On The Path!

Articles about innovative organizations, practices and technologies that are leading us down the path to a prosperous and inclusive future without waste.

Port of Portland Headquarters Office

In 2010, nearly all Port of Portland employees (more than 400) moved into a new LEED Platinum Headquarters building located adjacent to Portland International Airport on top of the newest parking garage.  As part of the Port’s commitment to waste minimization, the Port set a goal to reach zero waste (greater than 90 percent waste diversion) by July 2013.


Port Waste Minimization staff and Port employees provided input during the design process, which resulted in an effective recycling system incorporated into building operations. The result is a dynamic recycling system that includes commingled materials (paper, plastic bottles and tubs, and metal), cardboard, glass, and food waste (organics) which mirrors Portland’s curbside recycling. The collection also features a notable addition: an all plastics collection (featured below). The all plastics collection allows Port employees the opportunity to collect plastic wrappers, bags, clamshells and other plastic items not accepted in the curbside commingle stream. Oregon-based Agriplas collects the Port’s all plastics at no charge.  These materials are then reprocessed and sold back into the marketplace.

Following preliminary outreach and education geared to Port employees, an initial waste sort was conducted to establish the baseline building recycling rate. At that time, In January 2011, Waste Minimization staff determined that about 76 percent of waste generated in the building was being successfully recycled. The waste sort also revealed specific materials and opportunities that could be, through targeted outreach and education, further reduced or recycled. 

The most challenging items on the path towards zero waste have proven to be hot beverage cups and restroom paper towel waste.  Because hot beverage cups are currently not recyclable in Portland, staff chose to focus outreach on both education and reduction. The Waste Minimization team worked with the Port’s internal communications team to create a campaign to inform employees that coffee cups are not recyclable and must be disposed of in the landfill container. Additionally, the Port provided employees with a 50 percent off coupon to purchase their own reusable cup and partnered with coffee vendors at Portland International Airport to provide regular discounts on each cup of coffee purchased when they brought a reusable cup. 


Finally, the Port posts various signs in the employee lunchrooms highlighting specific materials and the correct container for their disposal.  Each display is placed above the waste and recycling containers to provide information at the point of disposal. The displays also provide the waste diversion rate to reiterate the Port Headquarters’ zero waste goal and progress.

Food Waste

After a second waste sort in August 2011, staff noted that eight months later, nearly 82 percent of the waste generated in the building was being successfully recycled. In spite of improved employee participation, the largest barrier to zero waste remains bathroom paper towel waste, which accounts for 56 percent of the landfill-bound material.  While all Port HQ bathrooms currently have electric hand dryers, employees have complained that they are inconveniently located and ineffective; the August 2011 waste sort confirmed continued paper towel usage. The Port is testing automatic paper towel dispensers and various electric hand dryers that may lower the impact on paper towel waste.  

Through regular employee outreach and education, ongoing waste assessments and pilot studies, the Port hopes to meet their zero waste goals by June 2013.