Never one to shy away from a good sustainability challenge, the Vancouver Green Team recently tackled the topic of office trash (or the lack thereof) at their center based near Portland, Oregon.
The team started with a trash audit that provided some interesting insights: With a comprehensive recycling program in place, the Vancouver office really wasn't throwing out that much trash, but they were throwing away a lot of empty plastic trash bags. In fact, they were throwing away enough small empty bags to fill several large trash bags every day.
For the Vancouver team, throwing away clean trash can liners seemed like a wasted effort in many ways. Not only did empty bags create far too much landfill-bound waste, but they also were a burden to the cleaning staff, who were charged with replacing trash can liners as part of their daily janitorial service.
So the team got to work on a solution. Post-audit, their first order of business was a call to the janitorial manager, who confirmed that his staff would be delighted to support the Green Team on this effort. The team then hosted a series of "lunch and learns" designed to raise awareness of the problem and encourage colleagues to help by volunteering to share a trash can with their cubicle neighbor. Emails, posters and recycling stations outfitted with helpful signage helped bring the message to everyone at the Vancouver center.
For their annual Earth Day Fair, the Vancouver team developed a unique trash can trade-in program and encouraged teammates to sign the "no trash can" pledge. More than 95 team members traded in their trash cans, and helped save—according to some Green Team number crunching—an estimated 21,850 trash can bags* each year! Team members who traded in their cans signed a pledge that they pinned to their cubicle, alerting janitorial staff to the program and ensuring that they would no longer receive a clean daily trash liner. Vancouver team members can still get a clean trash liner when they need it, but most don't since they use the central recycling stations for most of their waste.
As an added incentive, the Green Team decorated alternative containers—everything from buckets to boxes—to provide as new and improved trash receptacles for all team members who traded in their boring old office can.
Now the Vancouver office is beautifully adorned with colorful trash containers that actively serve as reminders to reduce waste. What's more, the office cleaning crew saves both the time and costs associated with changing empty trash liners.
So tell us, what steps do you take to reduce trash at home or work?
* The Vancouver Green Team calculated this number by taking the 95 people that decided to share a can, and assumed a savings of two trash liners a day. They also factored in the night shift and weekend team members, whose presence means the Vancouver site could be in use every day of the year! They then accounted for holidays, and the assumption that at some point those sharing cans would receive a new liner (ie. once a week).