How to Succeed in Portland Without Really Recycling


I'm spoiled living in here Portland, Oregon. Not only is my city beautiful, with mild weather, rolling hills and ample green space, but most folks around here are so enlightened they give birth naturally under their favorite tree. No matter what neighborhood you live in, there's an acupuncturist, a Buddhist temple, a yoga studio and a medical marijuana dispensary all within 300 feet of your solar powered micro house.


Image: Samuel Mann via Flickr


Portland is known for its diehard commitment to sustainability; you can't swing a dead free-range chicken around here without denting a Prius or knocking over a lean-bodied cyclist, so you know the air is clean and fresh. Plastic bags are banned from local supermarkets and rest assured, you can always find organic berries, ample bicycle parking and purveyors of small batch kombucha.

The flip side to sustainability nirvana is that one is constantly being judged by fellow citizens on one’s "green cred." It's not uncommon to be clucked at by the checkout clerk at Whole Foods for not bringing reusable grocery bags or bitched out by a barista for not toting around your own ceramic mug for your soy latte. Oh, the pressure to be pure!

Recently, the tattooed guy who delivered my soup by bicycle took me to task for asking for a napkin.

"But I have a four-year-old," I protested. "She's a messy eater."

He snorted his disdain, "What's more important, man, your kid having a clean face or an old growth forest? Think about it." He pedaled furiously away, and we were left to slurp our soup out of a biodegradable container. Apparently, spoons are only for oil executives.

It can be hard to live up to all these ecological expectations. And so, I've devised the following guide to appear greener than I really am, lest I face social ostracization and my kid getting kicked out of Waldorf School. Feel free to adapt to your own not-so-perfectly-green life:

1. Packing lunch for your child and all the fabric sandwich bags are in a moldering pile in the laundry room? Grab a Ziploc and run it under hot water, then crumple it till it looks like you've used it 800 times, shove the sandwich in and call it good.

2. Running late for the potluck and don't have enough time to drag your kid and your vegan gluten-free casserole in the Burley trailer behind your bike? Park your 30-year-old carbon spewing diesel Mercedes a few blocks away and when you arrive make a big show of tucking your fake bus pass into the pocket of your organic cotton poncho.

3. While you're at it, slap a "Powered by Vegetable Grease" sticker on the back of that rig -- even though it so isn't. Put some Willie Nelson CDs in there, just for good measure.

4. Forget to bring your reusable bags to Whole Foods again? Grab the hem of your shirt and demand your groceries be loaded into your peasant blouse, proclaiming, "Don't you know those bags are made by Indonesian child labor?!"

5. Can't bring yourself to wash load after load of soiled diapers? Keep a cloth diaper cover handy to camouflage your kiddo's disposable nappy during outings. Make sure it hangs out of your baby's waistband.

6. When company is coming, throw some wet coffee grounds in a bowl and place it on the kitchen counter. Top it with a banana peel. Pretend like you compost all the time and tell your guests you're all excited about picking up some red wigglers from a local farm next week.

7. It's also important to stash the Windex and Comet way back in a cabinet and prominently display a large bottle of white vinegar above the sink.

8. You are seen entering a McDonald's just a half a block from the farmer's market that serves delicious local fare? Fake a seizure.

9. Someone witnesses you throwing your glass bottle into the wrong recycling container? Distract them with tales of your confrontations with lumberjacks from your tree sitting days.

10. You get busted drinking from a plastic water bottle? I'm sorry, but I have no hack for this. The witnesses to this travesty must be strangled with their own dreadlocks.

Equipped with these simple strategies, you're sure to fit here in Portland, provided you're wearing Keens, neutral tone cargo capri pants and a bamboo fiber t-shirt.

See you in the bike lane! (In my rearview mirror, that is.)

Sue Campbell is a freelance writer and business systems analyst in Portland, Oregon, where she does her part for the health of our planet -- most of the time.



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