A Master Recycler's Experience at the Recycling Event of the Year

By Zanna Ahern (Class 58)

Desert Rain House, Bend Oregon. Photo by Zanna Ahern.

Thanks to the generosity of Betty Patton and Recycling Advocates, I attended the Association of Oregon Recyclers (AOR) conference held in Bend from June 3-5. It was fun being in a (large) roomful of like-minded people -- just like in the Master Recycler class.

Luckily, I pre-registered for Bend's "Living Building Challenge Home and Sustainable Business Tour" as it was a wonderful part of the conference. The Living Building Challenge Home is actually a compound, consisting of a 2236 sq. ft. home, called Desert Rain. It has two accessory dwelling units and two garages, one of which contains the central composting system and the other houses the rainwater collection cistern. It has a great hillside view westward over the valley.

Tom Elliott and Barbara Scott are the couple whose passion led to the building of this amazing place. It took them, along with a team of people, more than five years to get the compound built and permitted. The couple wrote about it in their book, "Desert Rain House":

At minimum, projects must produce as much energy as they consume. They must harvest and process all water on-site. They must be made with local materials and cannot include anything on something call the Red List, a collection of fourteen worst-in-class chemicals and substances.

They followed all these "imperatives" plus many more and their home is (I believe) the first to be built to the Living Building standards. When you first see their compound, which blends well into the environment, you may not be that impressed. It's only upon taking the tour and learning about all they had to go through -- from finding materials that weren't composed of "unallowables" to getting permits for all sorts of things that had never been permitted before, the list goes on and the compound becomes very impressive.

We were able to walk all through their property and in most of the buildings (they prefer to keep their home private, so no one goes in there, though we were able to look through some windows). You would never guess that most of the wood came from salvage —it's all so gorgeous! It was truly eye-opening to go on this tour.

I'll just mention one other highlight —Kyle Wiens of iFixit, who was the keynote speaker. He was mesmerizing! I hadn't heard of iFixit before, so just hearing about that was educational. But he is also an excellent speaker and talked for at least an hour and a half, which went by very quickly. iFixit is freesourcing manuals on how to fix just about everything, from computers to cellphones to sewing zippers into garments. Kyle so strongly believes in everyone's right to repair things that he has appeared before Congress a number of times.

And to give you a taste of other talks I went to, here are the titles:  "Sustainable Consumption: Why, What and How?" (Lauren was a speaker at this one); "Diversity in Solid Waste and Recycling Industries: Integrating Social Equity in Your Vision, Funding and Partnerships"; and "Source Reduction and Food Recovery: Challenges and Successes".

If you get an opportunity to go to an AOR conference, do it!