted.  I could tell there was about 1/4" of shampoo left inside, but the container's design made squeezing out every last drop difficult. 

Ten days later I was still using that same bottle of shampoo.  I often use this technique with jars of ketchup, mustard, honey or any other liquid that is too viscous to pour out easily as it nears the end. 

You might wish to place the bottle inside a sturdy, water-proof container in the event the product leaks out.  To keep the bottle propped, I situated it between the wall and a larger bottle out of the reach of the sprayer so that the lid does not fill with excess water.

By year's end, I will save nearly $40 and recycle 5 less bottles!

Recycling School Supplies


The end of the school year is approaching. You will be clearing out backpacks, old papers will be recycled, and used crayons added to craft boxes, but what do you do with those old binders that may have seen better days?

Office Depot/Office Max has teamed up with Terracycle to offer a binder recycling program. Empty binders in any condition/any brand are accepted.

How it Works...

Participating is completely free and very easy. Simply bring your old empty binders to any Office Depot® OfficeMax® store and a store representative will provide you with a $2 Instant Savings off a same day binder purchase (see rules and restrictions).

Binder Recycling: Get $2 off the purchase of any new binder when you recycle any binder in the same transaction. Discount applies only to binders purchased and will not be applied to any free binders with a purchase. Multipacks count as 1. Discount excludes tax. Binder to be recycled must be empty. No cash/credit back. Not valid on prior purchases or purchases made with Store Purchasing, Procurement or Retail Connect Cards. Limit 6 discounts per household/business.

For more information and to locate participating Office Depot/Office Max stores, click on the link to visit the Terracycle/Office Depot/Office Max Binder Recycling Program website.

Need a hand getting things in order before school lets out for summer break and your schedules goes topsy turvy?  Contact and we will get you sorted.