They changed the garbage cans at work, and I’m surprised by how much it’s affected me. We’re probably about the 50-millionth office in the world to have gone from standard-issue office garbage cans, maybe 18 inches high, to tiny little containers that hang off the sides of our paper-recycling bins. You could maybe fit a brick in one, if you had some reason to throw it away.
The change seems gimmicky — we know we shouldn’t throw recyclable things out, or gratuitously fill trash cans with anything and the issue’s particularly important to me personally so I’ve always tried to be extra conscientious about it. Besides, there’s no penalty for overstuffing one of these miniature garbage containers, or for dropping your stuff in a neighbour’s. What difference could it possibly make?
It’s no longer possible to discard anything of any size at all, at least not conveniently. My officemates and I have often wondered whether the plastic containers that the nice lady with the table near the front door sells salads in are recyclable; they’re transparent and made of a plastic that’s hard but flexible because it’s extremely thin, and they don’t have any numbers printed or punched on them. Before, it was a matter of idle curiosity. Well, now it matters — the large size containers wouldn’t fit in the new garbage cans, and the small ones do but just barely. Definitely inconvenient if you’re going to have a banana peel or an apple core to dispose of later in the day.
The truth, in the interests of full disclosure, is that we don’t know yet. With no plastic number on the containers, we need the lunch-seller to do some research for us and she’s thus far been disinclined. So mostly I’m buying sandwiches in saran wrap, which poses no disposal problems at all, and making more of an effort to bring lunch from home in reusable Tupperware.
My point, in this self-indulgent digression, is that a very small change in actual real-world incentives can make a big difference even in the behaviour of someone who believes he’s committed to making environmentally friendly choices.