The day I stole my co-workers' garbage cans

Think about the last time you threw something in the trash. It probably was a habitual action the didn’t actually require any thought, right?

That’s how it is for me and for many of my colleagues.

So to make a point and bring awareness to our trash-tossing habits, the Herald’s GreenTeam decided, for one day, to take away people’s individual garbage and recycling cans in the newsroom.

That’s right. No cans under our desks for a whole day.

At 11 p.m. the night before this campaign, as I made my way around the newsroom stacking cans, I wondered what I had gotten myself into and whether I would have any friends left 24 hours later.

As I emptied the cans, I made note of the food remnants, candy wrappers and the occasional plastic water bottle people had thrown away.

On the plus side, I didn’t find any paper in trash cans. One big green star for the printer paper-hungry newsroom!

Fast forward to the next morning, I crept into the newsroom hoping to avoid angry stares.

A mass e-mail had been sent to my colleagues explaining why they had no cans under their desks, and that they should make use of two central garbage and recycling stations.

Much to my surprise, I got very little reaction during the course of the day.

One colleague sent me a Twitter post about how she was going to leave her trash on my desk (with a smiley face, of course).

Another co-worker took a bin she found in the copy room to use for her recycling.

It’s a big pain to carry it to the central station, she said.

Yes, it is a pain. I agree.

But the point of the day was exactly that: To prevent people from relying on the habit of tossing used items in the bin, be it garbage or recycling, to illustrate just how much we use and consume at our desks each day.

The next morning I arrived early to return everyone’s garbage and recycling cans.

The central stations we set up were well used, and more recycling was collected than trash. Another green star for the newsroom!

I’m not sure how much of an effect the campaign had on my co-workers, or if any of them will continue to think twice when they toss. I’ve heard before that changing a habit takes 28 days, and there’s no way my bosses or colleagues would have stood for another 27 days without cans under their desks.

If nothing else, the change in setting shook things up for a day. Several times, I found myself turning to reach for the cans, then remembering they’re not there.

Though most of don’t produce a lot of garbage in a day, there’s the gum wrappers, the tea bags, the apple cores (which now are getting fed to the worms under my desk), the recycled papers. And not having the convenience of a can right there triggered a bit of extra thought about my own consumption habits.

What do you throw away each day? Are there items that could be used again? Recycled?

Think about it.

-- Ingrid Stegemoeller is a business reporter for the Herald and appreciates the economic and environmental efficiency of living green.