Friday, July 20, 2012

Parkinson's Law Applied to Garbage Cans: A #CTWW Challenge/Response

Parkinson's law states
"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion"
Large Garbage Can
Encourages More Garbage
The canonical case is of an elderly lady writing a postcard. If she is in a hurry, it is the work of a few minutes, but if an entire day stretches before her, she will fill the time available by seeking the correct pen, pondering the exact wording, and so forth. Indeed, if there is enough time available in which to accomplish the task, it may expand until completion is impossible!

When it comes to garbage, isn't there a similar tendency for garbage to fill the space available?

When we bought our house, the city provided us with a standard-sized garbage can, similar to that in the photo, as part of its standard service. We didn't actually fill it often, but there was no pressure to avoid doing so since its weekly emptying was at a fixed price.
Upon inquiry, I learned that we could cut our trash collection bill by downsizing our container. We now have a can that holds maybe about 15 gallons, and we don't fill it up often. The smaller size is a continual reminder to put the recycling in the recycling, put the compostable in the compost.
Our garbage can now is
the small container on the left
I am tempted to try an even smaller container still, but the city doesn't support that. I suppose they're not ready for a household with a garbage can the size of a coffee-can, but perhaps it's only a matter of time!
I thought about this when reading this week's Change the World Wednesday challenge:

"This week do a 'waste audit' or ask a super green person you know to do one and help you see where you can do better in creating less waste. For guidelines on how to do an audit, read How to Reduce Your Household Waste."
The audit's a good idea; the easiest way is for me to just inspect the trash can periodically. Our household is very good about separating recyclables, but it'll be interesting to see if there are alternative dispositions of much of our trash. For example, we have a scrap metal bin that we occasionally take to the scrap yard to make a few extra pennies; thus any metal object (even lids!) now goes into the scrap bin instead of garbage. There is a feeling of satisfaction that comes with minimizing waste, and it is helped by downsizing our capacity to store waste.


Small Footprints said...

You make such a great point about having, and then using, larger containers. It's so true! I have a feeling that much of "green living" is more about our mindset than the actual ability to do it. Thanks, Rewinn!

Green Gal said...

I love this! Thanks for sharing. I had never heard of Parkinson's Law. I was at UC Davis in June for a sustainability conference, and in the restroom dorms where we were staying, they had TINY garbage cans, not much bigger than a coffee can. It definitely made me feel like I wasn't supposed to use the paper towels because it would fill the can, so I air dried. It was amazing how well that simple choice worked on getting me to not generate waste. Great post!

CelloMom said...

Your finding is completely confirmed in an actual study on garbage. I read about it in "Rubbish! the archaeology of garbage" by Rathje and Murphy. Never thought that a book on garbage could be so entertaining, even as it tells a scary story.

A friend of mine lives in a town where they make you put all your garbage in a specially marked bag - and you pay for the bag. At the transition, it cut my friend's waste by a factor 3-4.

rewinn said...

Thanks friends!
Here's a link to the book @CelloMom referenced: Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage

I'll have to check it out soon!