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Before Mona Hernandez leaves her office each evening, she checks one last item off her to-do list: emptying her deskside recycling and trash bins.

“I’m just in a routine,” she said. “I do it at the end of the day.”

My Tiny Trash big and recycling bin.

Hernandez, an administrative specialist in the Office of Information Technology, picked up this habit over the summer, when UT Recycling rolled out My Tiny Trash in her building.

My Tiny Trash, a new waste reduction and awareness initiative coming to UT office buildings, swaps deskside trash cans for gray three-quart Tiny Trash containers.

The Tiny Trash cans attach to the side of larger blue recycling bins where employees can recycle paper, plastic, and aluminum and steel cans.

Custodial workers in Facilities Services won’t empty the deskside bins anymore. Instead, employees will take the waste they generate throughout the day to strategically placed stations where they can sort their trash and recycling into the appropriate bins.

“Trash pickup isn’t going away,” UT Recycling Manager Jay Price said. “The difference is we’ll be collecting from a centralized station as opposed to each individual desk.”

It’s a tiny update with big anticipated effects.

“By making recycling more accessible with additional bins and decreasing the size of landfill waste containers, we’re making a systematic change that will encourage more recycling,” Price said.

The idea for the program isn’t new. Businesses and universities across the United States and Canada have been implementing Tiny Trash programs since the 1990s, with repeatedly proven results.

Buildings where tiny trash initiatives have been adopted at the University of Iowa have seen recycling rates increase nearly twofold from 26 to 46 percent. When Sonoma State University in California adopted a similar program in 2005-06, its campus recycling rate increased by 55 percent.

At UT, an experimental rollout of the program in the Facilities Services Complex starting in 2016 produced a similar outcome.

In that building, the waste diversion rate—the percentage of waste kept out of the landfill—stands at approximately 66 percent. That’s more than double the campus-wide average of 33 percent.

“In light of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, sustainable recycling practices are more important than ever,” Price said. “People are recognizing the need to pay attention.”

Hernandez says that in UT’s Kingston Pike Building, where she works, that’s exactly what happened after My Tiny Trash was implemented.

“I’ve noticed that people are a little bit more aware of their garbage,” she explained. “Rather than just tossing something they’re like, ‘Oh, this can go in plastics.’”

Besides increasing recycling rates, the program is also meant to cut back on materials. Putting plastic liners in waste bins across more than 100 UT buildings uses more than 100,000 pounds of plastic every year.

The blue recycling bins and My Tiny Trash containers, however, don’t require liners.

“We’ve already made excellent strides to reduce the amount of liners we’re using,” Building Services Director Gordon Nelson said. “My Tiny Trash is going to help us lower that number even more.”

Another important goal of the program, Nelson said, is giving custodial workers more freedom to focus on cleaning, polishing floors, and disinfecting restrooms and public areas with the time they would have spent emptying hundreds of deskside trash cans.

“We have machines that can disinfect every surface in a room. Our cleaners will have more time to provide sanitation services and other professional custodial care in buildings now that they aren’t pulling trash from individual offices,” Nelson explained.

My Tiny Trash is still in its first phase of implementation on campus. The goal is to convert all office buildings on campus to the new system by June 2019.

The program is just one part of UT Recycling’s larger goal to make the university a zero waste institution by diverting at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill through reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting practices. To find out more about other initiatives, visit recycle.utk.edu.