Tiny Trash

Tiny Trash Poster cut offWhat Is Tiny Trash?

Tiny Trash is a program that is being implemented in buildings across campus.  Participants in Tiny Trash trade in their desk-side trash can to receive a Tiny Trash bin that conveniently attaches to the side of a standard desk-side recycling bin.

Why Is It Being Implemented?

The purpose of Tiny Trash is to encourage positive recycling behavior by making recycling just as easy and convenient as landfilling.

Waste audits on campus have shown that 30-40% (by weight) of what building occupants put into their trash should be recycled instead, and nearly 10% of our landfill waste on campus is trash can liners.  This is partly due to our historical waste infrastructure tipping the scales in favor of landfilling.

By leveling the playing field so that recycling is treated equally (or even more favorably) to trash, we can increase our recycling and decrease our landfill waste.  Additionally, Tiny Trash's small size accurately reflects how little of our waste stream is trash; most of the waste we generate can be recycled. 

How Does It Work?

Staff and faculty are provided with a black, Tiny Trash can that conveniently attaches to the side of a standard desk-side recycling bin.  Some desks and workstations already have blue recycling bins and can simply clip the new Tiny Trash onto their recycling bin.  Others might not have a blue recycling bin, but do have a standard desk-side trash can (usually grey, black, or tan in color) which can be converted into a recycling bin if funds are not available to purchase new, blue, recycling bins.

Either way, once the Tiny Trash is clipped to the recycling bin, the person working at that desk or workstation becomes responsible for emptying both containers into centrally located recycling and trash receptacles, which can be found in hallways, lobbies, or break rooms.

Liners are not provided for either of these bins at your desk. If dirty, the Tiny Trash can be quickly cleaned with a napkin or tissue or a rinse at the nearest kitchen sink (not drinking fountain).  Departments that have implemented Tiny Trash typically see a cost savings from reduced liner usage.

What Are The Benefits?

  • Recycling will increase.
  • Landfill waste will decrease.
  • Trash liner costs will decrease.
  • It gives you an excuse to get up and move around.  You can fulfill wellness objectives each time you empty your bins.

How Do I Get My Own Tiny Trash?

As funding allows, the Office of Sustainability offers Tiny Trash bins, as well as some recycling bins, to UI employees on a first-come, first-served basis.  Check bin availability and request bins here.

While individual employees are welcome to request their own bins, the program is most successful when an entire department or building implements Tiny Trash all at once.  If your department or building is interested in implementing Tiny Trash, contact the UI recycling coordinator at recycle@uiowa.edu.

Who Is Currently Participating in Tiny Trash?

Tiny Trash has been implemented in at least one department in each of these buildings.  Some buildings have fully adopted Tiny Trash throughout the entire building.

  • Schaeffer Hall, Jessup Hall, Macbride Hall, English-Philosophy Building, University Services Building, Adler Journalism Building, Becker Communication Studies Building, Seamans Center, Calvin Hall, Iowa Memorial Union, Housing Administration, Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, Field House, College of Nursing Building, Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center, Information Technology Facility, University Capitol Centre, Center for Disabilities and Development, Clinton Street Building, Pappajohn Buisiness Building, Van Allen Hall.

How Do Tiny Trash Users Feel About The Program?

Case Studies:


Q: The Tiny Trash is...tiny.  How will it hold all of my garbage?

A: The majority of items that come across your desk are recyclable.  Make sure you read the rules of single-stream recycling to learn all the Dos and Don'ts.  The Tiny Trash will cause you to rethink the items that you do put in the trash.  For many, there are alternatives.  Some people will not use their Tiny Trash at all and instead rely on a nearby, centralized container for their trash.  This outcome is fine (reducing liner use and increasing user responsibility), but we'd still like you to keep your Tiny Trash as a physical and symbolic reminder to reduce waste.

Q: Why do I have to empty my own garbage? That's not what I get paid for.

A: The Tiny Trash may only need to be emptied once or twice a week.  Occupants are already required to empty their recycling, so this can be done in the same trip.  Most offices that do NOT participate in the Tiny Trash program have trash collected by custodial staff just once-per-month, which means many people are already disposing of some trash in alternative receptacles anyway to avoid pests or odors.  Tiny Trash simply takes it one step further.  Emptying your Tiny Trash can be done during one of the many times you leave your desk during the day.  We need everyone to be involved for this to work.

Q: What happens when I put food or food contaminated items that might smell in my bin?

A: It's best to put messy items straight into a centralized trash bin to avoid pests and odors.  If your Tiny Trash gets dirty, you can use a napkin or tissue or the nearest sink (not drinking fountain) to clean it out.

Q: Where did my confidential shredding bin go?

A: If you had a bin for confidential shredding, it can be returned back to you.  Please notify your building coordinator.

Q: Why do we need this new program? I thought we are already recycling.

A: Our waste audits still reveal a large amount of recycling being thrown into the trash. By switching to Tiny Trash, we make it clear that the majority of your waste is recyclable.  By requiring occupants to take trash to a centralized container like they do for recycling, we equalize the levels of service rather than having it tipped in the favor of trash.

Q: Are all buildings doing this on campus?

A: Not yet.  We are implementing this program at the department's or building's request.  However, Tiny Trash is being implemented in new buildings and newly renovated spaces as part of Facilities Management's Building Design Standards and Procedures.

Q: How will we hear about the performance of the Tiny Trash project?

A: We have recycling and trash weights for buildings on campus.  Some buildings share dumpsters, including SH, AJB, and BCSB (shared with JH, MLH, MH, and PH).  For CNB, USB, and EPB, recycling and trash weights are specific to those buildings.  We will be able to look at these weights, though, and see how the project is affecting waste and recycling weights.

Q: What if I don't want to go along with the Tiny Trash project?

A: The Tiny Trash Project has been proven successful in many settings across the country, including our own UI campus.  As an objective central to our University's mission, recycling and waste reduction efforts need new approaches, and some of these may alter some of your daily habits.  We need everybody's collective effort to make this successful, and we need your patience in adapting some of these practices which will become habits in a short amount of time.

Q: Do other organizations use this program?

A: The Tiny Trash project has been successfully implemented in such organizations as:

  • Hospitals
  • Insurance Companies
  • Banks
  • Military Bases
  • Universities:  Much of our direction has come from Clemson University, UNC-Charlotte, University of Southern Maine, and Dartmouth College
  • Federal and State Governments
  • Municipalities & Counties