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Tiny Trash

...Big Impact

Waste audits on campus have shown 30-40% of what building occupants put into their trash should be in single-stream recycling, and nearly 10% of waste on campus are liners.  We are excited to introduce The Tiny Trash Waste Reduction Project on campus to improve recycling, decrease waste, create environments that reflect our values, and make a big impact in our pursuit of 60% waste diversion.

Enhancing the impact of Tiny Trash, a small number of buildings have piloted organics collection (for composting).  Buildings with Tiny Trash, organics collection, and recycling find that just filling the Tiny Trash becomes difficult--so little waste is created!

How it works

Staff and faculty are provided a blue, desk-side recycling bin (you may already have one) and a black, tiny trash can. Users empty both containers into centrally located recycling and trash cans, which can be found in hallways, lobbies, or break rooms typically.

The tiny trash can is small and conveniently hangs onto the larger desk-side recycling bin. Its small size accurately reflects how little of our waste stream is trash; most of it can be recycled. Liners are not provided for either of these bins at your desk. The Tiny Trashes, if dirty, can be quickly cleaned with a napkin or tissue or a rinse at the nearest kitchen sink (not drinking fountain). The initiative requires learning and participation by everyone.    

Current sites

  • 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
  • Forthcoming:  Lindquist Center, North Hall, Gilmore Hall, MacLean Hall 

Survey Feedback

  • 72% report an "easy" or "indifferent" transition to Tiny Trash.
  • 83% report emptying their Tiny Trash 2 times per week or less.
  • Improvement will be made in areas with desks that are used by multiple people during week.


There are many benefits to the Tiny Trash project. Recycling will increase, waste will decrease, and trash liner costs will decrease. Any additional trips you make in the day to the trash or recycling container will fulfill wellness objectives that are important for every one of us. Standing up and moving is important!

Case Studies

Explore the success and precedence of the Tiny Trash project:


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.  This 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 leave food stuff and items that make a mess and smell? We don't have composting in our office.

A: It's good to put messy items straight into a centralized trash bin.  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 Trashes, 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: No, we implementing this project on a small scale to measure the performance (waste reduction, recycling increase, liner savings).  Then, with UI-specific data, we intend to report to the Recycling and Waste Reduction Committee and then the Sustainability Advisory Committee in order to consider greater expansion to campus if the data looks favorable.  We will likely apply for grants in order to expand further.

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.  It will be most clear in CNB, USB, and EPB.

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.  As an objective central to our University's mission, recycling and waste reduction efforts need new approaches that are expected, and some of these will 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 new 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

Tiny Trash Gallery

News & Events Climate Narrative Blog

Sustainability at Iowa

1650 University Capitol Centre
200 South Clinton St.
Iowa City, IA 52242
(319) 335-5516