Tuesday, February 10

cutting the crap

I was telling Kale for Sale last week that i had begun fishing through the rubbish bins at work. Yikes. Ive become a bin lady. Seeing the stuff that gets tossed; food scraps, tuna tins, pot o soup bowls and tetra milk cartons is getting my knickers quite twisted but it wasnt until Thurdsay that i started really fishing around in there. Enough was enough. My duds had seriously twisted and then caught fire! It reminded me of when i was a kid, travelling in a car on the Sydney Harbour Bridge with my best friend and her parents and they stopped to pick up a discarded Coke can. Stopping on the bridge is no mean feat but this was a full on recycling mum who rode around on a bike with a roof slate and chalk tied to the handlebars of her bike for her shopping list! I was pretty embarrassed then but I think Ive been affected.

While i was on leave i had been thinking about the problem of lack of recycling at work and how to manage it, but being part time coupled with the local politics ( admin vs academic staff) i felt there was not alot i could do that would be effective. Trying to organise and managing a recycling system would not go down too well with the already maligned administrative staff who seem to take matters of the kitchen as their crucible. One slip up by me; forgetting to take it home if I had organised it would be a akin to murder in the first degree and i dont think there woud be many willing to cover. 'Forgetful' (imperfect) academic staff aren't forgiven easly. Oouch. So i had comitted to just doing it quietly; sort through it at the end of the days when im at work and just take it home as my own business. Until I read Mels post on normative behaviours, which pretty much just spelled out the doubts Id had about my 'system' (or lack thereof). Quietly taking home other peoples waste wont change how people view tossing their rubbish in the bin but if they know Im taking responsibility for their s/crap and taking it home to recycle or compost maybe they'll start taking responsibility for it themselves or will they just get pissed off with me for sticking my nose in 'their' business?

So in the process of writing this post Ive become at least clear that i need to have a discussion and that the relatively informal atmosphere of morning tea is just the place to start. I just cant believe that a 'Group of 8' university, which advertises itself as a leader, innovative and responsble, doesnt have more than a paper recycling system in place. Somethings gotta give. If a then middle aged millionaire could ride around with a slate tied to her bike and take the time to stop and pick up a can someone has discarded on a busy freeway, surely we can all take responsibility for our lunchtime tuna tin, or at least let me?


Anonymous said...

I realised, having always carefully sorted my rubbish, that the cleaning staff were tossing all the paper bins and general rubbish bins into the same bag when they cleaned my office when I worked at a uni. Real change needs to happen at every level.

Rest is not idleness said...

I clean offices, if rubbish and recyclables have been separated then I put them in the appropriate bins, (but I will not sort through a rubbish bin for recyclables, even though some people would say "that is the cleaners job"). I do agree that some cleaners couldn't care less about recycling.

In my experience quite a few firms just pay lip service to recycling, they want the cleaners to take responsibility for all the recycling, (but they won't pay extra for the time and effort involved). All that really does, is take the responsibility away from the staff.

A couple of things that can help:

1. Have a paper recycling wheelie bin situated in the building and the staff can empty their own recycling box daily.
2. Have separate bins for different recyclables (with labels and pictures of what can and can't go in)and please, please rinse out those smelly tuna cans.

In the end it comes down to education and a willingness on the part of the staff to participate 100%.

Kel, I could say a lot more from a cleaner's point of view, but I think I've probably said enough.


Jen said...

This issue is so tough when you are battling against complacency, bureaucracy and office politics. Brave one, Kel!

Its worth finding out what your Uni will do for you. Will they (as they should) have appropriate bins for recyclables and paper? At UniSA there was a bit of phoning around, but with the consent of the Head of School we soon had 2 big wheelie bins for paper waste and recyclables. 90% of staff used them, and encouragement came from the HOS himself at a school board meeting.

Kel said...

ICG- its a proverbial pain sometimes things when your efforts just get messed up.

RNI- i hear you! especially your message to the non tuna tin washers! and your list to make thisngs easy, i can proudly say as of this mornings morning tea we have recycling on the next admin agenda! whoohoo!

Jen - UNI property services ONLY deal with white paper but we are looking into lease arrangements and city council possibilities as we are off campus. Hopefully as of next week we will have something in place. i even managed to include a supported request for a food scrap bin!! yippee
I will keep ya posted!

Karin said...

Interesting. As the wife of an economist (said tongue in cheek) I am learning all about incentives. And we also have copies of the Harvard Business Review all over the house which I might add, is far more interesting reading that the title might suggest.

Two short summary articles in this weeks HBR make me think of your dilemma. One is titled: The Dynamics of Personal Influence. Basically, it describes how conditions and behaviours flow through social networks. The closer you are to someone, the more likely it is that your behaviours influence each other. It's a no-brainer really, but what was interesting was the percentages. They used 3 degrees of separation to illustrate. Using smoking as a example - a person is 61% more likely to smoke if your good friend smokes, 29% if your friends friend smokes, 11% higher if your friends friends friend smokes. Well, maybe the same thing could apply to tuna tins and recycling. :-)

The other summary article was entitled - Harnessing Social Pressure. Basically, it's about how peer influence can motivate people to do the right thing or it can illicit worse behaviours - depending on how it's interpreted. It's all in how it's presented. That's the tricky bit. It seems people are strongly influenced by what they think other people are doing. That can mean two things - that they lift their expectations, or they lower them. The author describes how when households in California were informed they were using more electricity than their neighbours, they reduced their usage but those who were informed that they were using less increased their usage by 8.6%. Isn't that interesting! So apparently, a publicized behaviour norm becomes a magnetic middle, drawing people to it. As soon as they reframed the message by showing approval, the lower uses continued to use at a low rate.

There was another experiment involving hotel towels that was equally interesting. :-) The guy has written a book called - 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

Anyway, that is my long schpeel for the day.

Word Identification: prabl. Maybe that is what this is, a long prabl. :-)

Kel said...

Karin- what a great comment/post. I used to read the fin review every week- i agree, the title induces a yawn but the articles were always illuminating.great synthesis between economy/politics and sociology. Very interesting comments you make, quite exciting and i am going to have a look at that book.