California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Innovations Case Studies

Summary: Mini Trash Bins Help Office Settings Reduce Waste 50 Percent and More

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Removing trash cans to reduce office waste is a novel concept that is catching on in California and elsewhere. This idea has already resulted in 50 percent and higher waste diversion levels in many office buildings.

The system consists of replacing each employee’s wastebasket with a small mini trash bin. The mini trash can acts as a “yield” sign, allowing office workers to pause and think about what they throw away and take responsibility for their trash.

The mini trash bin can be a “saddle basket” placed on the side of the paper recycling container or a desktop mini trash bin (about the size of a 48-ounce cup). The latter is more common. In this system, employees empty their mini trash bins into centralized trash containers. Custodial workers no longer go desk-to-desk emptying trash cans. The system achieves high recycling levels because it fundamentally changes the way employees deal with their office discards.

The biggest challenge in implementing a mini trash bin program is getting employees to buy into the concept. Comments such as, “You expect me to fit all my trash in THAT?” are common. Most employees are surprised when they first see mini trash bins. Then they laugh. Then they come to realize that most of what they discard is recyclable and the mini bin is sufficient to hold the little remaining material they generate.

In California, offices with such programs include:

  • City buildings in San Jose and Oakland

  • Infineon Technologies in San Jose

  • Del Mar Fairgrounds in Del Mar

  • Southern California Edison Company

  • CalEPA Headquarters in Sacramento

Costs, Economics, and Benefits

The major costs for implementing and running a mini trash bin program are program outreach and equipment costs. Outreach largely involves staff time, but it also includes public relations materials. Most of the program costs will be in procuring equipment, such as collection containers and the mini trash bins (which can run $1.35 to $2.90 each depending on vendor, quantity ordered, and printing requested).

For some programs, the payback period on equipment purchase—through savings in trash costs—was less than one year. Because mini trash bin programs increase recycling levels and reduce materials destined for disposal, they tend to reduce overall solid waste management costs.

Many trash haulers charge by the pickup as well as by the ton. Even programs that cannot renegotiate for fewer trash pickups have realized savings by reducing the number of tons of waste landfilled or incinerated.

Eliminating the use of plastic trash liners has also saved some offices money. Many programs have found that custodial labor either decreased or remained unchanged after implementing a mini trash bin program. Program administrators can renegotiate contracts to reflect this reduction in work time. Even if renegotiating the custodial contract is not possible immediately, custodians can use this extra time to perform other duties.

Tips for Replication

  • Seek support of top office management and custodial workers and management.

  • Involve custodial workers from the beginning. Meet with custodial staff frequently to get their feedback.

  • Assess recycling and trash generation levels before and after program implementation. A basic and simple visual waste assessment/audit will provide information that you can use to set targets for the program and to evaluate the program once it is in place.

  • Evaluate current contracts (this is especially useful in estimating future savings through the program). Can you reduce costs of trash collection by reducing the frequency and number of pickups? Can you renegotiate custodial contracts?

  • Designate a team leader or recycling coordinator for each building who serves as the point person for the program (this is usually a volunteer).

  • Place central bins in well-traveled areas.

  • Make the program easy and convenient. Clearly designate trash and recycling bins.

  • Distribute equipment before the program is scheduled to begin. Exchange garbage cans yourself to ensure that every desk gets a mini trash bin and that employees do not hide their larger garbage can.

  • Provide constant communication, feedback, and follow-up. Plan adequate time for project team meetings. Communication with staff, education of senior management, and training for custodial, property management, and team leaders/recycling coordinators are essential to success.

  • Be available to answer questions.


Pursuant to contract (IWM-C8028) with the University of California at Santa Cruz for a series of 24 studies and summaries, the Institute for Local Self Reliance (Washington, D.C.) researched and prepared this summary.

The statements and conclusions in this summary are those of the contractor and not necessarily those of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), its employees, or the State of California. In addition, the data in this report was provided by local sources but not independently verified. The State and its contractors make no warranty, express or implied, and assume no liability for the information contained in this text. Any mention of commercial products, companies or processes shall not be construed as an endorsement of such products or processes.

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Last updated: October 5, 2015
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