Saturday, September 24, 2005

Whoops! Mandatory recycling

First of all, let me make this perfectly clear: I support recycling. I think that using stuff over instead of throwing it away is a wonderful idea.

That being said, I also understand people who don't support recycling. It's inconvenient, and there are some people who are actually anti-recycling because they contend that recycling actually uses more energy than it saves, which contributes to this tiny blue marble's problems instead of helping to solve them.

Just about everywhere I've ever been, recycling has been a purely voluntary effort. Companies these days are making it easier to do by distributing recycling bins for various and sundy items throughout their premises. I admire this kind of effort, because if you make it easy for people to recycle, people will generally recycle.

At my company, they did this. Every desk got a green paper trash bin, and all of the breakrooms have large containers marked "Cans and Bottles." For the most part, people use them, and everyone is happy.

Everyone, apparently, except for a few recycling nuts who managed somehow to get the attention of upper management.

A while back, things changed when a new policy was born. Now, recycling is not a volunteer effort at my company, it is mandatory. You heard me right, mandatory.

How is this enforced, you're wondering? Simple. The cleaning services people now have the added responsibility of eyeing your trash as they throw it out. If they spot any bottles or cans in your trash, they are required to not pick it up. All of our trash bins are, of course, those short little office trash bins, so after a couple of days of this, you have nowhere to throw anything away.

To let you know that you've screwed up and are violating the company's mandatory recycling policy, the cleaning services people have to leave a little card on your desk to explain. These red cards have become known as "whoopses" around the company, and this is what they look like (with the company name and contact information removed to protect the, uh, innocent?):

In case those letters are just too tiny, here's what it says:

WHOOPS! We found a "mistake" in your bin last night. Hey, we understand mistakes happen. However, please help protect our business and the environment by making sure your refuse and any recyclable items are placed in the appropriate bins. We will be happy to resume service once these items have been removed. Thanks for your cooperation. For questions regarding the Company's recycling program, please contact (internal extention of the facilities department).

Is it my imagination, or is this incredibly condescending? Now what was supposed to be a form of mild castigation has become a joke. There are even some people in my group that have started collecting these cards and tacking them to their wall. It's gotten so bad that the cleaning services personnel ran out of the cards and are now are usually forced to hand out black-and-white photocopies of the cards. Now, to reclaim the aluminum in a soda can, the company is spending paper, toner, and the energy to fire up a photocopier (which, I can tell you, is no small amount).

One guy actually never bothers to put any recyclable materials in the recycling containers. He gets a "whoops" almost every day, and two or three times a week or so, he takes his bin to the big trash can in the breakroom and empties it there. He doesn't care, and although I support recycling, frankly, I don't blame him.

And the cleaning service people hate this policy. As you can imagine, they are usually the ones that take the brunt of employees' irritation, and many people incorrectly believe that they're the ones to blame for this idiocy. Their reputation is getting a serious and completely unwarranted black eye out of this because it is 100% not their fault. If they don't enforce the policy that my company has set forth, they'll be fired.

I wish that I could conduct some sort of study to find out exactly how much additional recyclable materials have been reclaimed since this policy has been in effect, and compare it against how much more energy, money, and other recyclable materials have been consumed in its implementation. I would be willing to bet that when everything is added up, the conclusion would agree with what I thought should be obvious in the first place: Recycling should be a purely voluntary effort.

The thing that really gets to me, though, is the thought that someone probably got a nice raise and a fat bonus for thinking this boneheaded policy up. (sigh)