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Sometimes folks do their best thinking when they are out on a walk.

A couple of years ago, Lauri Richer of Corvallis was on a stroll with a friend. They were trying to plan a year-end event.

Richer, a graduate of Oregon State University Extension’s master recycling program, wanted to find a way to hold such an event without producing a lot of waste.

They hit upon the idea of reusable tableware.

“Why don’t I try that?” Richer recalled, and the idea of Green Girl began to take root.

The idea was simple. Collect a bunch of plates and utensils and provide it to customers. For free.

Richer went to yard sales, estate sales, Goodwill, thrift stores — “we’ve got a lot of great thrift stores in Corvallis” — and began putting stuff in containers and filling a set of (recycled, naturally) cabinets in a utility room in her house in northwest Corvallis.

“I didn’t want to get anything new to keep with my theme,” she said.

Richer, who moved to Corvallis in 1995, started putting out the word about the service. First, she, talked it up with co-workers at Samaritan Health Services, where she works full time as a licensed practical nurse in cardiology. “It fell flat. They just were not that interested,” she said.

The big break came when she began working with the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition.

“I got in touch with (coalition facilitator) Annette Mills and she said ‘that’s a great idea, let’s get this out into the community,’ ” Richer said. “They accepted it with open arms and sent out a group email. That got a much better response, and it’s grown from there.”

Richer has done events, such as the annual NAACP picnic at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, that have included as many as 300 people. The schedule ebbs and flows, sometimes rising to 10 events a month. On the day the Gazette-Times visited, she had seven containers of tableware out in the community.

Her collection is almost exclusively plastic. She would prefer ceramic but says that a weak back makes the weight of ceramic items a nonstarter for her. And she noted in an email to customers when she hit her one-year anniversary that her service had ensured that 5,000 paper plates were not used. She added that it takes eight gallons of water to make each paper plate, rendering the dishwashing that plastic requires negligible by comparison.

Why do the service for free?

“We are a very comfortable middle-class family,” Richer said. “I don’t need the money. It’s better if people will keep the money and pass the word.”

Particularly to those who are putting together kids’ birthday parties.

“I’d like to get into that market,” she said. “I’ve done some outreach, but it hasn’t taken off as much as I’d like. And it would be good for kid to see ways to reduce waste. The U.S. is one of the world’s biggest wasters.”

She has the colors that would work for birthdays, and lots of reds and greens for the holidays. She has plenty of orange (naturally) for Halloween and has discovered that “people don’t care if things match or not.”

Any issues with loss or damage?

“All the time. I count it when I put it in the box to go out but not when it comes back.”

Richer drives an electric car, she has solar panels on her house, which she and her husband, Tim Corbett, a retired HP Inc. engineer, bought because it faced the right direction for solar. They ripped out the lawns and put in in an edible, low-water garden, and Richer buys all of her clothes secondhand.

“My husband has been a good influence on me,” she said. “We buy a lot of things in bulk at the co-op.”

Richer has met with officials at Samaritan about getting a sustainability program going and also helped write a job description for the position. But she said the plan is on a back burner for now,

“I’m hoping it will come to pass,” she said, “and I’m happy to work with that person.”

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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