Supporting Portland's Vegan, Vegetarian, and Veg-curious Community

Northwest VEG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Portland, OR that works to educate and encourage people to make vegan choices for a healthy, sustainable, and compassionate world.
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Volunteer Spotlight on Mitzi Sugar

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October 28, 2011

By Ashley Downs, Volunteer Coordinator and Staff Writer

This month we are pleased to feature Mitzi Sugar: Master Recycler, Veg 101 Alum, and mastermind behind this year's recycling coordination at VegFest. Many volunteers have written to express gratitude for Mitzi's help at VegFest, and the staff at the Thymes would like to echo these sentiments.

1) How did you first get involved with Northwest VEG?
In January 2011, there was an announcement in the Master Recycler newsletter that said Northwest VEG was looking for a volunteer to help improve waste recovery at VegFest. I didn't know anything about Northwest VEG at the time, so I browsed your website, and soon afterwards I connected with the event committee to start planning for the event.

2) Had you attended VegFest before agreeing to help with the massive recycling efforts?
I remember seeing an ad on a bus last year but wasn't able to attend, so this was my first time at VegFest.

3) How was the experience serving as a crucial volunteer?
I was really struck by the sense of community at VegFest and the friendliness of the event committee and volunteers. I was also impressed with how well organized the event was. There was such great attendance. The participants seemed very interested in disposing of their waste properly, and the recycling volunteers did an outstanding job to make that happen.

4) What was the biggest challenge?
Many products that are labeled "biodegradable" actually are not accepted at our local commercial composting facility. (They either haven't been tested yet, or they don't break down quickly enough.) Also, many compostable products look very similar to plastic items, so it can be difficult to tell them apart. Because there was such a wide variety of service ware items being used by the exhibitors (portion cups, tasting spoons, etc.), it was challenging to deal with the volume and variety of materials and to train the volunteers so that we could capture as much as possible, but avoid contaminating the compost.

5) Do you have a favorite memory from VegFest?
I had some great conversations with exhibitors and volunteers about the challenges of composting and the reasons why certain items can't be composted. I feel that many people walked away with some new information and a better understanding of the complexity involved when trying to compost at a public event.

6) Can you share some sustainability tips with our readers?
Even though recycling is important, that's what happens at the end of a product's lifecycle. I'd love to challenge readers to be thoughtful consumers and to really consider the things that they buy (the amount of packaging, where it's made, how long it will last, etc.). Also, try to find little things to reduce waste or packaging in one's daily life (i.e. buy in bulk, try to avoid bottled water, remember to bring your canvas bags when you go shopping, etc.), and look for ways to reuse things instead of buying new products. It's important to find the things you can do that fit into your lifestyle. Don't feel bad if it seems like the changes you're making are small. Even small changes can really add up over time.

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