Rethinking Waste Through Innovation

COCC students visit Jessie Spendlove at the educational green hygiene table with information about the
toothpaste, laundry detergent, washing on cold saves energy, information on Saalt and All Matters companies

Highlights from the 2023 Rethink Waste Community Innovation Fund

With greater support from Deschutes County Solid Waste and Visit Central Oregon, 2023 was a big year for the Community Innovation Fund (CIF)! The Rethink Waste Project of The Environmental Center was able to increase the total and individual project funds available, transition to year-round rolling applications, increase promotions via press, social media, and direct outreach, and add staff capacity to support project development and implementation. These big changes resulted in big impacts, and we’re thrilled to continue the momentum by supporting  more projects in 2024!

Last year, project applicants were assessed on a quarterly basis by a review team representing waste managers, tourism industry professionals, local youth, educators, and other community members. In total, we distributed over $38,000 to 13 projects across Deschutes County.

Project Spotlight: High Desert Food & Farm Alliance

During the 2023 growing season, HDFFA placed three donation stations at three community gardens in Deschutes County to rescue potential food waste and redirect fresh produce to Central Oregonians experiencing food insecurity. With the use of the donation stations, HDFFA collected 153.31 lbs of food. In addition, HDFFA increased awareness of their Food Access programs, shared opportunities for food rescue in Deschutes County, and launched an educational media campaign around food waste. This project greatly increased HDFFA’s collaboration with community gardens in Deschutes County and increased donations to the Grow & Give program by 100%!

An additional donation station cooler was used at the Bend and Northwest Crossing farmers markets (rescuing 117.26 lbs of food) and on HDFFA gleans on 18 farms in Central Oregon (rescuing 643 lbs of food). This cooler assisted HDFFA in increasing the longevity and quality of donations and by providing an additional cool, insulated, and sun-free space for particularly vulnerable vegetables such as fresh greens. In 2023, the Environmental Center-sponsored donation stations assisted HDFFA in collecting a record amount of donations of over 50,000 lbs of fresh produce. All of this produce was distributed through NeighborImpact Food Bank in Redmond as they serve 57 regional food pantries.

Project Spotlight: Central Oregon Community College

COCC provided 330 student residents with zero waste laundry detergent, toothpaste and menstruation product options. The Menstrual Dignity Act (HB 3294, 2021) requires free menstrual products to be provided for all students in public school buildings in Oregon. COCC has been stocking with only disposables to date so now have stocked with over 75 reusable menstrual cups options. Next, they hosted education and distribution events (for the menstruation products) in the residence hall lobby. 15 shampoo bars and 15 deodorant sticks were given away first come, first serve to students who came by the table to talk about the products and the importance of being a conscious consumer. Planned Parenthood did a joint event to provide discussion and other resources on reproductive health.

In addition to waste reduction, this initiative has facilitated valuable learning opportunities for both students and staff regarding the purpose and positive environmental impacts of utilizing such products. By avoiding the excess consumption of single-use plastics and packaging, they have collectively contributed to decreasing environmental harm. However, the jury is still out on whether the laundry sheets are truly plastic free.

Varied Projects Produce Varied Impacts

Due to the wide variety of projects carried out, impacts are measured differently from project to project. The following list of impacts reported by each project includes a mix of rough estimates and direct measurements, and are observed over different time scales. It’s also important to note that many of the projects will continue to prevent and recover waste beyond the time period of the grant, or may have longer-term outcomes that are difficult to quantify since training and education play a role in the project goals.

2023 Funded ProjectImpact Estimates
Expand HDFFA’s Coolers to Rescue Excess Fresh Produce913.57 lbs of food rescued
Food waste prevention education provided
Expand Sustainability Reach at Mt Bachelor Village 200 bags of bottles and cans recycled
150 mixed recycling bins and guides provided/ recycling cart contamination reduced
Save the Bikes215 bicycles upcycled + 28 bicycles recycled
Blue Bins for Blue Bags at Tetherow Resort200 bags of bottles and cans recycled
200 employees reached
Improved recycling and composting practices at SCP17,500 lbs of waste recycled
50 employees reached
Green Hygiene at Central Oregon Community College330 students reached 
50% toiletry waste reduced
Congregate Dining Dishware338 clients served
Agricultural Packaging Repurposing Program100 waxed boxes reused each week
200 egg cartons reused each week

You can learn more about each project, and find new projects in 2024 as we announce them, on the Community Innovation Fund Project Showcase page using the button below!