Up to 45% of municipal waste is generated in the workplace and according to the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), almost all of the waste in an average workplace (80-90%) is recyclable.
Increasing recycling in the office will not only protect the environment, it also has the potential to save 20-50% on monthly waste disposal fees.
Now how to get everyone in the office to recycle? This study by PepsiCo, Keep America Beautiful, Action Research, and CBRE presents an original and innovative approach – worth sharing.

What they did

They tested four different bin setups and gave out recycling information to see if that would impact the quality of recycling collected.

  • Control condition: desk-side bin remains as is
  • Recycling only condition: one recycling desk-side bin, no trash bin
  • Equal-size condition: same size recycling and trash bins at desk side
  • Little trash condition: one recycling desk-side bin and a little hanging trash bin

All common areas received two large bins, one for recycling and one for trash.

What happened?

Nothing much happened in the control condition. People liked the project, but there were almost no changes in knowledge, attitude, self-reported behaviour, perceived difficulty, or actual behaviour.
Participants in the recycling only condition did not like the project at all and many dropped out. There were no desirable changes in this one.
The equal-size condition showed a few desirable changes in the above measures, but not in actual recycling behaviour. People liked the ideas, but still threw a lot of recyclables in the trash. Many other studies end up with a set-up like this as the most effective one, which is not bad and definitely works better than just recycling or trash bins. But these researchers took another step and tested variations in sizing – a little trash bin attached to a bigger recycling bin.
The little trash condition was the clear winner. People were happy, increased recycling and decreased the trash in the recycling.


Physical capability and opportunity are necessary to induce recycling behaviour. Making it easy, putting both, a trash and a recycling bin in common areas as well as at the desks, and giving some information about the topic helps us recycle better while we’re at work.
But getting us to recycle right most of the time, we need to have enough psychological capability, meaning sufficient mental skills, concentration, and deliberation at the point of throwing something out. While we work, we rarely have enough capacity left to concentrate on recycling and we tend to just throw our things in either bin, even though we know how to recycle and are happy to do it.
The sizing in the little trash condition works as subliminal guidance, telling our subconscious that what we want to through out is probably recyclable, but if not, there’s a separate place for it next to it.

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