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Dealing With the Co-worker Who Won't Recycle Anything

You're walking past a co-worker's garbage bin to see it stuffed yet again with wadded-up paper, empty soda cans, cardboard wrappers and discarded plastics. So much for that paperless office idea. Let's talk about our co-worker who never, ever recycles anything!

Knowing that you
recycle helps
make your other
qualities less

A few of your colleagues seem to have been standing behind the door when recycling bins were handed out, because they never bother to recycle. Like, ever. Maybe you've bitten your tongue for a long time about a colleague's lax attitude toward recycling. Perhaps you've moved more than a few items from the garbage bin to the recycling bin along the way because it bothers you so much.

After recycling this routine a few times, however, you feel compelled to address the topic out loud by uttering some variant of "We have a recycling bin, you know," to which this co-worker responds: "Yeah, I know, I just throw everything in the garbage can."


I'll admit this is my internal reaction when somebody says they never recycle. Aren't they aware of the floating bottle islands populating our oceans? Don't they want to impact their own plastic footprint in a positive way?

One Word: Plastics
I don't want to sound like an pestering Patty, but come on. Putting items in the recycling bin (or separating plastics out for pick up by somebody else) isn't hard. In fact, it's an easy way to feel like we're doing something good for the environment while exerting minimal effort. Score!


Still, you walk past this co-worker's trash bin a day later, and it's more of the same. Plastics, cans, paper and cardboard co-mingling in a garbage bin stew. You don't want to recycle yesterday's conversation with this co-worker, but you sure wish this co-worker would learn the recycling shuffle. Now what?

Garbage In, Garbage Out
Dealing with the recalcitrant office recycler can be tough, because recycling is a habit we need to develop. Here are answers to five common questions about getting the co-worker who won't recycle anything to at least start thinking about it:

1. Should you retrieve recycling from your co-worker's garbage can? No. For starters, it's unsanitary and you don't want to get into trouble. Also, you would set yourself up for doing this job forever after, and you already have enough work on your paper plate.

2. Should you "recycle shame" this co-worker to recycle? No, but continue to set a good example. Keep recycling. If you're putting a few things in the recycling bin, you might ask this colleague if they have anything to add. Hint, hint. Get them in the habit of thinking about recycling instead of always chucking it in the garbage bin.

3. Should you tattle to management? No, do not tell management that your co-worker never recycles. It's just a way to create hard feelings.

4. What if recycling bins aren't being used enough? If you're employer does not have recycling bins, you might suggest investing in a few bins around the office. If your office has recycling bins that people aren't using, then it might be time to think about placing these bins in high-traffic areas or near work stations.

5. How can you get more employees to recycle? Create a recycling goal. Have work teams compete for a quarterly prize such as a catered lunch or individual gift cards for everyone on the team based on their recycling numbers. You might need to incentivize some employees to recycle, because you're trying to change the workplace culture in addition to personal habits.

This probably isn't a problem in some states such as Oregon, where recyclable bottles and cans are worth money that adds up. In those states, you might have co-workers ask for your empty cans and bottles so they can get the recycling refund. Well, at least these bottles and cans are getting recycled, right? Good luck.


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