Spencer Butte

Exploring Zero Waste in Eugene, Oregon

“There is definitely a sense of environmental concern in Eugene and sustainable living is promoted throughout the town”


After spending  two months in San Francisco, I felt it was time to get back to nature a bit; so what better state to do that in but Oregon. I’d read great things about a small town named Eugene and decided to make my way there. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The hostel I’ve been staying at here in Eugene is located in the Whiteaker district and finding the words to descibe this area is not hard but just so many come to mind! Colourful, eclectic, creative, charasmatic, liberal, quirky, trees, the list goes on.

Eugene Whiteaker Hostel

Eugene hostel backyard



A brief history of ‘The Whiteaker’ district


Eugene Whiteaker flag


The Whiteaker has an interesting history and one I’ve personally never really encountered before. Nowadays it’s an obvious hippie haven, the houses are covered in beautifully painted murals, the gardens are full of statues and trinkets and communal chairs. Music can be heard far and wide and bicycle is the preferred mode of transport. The area is also known for its craft breweries of which several have popped up and for its broad range of restaurants. Many businesses in the area have been family owned since their opening which shows great community spirit.

Although not so long ago, strong political activism and anarchy were the face of this neighbourhood. Around this same time, drugs (mainly heroin) were a big problem and may have even fuelled the rampant anarchism; the area was in dissaray and decay. But that aside, the community had joined together to fight for their environment, human and animal rights and anti-globalisation amongst other issues. Direct action was a preferred method of protest and many Eugene residents attended the famous Seattle WTO Conference in 1999 where huge protests of 40,000 strong occured. It would have been very interesting to be a fly on the wall during these times.

Some of these same people are still in the neighbourhood and while the area still holds its same values, issues are dealt with differently, you could even say in a wiser, more mature way. What I love is that these same mavericks who fought to the extremes in the past have helped pave the way for what the Whiteaker is today; a vibrant and creative hive full of bohemians, artists and business people alike. The streets are filled with inspiration and the air is thick with positive energy.


Green living in Eugene

There is definitely a sense of environmental concern in Eugene and sustainable living is promoted throughout the town. There are several bulk food stores and farmer’s markets in different parts of town providing organic and locally sourced products and eating locally sourced foods is very common. Information leaflets on recycling, permaculture, non-gmo foods and composting can be found at these stores, on notice boards and other random spots. Many eateries provide separate bins for recycling, compost and landfill. Riding your bicycle or walking instead of driving your car is highly encouraged and there are several community gardens around town.

Eugene’s local government website provides a wealth of information and guides regarding recycling and composting at home and work as well as a bunch of sustainable living tips. A ban on single use plastic bags has been in place within Eugene’s city limits since 2013. A free service called RE:think Business will send trained ‘Resource Conservation Advisors’ to business premises to provide advice and support on practical ways to trim waste and save money. Plus there is a commercial composting service for businesses as well.

As well as all this, the City of Eugene have created the ‘Community Climate and Energy Action Plan’. Their goals include converting all city owned facilities and city operations to a carbon neutral status by 2020 and reducing fossil fuel usage by 50% compared to their 2010 statistics by 2030.

I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the bulk food supermarkets here and have found their ranges to be extensive and  the customer service to be brilliant. I have been able to buy not only food but body products as well (they provide much more but I haven’t needed it on my travels). Some of their produce is on the pricier side so I have had to substitute it with non-organic options from the regular supermarket but on the whole, these stores have given me access to varied, healthy foods, including treats (which, of course is most important!).


Sundance Natural Foods

Eugene Fix-it Fairs

Excerpt taken from the Eugene Government website


“The City of Eugene is launching a series of Fix-It Fairs, inviting the community to get items repaired at no cost. Volunteers and professionals will provide free repairs and will be available to coach attendees interested in learning how to make their own repairs.

Repair services will be available for a variety of products, including small appliances (like lamps and toasters), tools, clothing and textiles, small electronics, home and garden tools, furniture, and toys.”


Fix it fair Eugene


These events sound fantastic and really productive. One thing that makes me a little sad these days is that everything is made to be replaceable and no longer repairable like the good ol’ days. These fairs will be a great opportunity for people to become inspired and learn new skills and to also learn the value of their possesions, while pulling away from the throwaway society we are now entangled in.


The University of Oregon’s Zero Waste Program

From what I can gather the University of Oregon is a very well respected school with great programs and students alike. But for someone who is not interested in going to school there, I am super impressed by their zero waste program!

The program, run completely by students, began as mostly recycling back in 1991 and has progressed into the effective zero waste program that it is today. With their systems and standards in place, they successfully diverted over 55% of waste created on campus away from landfill in 2016. That is no easy feat with over 23,000 students, faculty and staff attending the school.

While working hard on reducing their waste and impact and on the environment, they have also created a ‘Zero Waste Campus Toolkit’ so other universities can jump on board and begin their zero waste journey.


Zero waste in the hostel

I’ve had the opportunity to stay at Eugene’s only hostel – The Eugene Whiteaker Hostel – for an extended period of time and I’ve been so pleased and excited with the level of ‘green living’ here. There are several recycling bins, each for a different type of material; paper, plastic, glass. There is a small compost bin in the kitchen with an information sheet about composting and why it is important pinned to the kitchen wall (the large compost heaps are out back).

Buying locally sourced foods and shopping at local supermarkets is highly encouraged by the staff, as is getting around by foot or bicycle instead of car.

They use cleaning products that are as natural as posssible including vinegar and baking soda. They even provide 100% recycled toilet paper, paper towel and tissues that don’t harm any trees in their production.

It’s been so nice spending time with and learning from the staff here at the hostel as they have the same ideals as myself but different perspectives are always informative and can be very inspiring.


Eugene hostel compost

Eugene hostel bins


It’s hard to stay inside whilst in this charming town of Eugene. The river and the trees and the rose garden are always beckoning and the communal bicycle is always ready to go.  I’ve felt so inspired here; by the people and the art and the culture, it’s going to be hard to move on but I’m excited to see other natural wonders and explore zero waste options in other parts of this fine country.


Willamette River


Love Kat xx


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