Make a Big Impact with Mini Trash Bins

Oct. 1, 2008
Learn how one small change can make a huge difference

In an industry focused on ease of use and maximum efficiency, some organizations are achieving big results by making it harder—not easier—to throw away trash. The revolutionary idea? Shrink the size of your trash cans to cut the amount of waste your building generates by up to 50 percent.

Replicating the original miniature trash bin program implemented by the Ontario government in the 1990s, many U.S. cities, universities, and corporations are using mini trash bins to reduce waste and get employees on board with recycling. According to the Sacramento, CA-based California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), "The heart of the system is making employees responsible for their trash." Tenants/employees empty their mini trash bins into centralized trash containers and their recycling bins into centralized recycling containers. (Case studies and more information on these programs can be found online.)

To ease the transition to mini trash bins, send out memos with the new trash bins and host short educational sessions on what materials can be recycled or thrown away. Clearly label the mini trash bins and main waste and recycling containers. After a short time, you'll have employee buy-in, and they'll even appreciate the program for keeping their work areas clean and benefiting the environment.

Deborah Steinkamp, director at the Spencer County Solid Waste Management District in Chrisney, IN, says that her district has been using the mini trash cans in conjunction with its Business Recycling Programs since 1995. She says, "Employers like the cans because they eliminate the need to purchase recycling bins for their employees. The current trash cans are converted into office paper recycling bins, and the plastic liner is removed before using the old trash can as a recycling bin. This will serve as a visual message/reminder to the cleaning staff that the contents are not trash and should be put in the central recycling tote."

Mixed reactions occur when employees see the mini trash bins for the first time, but Steinkamp says that employees are typically anxious to receive theirs. "Most of the employees laugh and say, ‘There is no way that can will be big enough to hold all of my trash,' " she says. "At this point, I ask for a volunteer to offer his or her trash can as an example of what can and can't be recycled. In most cases, the items that are not recyclable fit into the mini trash can."

Why You Should Jump on Board
This trend can easily save you money on custodial and trash service costs (in Ontario, the payback period on equipment was less than 1 year), and it doesn't cost much to implement. Mini trash bins range in price from $1.30 to $3 per bin (depending on what type and how many are purchased), and you may spend some money on marketing the program. But, the former trash bins can be used as the new recycling bins, and, with fuel and energy costs rising, saving on the trash hauler's per-ton tip fee will produce noticeable savings.

How to Go Mini
Try these tips for implementing your own mini trash bin program:

  • Form an implementation team.
  • Conduct a basic waste assessment/audit (for benchmarking) and evaluate current trash and custodial contracts.
  • Place central bins in well-traveled areas.
  • Purchase durable mini trash bins with color coding to match the central bins.
  • Distribute the equipment along with thorough information on the program.
  • Educate new and existing employees/tenants about the program.
  • Provide incentives for those who participate, and positively respond to those struggling with the program.
  • Listen to feedback.

Where it Works
Mini trash bin programs are extremely useful in office, retail, and education settings. In buildings where individuals can't easily empty their bins into central collection containers, it might not make sense to downsize their bins. But, there are other ways that any building type or organization can go green and reduce waste. Seek out programs that will work, or think up a personalized sustainability plan for your facility.

Jenna M. Aker ([email protected]) is new products editor at Buildings magazine.

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