Creative Reduction

The Rethink Waste Project encourages people to find creative ways to reduce their garbage.

The Rubbish Renewed Eco Fashion Show, held this past January, where participants paraded down the runway in “wearable art” made from trash, was more than a display of impressive “wearable art.”

The show, and annual fundraising event for REALMS Magnet School in Bend, is just one unique event sponsored by The Environmental Center’s Rethink Waste Project., Deschutes County Solid Waste and the companies that pick up garbage from our homes and businesses.

The Rethink Waste Project — created from a partnership between The Environmental Center, Deschutes County Solid Waste and the various companies that pick up garbage from our homes and businesses — aims to educate people about the many ways to avoid creating excessive waste, and why that should be a priority when considering how to decrease our carbon footprint

Another Rethink Waste-sponsored event, the Furniture Flip, is organized by Habitat for Humanity as a fundraiser for its ReStore. The event challenges artisans take discarded furniture items and create new pieces from them.

These types of events are meant to inspire folks to use their creativity in ways they might not have considered. “It’s a way for people to see things a little bit differently,” said Denise Rowcroft, The Environmental Center’s sustainability educator.

She believes if people see trash being reused in a really cool way, it opens doors for them to start thinking about how to reduce trash in the first place — to rethink waste.

Artist Sara Wiener aimed her creativity at plastic bags. Her business, Sara Bella Upcycled, designs and sells handbags, high-tech gadget gear and recycled art all made from made from plastic bags. Wiener experimented with ironing the bags until she refined the method she uses today. Customers, friends and family bring her the bags, which she turns into colorful and fashionable art for both the body and the home.

“Plastic bags continue to be a terrible problem in our society and around the world,” Wiener said. “I feel very strongly that we need to do something to stop the proliferation and use of these bags.”

Though the plastic bags can be recycled at certain grocery stores, the idea behind Rethink Waste is to get people to consider how to reuse or repurpose items before resorting to recycling or trashing them.

The Repair Café, boasting the motto “Dare to Repair,” is an event organized and presented by the Rethink Waste Project. At these gatherings, community members are invited to bring a small appliance, clothing, jewelry or piece of furniture with the intent of giving it new life. Those who have broken items come together with those who like to tinker with things and fix them, creating an opportunity to repair an item instead of replacing it. Repair Cafés are held at different locations throughout Central Oregon during the year. The next one will be in April at the Gear Fix in Bend.

“It’s a way to help us rethink our relationship with our stuff,” said Rowcroft, “to move away from use it, trash it, buy another one.”

While Rowcroft offers information about how to reuse and recycle when she makes community presentations, her main goal is to get her audiences to start thinking about how they can have a bigger impact on reducing waste in the first place.

The hope is that when someone is thinking about buying something new they stop and look around to see if they already have something that can be refashioned to meet their needs

Rowroft said that while there is recycling information on the Rethink Waste website, the project’s ultimate goal is to get beyond recycling.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has long been the rallying cry of the sustainability movement. Rowcroft pointed out that the order of those words with “reduce” at the lead is important because if accomplished, the need to reuse and recycle lessens.

“Reducing waste is harder to do because it requires planning and thought,” she said.

The Environmental Center began the Rethink Waste Project in 2011, but the Center opened its doors almost 30 years ago.

“The Environmental Center was formed as a place for like-minded people to be together to share resources like copy machines, office space and meeting rooms,” said Mike Riley, the Center’s executive director. It has evolved into the nerve center for all things “green” and offers a variety of programs to encourage people to think about how their daily lives impact sustainability.

Many of the 32 member organizations still use the Center as their meeting place and central communications hub.

The online Green Spot Directory lists locally-owned businesses that practice and promote sustainability within their businesses.

A program for youth, the Learning Garden, is next to The Environmental Center at 16 NW Kansas in the heart of Bend. In this outdoor classroom, students sow seeds, cultivate the plants and harvest their bounty.

The Environmental Center’s newest programs focus on energy—using less and shifting to solar and other renewable sources — as well as community planning and transportation. Riley believes those areas will do the most to reduce our local contribution to climate change, which he says is “the biggest environmental issue of our time.”

“We’re looking at the big things that need to happen to make our community sustainable over the long term,” he said.