banning trash cans unless we sign a pledge never to put food in them

A reader writes:

I just started a new job a few weeks ago. I work in higher education (non-teaching). My position is unique, and my direct supervisor is not based at my location so I do not report directly to her on a daily basis. The director of teapot studies is in the same office as me, so generally everyone defers to him.

When I was shown my desk, I was informed by a coworker that the director is sensitive to smells, so he removed all the trash cans in the office. Some employees have gotten their trash cans back, but they are required to post a sign on the trash cans saying “I [insert name here] promise to never put food in this trash can.” The director can confiscate the trash cans at any time if he sees fit.

We all eat at our desks. I bring my lunch every day in Tupperware and immediately seal the containers after I am done eating and place them in my lunch box. Unfortunately, I am cursed with allergies and blow my nose frequently throughout the day. I would like to have a trash can for the tissues, but I find the excessive control of the bins to be humiliating and unprofessional.

What is your opinion on this situation? I’d like to know how to move forward and am considering bringing my own trash bin to the office and removing the trash every few days.

Humiliating and unprofessional, yes indeed.

If the director is sensitive to smells, it’s perfectly reasonable for him to talk to people, explain that, and ask them to be vigilant about not letting food sit in trash cans.

It is not reasonable for him to (a) confiscate other people’s trash cans or (b) force people to sign an oath.

He is a tool.

Bring in a trash can, and ignore the requirement to post the oath. If he insists, then it’s probably not the hill you want to die on.

You could pretend you think he’s joking since obviously that’s an absurd requirement, but he sounds pretty humorless so I assume that’ll just provide momentary satisfaction and then you’ll still need to sign and post the solemn vow. (Still, there’s something to be said for momentary satisfaction.)

Of course, your standing relative to his is relevant here. If you’re a peer or senior to him, you could simply say, “Oh, no, I’m not going to do that.” But if you’re not, then you’re back to this not being the hill to die on and you should probably just slap his weird oath on your trash can and move on.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 243 comments… read them below }

  1. TheBeetsMotel*

    With that kind of requirement for something as silly as a trash can, I spy micromanaging afoot.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yup. This rule existed in an office before I got hired. The CEO was finally overruled but proved to be a micromanager of the highest order.

  2. Myrin*

    As if that weird pledge would stop anyone who was hellbent on putting food in their trash. Some people, seriously.

    1. INTP*

      Right? The food thrower-awayers are just going to put their food in other people’s trash cans anyways.

    2. Creag an Tuire*

      Just sign the pledge but then loudly disclaim that you won’t honor it if you’re not “treated fairly”.

      1. Specialk9*

        Or put up a bunch of pledges (printed out at home) for other childish things to demonstrate how insulting and controlling it is:

        “I promise not to push the other children.”
        “I promise to share my toys. ”
        “I promise to wipe my bum-bum real good.”
        “I promise to wash my hands after using the potty.”
        “I promise to clean my room.”
        “I promise to let other kids use the slide too.”
        “I promise not to feed the dog people food.”
        “I promise not to sell my little brother to the fairies.”

  3. Carrie in Scotland*

    In my job two jobs ago, we didn’t have bins our rooms because of the decrease in cleaning staff several years prior. We used plastic bags and emptied them out when needed.

    1. TheLazyB*

      Yeah I’ve posted before that we’re not allowed bins. I take in empty food bags and put them in the kitchen bin once a day. It’s annoying but apparently it’s the landlord’s rule not my work’s so not worth arguing.

      1. Koko*

        What a misguided rule. It’s no coincidence that the cleanest cities I’ve visited have a public trash can on every block and the dirtiest ones have a public trash can every 5 blocks. Surprise surprise, people are more likely to throw trash on the ground when there’s no trash can around!

        Likewise I keep a plastic bag in my car to collect trash and there is never any trash in my car. Before I started keeping one, I left all kinds of trash behind because it was just one bottle here, one napkin there, one wrapper there that I just wouldn’t think or want to gather up individually when I exited the car, so they accumulated over time instead.

        Taking away trash cans makes a trash problem WORSE, not better!

      2. Irishgal*

        This is coming more common under idea of security management, waste management and reducing costs. In lots of places I go into desktop A4 size trays are common; you put your waste in there and at end of day bring to communal bins and empty (recycling, food waste etc). Means cleaners (usually contractor staff) don’t have free reign to roam around office area. Personally I use a little baggy in tray for tissues etc.

    2. Jeanne*

      I was thinking she should just use plastic bags. Bring in a plastic grocery bag and tape it to the underside of the desk. When pretty full of tissues, take it to a public trash bin on campus or take it home and start a new bag. Stay out of the whole trash can thing. What an annoying man to work near.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Personally, I’d just get one of those little countertop trash bins w/ the domed swinging lid, and put it on my desk. And empty it down the hall every now and then.

        The tissues aren’t going to smell, and he won’t notice it as readily on her desktop. And it won’t look like “a trashcan people would put food into.”

        1. TootsNYC*

          Or cut the top out of a boutique tissue box and set it on your desk–even better. It just looks like a 2nd box of tissues.

    3. ZuKeeper*

      I’m an allergy queen as well and always have a pile of tissues in the trash. If it were me, I’d stick a small trash can under my desk, line it with an old plastic shopping bag and put my used tissues there. Then you can empty it on a regular basis and if you’re lucky, the director will never even notice.

      I used to run a copy place and years ago corporate redesigned the layout, which we were supposed to match 100%. It was obviously laid out by someone who had never worked in a copy center. New layout had no trash or recycle bins other than out in the customer area. Yeah, ’cause we were going to walk out there 5000 times a day. We set up the layout the way they wanted, but I also left in an old counter with trash & recycle bins underneath, a large bin by the copiers and a small bin next to my work center, for yep, all of my tissues.

  4. plain_jane*

    I would cover the sign and the bin with lots of stickers. Preferably of Oscar.

    But sometimes I am petty like that.

    1. LBK*

      I’m thinking a grouch sticker would be more appropriate for the boss’s cube than the trash can.

  5. Artemesia*

    I’d be printing it out in some elaborate flowery font or in comic sans and posting it prominently. What a tool.

  6. Kyrielle*

    I am a bad person. I would never DO it, but one of my first thoughts was that if I pledged to never put food in *this* trash can then I would obviously have to put it in *another* trash can. Doing so in one with an oath on it would, of course, be highly unkind to the owner. So obviously, the only trash can I could use would be…his.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      They also never pledged not to put banana peels in the director’s desk drawers, or behind books on their bookcase…..

        1. dawbs*

          Now that we have CFLs, putting stinky cheese next to incandescent light bulbs doesn’t work quite as well as it used to.

      1. Hiding on the Internet Today*

        Many common office electronics have a lot of space inside them. Enough to put a small to medium sized fish, for instance.

        The undersides of filing cabinet drawers are rarely observed and decent places to tape sachets of dried whitefish, usually found as high end cat treats.

        A small screwdriver can give you access to all sorts of office storage.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Drop ceiling tiles can also be easily lifted and have items slid into them – never participated in hiding anything smelly there, but I have joined pranks where we put timers, alarm clocks and other obnoxious noisy things up there, and also have seen them used as a way to hide a “secret stash” of items. Heating ducts/air returns also can hold all kinds of things with just a small screwdriver.

          I would also be tempted to put items in his can, under the bag and in the can itself. Or under his desk, taped to the bottom of his chair, etc.

          1. Koko*

            You’ve just reminded me of when I was in high school, my parents’ (finished) basement had a section of the ceiling that was sort of like a drop tile, only it was made of solid ceiling plaster and there was a decorative wood rail square around it, that provided access to duct work in the ceiling. I used to hide all my teenage contraband that I didn’t want my parents to find up there. Oh, memories. I feel so old now.

        2. ChickenLittle*

          When I worked for Big Guvvamint, a departing co-worker took his revenge by putting a whole fish in the back of an electronics case. It totally damaged the equipment. They figured out who had done it and tracked him down. He ended up paying for the damaged equipment. Probably not a good revenge tactic.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            The Annoy-a-tron doesn’t cause any permanent damage….unless it drives someone crazy enough to start tearing things apart looking for it! I got one for Ms. Avenger one year, and she pranked people at work for weeks.

        3. Specialk9*

          I love these ideas. Not sure I’d DO them, but as revenge fantasy material, ideal!

    2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      My uncle is a practical joker at heart, and he had a coworker who absolutely hated watermelon Jolly Ranchers, up to and including the smell (it wasn’t an allergy or a sensitivity issue, she just didn’t like them). So one day when he was working late, he took a watermelon Jolly Rancher, sucked on it for a few seconds, and then stuck it to the outside of her computer fan.

      Drove her bonkers for at least a week.

      1. Specialk9*

        I mean, unless she did something unkind to him, not ‘just not liking the smell’, him forcing that smell on her for days on end sounds really mean.

        Practical jokers in general seem to be missing a key kindness gene, in pursuit of a pretty lame joke.

    3. Shannon*

      I would get through that hellish sounding job by fantasizing about cleaning out my fridge from home and bringing the trash in to dispose of at the office on my last day of work.

      1. Leah the designer*

        Or better yet, buy a scent machine, there’s TONS of food related smells for them. Hide near bosses’s office. Make popcorn and enjoys the show.

    4. Bea W*

      Well, the printed oath that that you will never put food in “this” trashcan, which is a very specific trash can, the one you placed the oath on. I think if you brokered a deal with your neighbor to throw food in each other’s cans, that’s technically not a violation of the oath.

    5. Stephanie (HR)*

      This is one of the worst? best? comment tangents I’ve ever laughed to on this site. You are all viciously hilarious!

      1. mander*

        I hope I never work with you people, at least not if we have an annoying boss. I feel ill just reading this thread, especially the watermelon bit! Yuck!

    6. gawaine*

      I had the same thought. I also thought that, if he’s really sensitive to food smells, it would be best if something else was thrown in the trash with the food (perfume samples, maybe?)

    7. TempestuousTeapot*

      I’m thinking it’s time for strategic placement of an annoy-o-tron or two…

  7. hayling*

    What a weird situation! But I think that this is not the hill to die on.

    I totally feel you on the tissue situation. I also have allergies and go through quite a few tissues. Could you get a small bin (maybe something that clips under the desk?) for tissues only? It would signal to the director that you’re only putting tissues in there.

    1. S*

      I’ve seen where people rubber band an empty tissue box to the full tissue box and just use the empty box to discard the used tissues.

    2. ginger ale for all*

      That is a good idea. Perhaps the letter writer could talk to the guy about trying to not spread germs and get permission for a tissues only receptacle.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      I recently emptied a box of tissues (I too have allergies) and have been using the previous tissue box as a trash can for the new tissue box. It’s the circle of tissue box life over here.

  8. JustAnotherHRPro*

    Sometimes I read these and think “this HAS to be a joke”. This is one of those times.

    1. S.I. Newhouse*

      No, unfortunately, these things really do happen. My wife’s company removed their trash cans, ostensibly as some sort of bizarre cost-cutting measure. And this is a company that has tons of paperwork. To this day, I have no idea what they do with their trash.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I’m shocked this an actual thing, what makes it worse for Op is they also have to eat at their desks…doesn’t he smell the food then too??

      2. Two Tickets to Paradise*

        My old company removed their trashcans a few years ago as a “cost-cutting measure.” Their argument was that they were paying too much for our janitorial staff (the more trashcans for them to empty = more money). It was a huge uproar. I finally just bought my own small trashcan at a discount store.

        1. S.I. Newhouse*

          That’s what my wife did. It was absurd. I suggested that she invoice the company for the cost of the trash can.

      3. mander*

        Maybe all the trash piling up around the office acts as insulation, thereby reducing their heating bills.

      4. Specialk9*

        I’d be inclined to get passive aggressive – wad up trash and leave it in common area corners.

  9. LCL*

    Wow. I am a veteran of the trash wars. Your Director’s approach is exactly the wrong way to do it. Removing the waste baskets always escalates the trash war skirmishes. Unfortunately he has the power so he has won temporarily. Round 2 will start when someone throws a banana peel in someone else’s waste basket, because the pledge was only not to put food waste in their own.

    If your Director was asking for advice, I would tell him to request people eat in the lunch/break area, if there is one. And to put the trashcans back. And to find out the custodian’s schedule for trash emptying, and designate a can for food waste.

    I have told the group that in my perfect fantasy world, I would give people a day off without pay every time they complain about trash. People who are excessively neat and controlling are used to being rewarded for being fussy about garbage, and if you try to point out they are being excessively neat and etc they will accuse you of not caring about your environment. Even though there are real safety issues associated with the job that should be attended to.

    1. fposte*

      It’s scary how you knew exactly what I was thinking on the banana peel and somebody else’s trash can.

    2. AnonasaurusRex*

      This. We have one in our break area that is metal and seals. It’s a step on to open type of trash bin and it has a rubber seal on the inside of the lid to keep odors in.

      1. Specialk9*

        I have that for diapers, and please believe the smell escapes just fine when opened, and sometimes when closed. (Gag)

    3. myswtghst*

      Totally agreed. We have little open trash bins (emptied daily) at our desks, and I still make a point to walk to the break room to pitch any food trash with an odor in the covered trash can there. (I probably do this in part because the guy next to me sometimes dumps salad leftovers with vinegar in his little open bin, which makes our area smell like feet…)

      Focusing on “don’t put trash here without giving people somewhere to put the smelly stuff isn’t going to fix the problem – give them a trash can in the break room / far away from the micromanager’s desk with a lid, and encourage them to put food trash there.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too–I may eat Indian food and tuna at my desk (don’t throw stuff at me), but I always walk my trash to the break room and wash my dishes immediately.

    1. Sadsack*

      My former manager used to leave his lunch tray on his desk until he left for the day. His office always smelled like ketchup and mustard in the afternoon, which is pretty gross when left out in the open for a couple of hours.

      1. Semi-nonymous*

        Ugh! Had to go anonymous as this would out me to my co-workers/industry, but we have a lab test we do where we smear an item with household products like ketchup, mustard, red wine, coffee, etc, leave it to sit out for a while, then test how well it does or doesn’t clean up. When I was pregnant, the test was performed in a space right next to my desk, and I had to vacate for the day anytime that test was performed because the combined smells of ketchup, mustard and wine that was turning to vinegar was enough to make me vomit. Even now that combo turns my stomach.

        1. Specialk9*

          Oh wow, my stomach is turning just imagining pregnant reaction to that. Ugh. I often wanted to heave from scents, and had to clap a hand over my nose in elevators thanks to cologne, body odor, coffee, food. Ugh.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        I have to admit I do stuff like that sometimes, and write now as we speak I have leftover breakfast burrito scraps and the onions I picked off my sandwich at lunch in my trash bin :o thankfully the cleaning people empty it nightly.

        1. Sadsack*

          See, I would take stuff like that right out to the big trash can. I guess if it isn’t bothering you, then who cares? I would hate to have someone come to my office and have to endure that though.

    2. myswtghst*

      I honestly am surprised if this isn’t already happening, because I can’t imagine people are just not eating / not creating food garbage just because they don’t have garbage cans.

  10. KarenT*

    In my office, food is only allowed to go in common area garbage cans (cafeteria, hallways, boardrooms) and not in desk personal garbage cans. This is because common area garbage cans are emptied every day by our cleaning staff and personal garbage cans are only emptied a couple of times a week.
    We are okay with this because our gross old building had a mouse problem (a serious low point in my life) and keeping food garbage around certainly exacerbated this.

    1. Michelle*

      Same here. It’s to protect our collection from pests, so it makes sense. Oh, we are also not allowed to eat at our desks or keep any food or candy in them. Again, I understand because of the pest issue but outright banning trashcans or making them sign a pledge is way too much.

    2. Daisy Steiner*

      It sounds like a good idea when you put it like that.

      I empathise with this guy’s sensitivity to food smells, but I think he’s being a bit dictatorial about this system. If he could frame it as a hygiene issue, maybe people would be more on board.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I really would have no bit issue if he simply told them (without removal of trash cans!) that no food waste could be put in these trash cans, it all had to (go to the breakroom trash, be hauled out and deposited somewhere else, something), whether for odor sensitivity or pest issues.

        Taking all the wastebaskets away and returning them only with (a) a signed pledge that (b) is posted on the trash can?

        No. Just no.

        1. Nother Name*

          It’s a pretty crazy solution to a reasonable problem.

          My current building has a mouse problem, and there is NO rule about trash cans, etc., even though we could probably use one. (I’d be fine with centrally located cans with lids, but I guess pretending we aren’t located next to a marsh with loading docks that are very easy for wildlife to enter works, too… At least the turtles and baby cranes are cute when the weather is nicer.)

    3. insert witty name here*

      This. I’ve worked in an art museum. As you can imagine, properly storing food is a big deal as pests and art don’t mix. Did the museum ban trash cans? Of course not. Rather, they provided centrally located containers with lids that were made for food waste and emptied regularly. It wasn’t a big deal. When I started HR just said, put your food trash here. Done.

      1. azvlr*

        We must put paper in the shred bin, even if it is not work-related. Since my trash would otherwise be empty, I don’t through food or food wrappers in my desk trash, because I figure it’s one less trash bin custodians have to empty. There’s really no reason for this person to be so dictatorial about this.

        Perhaps the OP could suggest this as a solution.

    4. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I worked in a company that went to only emptying the office trash cans once a week, but the kitchen/breakroom can daily. It took me a few years to get used to the idea that I could throw my empty yogurt container in the trash can next to my desk, not save it for my trip to the kitchen. Now my new office has a slowly spreading ant problem, so I probably need to go back to my “no food on or near my desk” policy.

      Yes, if I was OP, I’d ignore the crazy guy with his pledge and just bring in my own small trash can, then get bags from the cleaning staff or supply closet that I took the the breakroom can every day or two.

      1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

        This happened at my old job too when they went from having a cleaning service to out own maintenance people empty the trash. We went from nightly emptying to weekly supposedly, but it was really more like 10 days to two weeks and they stopped emptying the recycling bins under our desks all together. We had a terrible fruit fly infestation before long, so we all learned pretty quickly to walk any food waste down the hall to the cafeteria.

    5. Clever Name*

      So do you work with me? ;) Because my office has this exact same policy for the exact reason. A low point for me was when me and 2 of my colleagues were chasing a mouse around my office, trying to trap it. I have no idea why we thought it would work. There was running around, shrieking, and laughing involved. I’m really glad there wasn’t a meeting with clients or something going on. We were loud, apparently. :/

      1. myswtghst*

        Prior to coming to work in an office environment, I worked in a number of different animal husbandry jobs, so when my coworkers somehow caught a mouse in their trash can, they immediately brought it to show me. Gee, thanks guys.

    6. Jen*

      Yeah, a co-worker always laughs at me because I always say “No food trash!” with my work trash can. I just think it’s gross. Another guy on the floor has a total fruit fly problem in his office because he’s constantly throwing food trash in his desk trash can. We have a break room right down the hall and that trash can is emptied numerous times a day by the cleaning crew – desk trash cans are emptied nighty or every other night. It just stinks and attracts pests if you dump food trash in your desk trash can.

      So what I’m saying is, I kind of get the crazy.

  11. Anna*

    I don’t see why it would need to be an actual trashcan…you could use an empty tissue box for your tissues and he would never know. It would just look like you have two tissue boxes on your desk.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        THE TRASH BANDIT STRIKES AT MIDNIGHT! I am usually one to follow the rules, but when they get ridiculous like this, doesn’t it make you want to see how far you can push it?

    1. Barbara in Swampeast*

      Or get a “trash can” and label it “Body Fluids Retention Receptical.”

        1. dawbs*

          If you work a place where there are actual bio-hazard wastes on occasion, the safety officer has ZERO sense of humor about things labeled bio-hazard that are not actually hazardous. Not even if you put jokey labels on them that say things like “Wakeem’s dirty socks”.

          Obtain expensive sharps container at your own risk :)

    2. Nother Name*

      I think you should individually seal all your tissues in zipper-lock bags, like Monk. Leave them on your desk, and then throw them out (in someone else’s trash can?) when they reach critical mass. It’s a silent protest. (The best part is that it’s gross while also being very sanitary.)

      1. Specialk9*

        I mean, I don’t find used tissues gross unless I have to handle them. If you’re going for ‘gross but technically sanitary in a sealed bag’, go for bloody pads. Though that is a pretty extreme position to stake out.

  12. CQ*

    You should take his rule to another level and post signs all over the office.

    “These mailboxes are for mail only! No food!”

    “Please do not put food in this computer.”

    “No inserting food into the copy machine. Not again.”

    “This floor is no place for your food.”

    “Neither is this wall.”

    “I bet you were thinking about putting food in this bathroom. Think. Again.”

    1. TheBeetsMotel*

      I laughed in particular at “Please do not put food in this computer” as it reminded me of the old “It is now safe to turn off your computer” message a la Windows 98.

  13. Ann*

    I don’t even understand how the no-trash-can thing is supposed to work. Surely people generate non-food trash, right? What are they supposed to do with used staples, broken rubber bands, the plastic wrap removed from reams of paper, etc.? Or is the no-trash-can thing not actually supposed to be permanent, just a weird, passive way to get everyone to take the “oath”?

    I’m confused.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Actually, we learned from management at a big national “crunchy” grocery store that they did an exercise where employees were supposed to do just that — pretend they didn’t have a trash can for a day. It was supposed to get everyone to think about the waste they generate by having it sit on the desk and having to make trips to the break room trash cans. Eventually some people decided they didn’t want personal trash cans, they liked how it made them more mindful of their trash. It is actually not a bad concept…as long as you’re not being a micromanaging jerkwad and making people sign “oaths” and affix them to their trash cans.

      1. Mike C.*

        That’s a great idea until you realize a whole bunch of the waste is generated because of things your management asks of you.

        /Runs to the printer to pick up yet another chart.

      2. Ann*

        That would make sense if there was some kind of central trash can but not individual cans, but the OP said that the guy removed all of the trash cans in the office. Otherwise, wouldn’t people just put their food scraps in the central can? An office with no trash cans at all doesn’t seem feasible to me.

      3. misplacedmidwesterner*

        I was also thinking about the general waste generated (right now in my office trashcan: a broken rubber band, a random piece of twine, the backing of some stickers, etc). It’s a good exercise to be aware of how much waste you generate but sadly it isn’t possible to avoid it all.

      4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        We have miniature trash cans at our desks, slightly larger than a can of soda. The idea is to reduce trash. Perhaps it does, but it’s also stupid. Trash happens. Getting rid of a receptacle for it doesn’t magically make less of it happen.

        We are also responsible for taking our full trash bags (from the tiny trash can) to the break room to be thrown away – the cleaning staff only take away recycling. This means that on Thursdays or Fridays – before folks go away for the weekend — there is a giant, nasty, overflowing pile of trash in the kitchen.

      5. S.I. Newhouse*

        That sounds like what the New York City transit system is doing at some stations. They’re removing the trash cans, in the hope that by forcing riders to take their trash with them, they’ll become conscious of how much trash they’re generating and the resulting system will be cleaner. Of course, some riders are just throwing their trash on the tracks and making things even worse.

        1. Not me*

          …Oh no. This isn’t going to go well. My local transit system doesn’t have trash cans and people just leave it in the aisles. I don’t want to imagine how this would look in a system that serves as many people as NYC’s. :x

        2. Megs*

          This reminds me of places that get rid of all cigarette disposals and post signs on the garbage saying not to put butts there. You know those butts are just going on the ground or in the street, right?

          1. S.I. Newhouse*

            And that’s what’s happening. Not only track fires, but lots of mysterious delays that are deemed “signal malfunctions” but actually are the trains’ emergency brake systems being tripped by stray garbage on the tracks.

        3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          This is how it is in Japan – there are virtually no public trash cans. If you buy food from a street vendor, they’ll have a receptacle right next to the stall/truck, and the ubiquitous beverage vending machines have recycling bins next to them, but general trash cans on corners or in parks? Nowhere. And yet there is no litter anywhere. It’s just so ingrained in the culture that littering is completely socially unacceptable.

          I don’t know how to make that culture shift, though. I don’t think just removing bins from some locations works.

          1. Chinook*

            “And yet there is no litter anywhere. It’s just so ingrained in the culture that littering is completely socially unacceptable. ”

            Substituting Japanese waste management techniques in N. America is asking for trouble as they are culturally sensitized to not spreading out and interfering with others (I can’t think if a tactful way to put it). Basically, you don’t want to do anything that makes anyone do anything for you. Here, on the other hand, we have a different way of dealing with out social interactions (for better and for worse). It took me a long time to acclimatize to no public waste bins or no ways to dry your hands (and I still carry a clean handkerchief in my purse 20 years after leaving there).

            As for removing waste bins when they were previously there – that is just asking for trouble. Even Disney figured out that more is better, which is partially how they keep their parks so clean. Even our bus small town bus drivers have figured out that the quickest way to make sure no one leaves their garbage on their seats is to ensure that there is a publicly available waste bin on the bus.

          2. pony tailed wonder*

            There is an interesting idea in Turkey going on about street recycling and trash control if you google this title – Bin Transforms Recycled Bottles into Food for Animals We Love.

          3. Bowserkitty*

            I thought I heard it was due to the public trash can bombings that had happened a couple of decades earlier. Either way, one of the biggest things I had to get used when living there to was trash separation! I had NIGHTMARES that I’d be throwing all of my things away in the same bin. And when I’d be around I’d constantly have excess trash (mostly tissues or receipt paper, or onigiri wrappers) just mulling around in my purse until I got home or took it to a conbini.

            Actually, I kind of miss that…

            1. Cath in Canada*

              That’s the reason I’ve always heard for why there are no trash cans in many large UK cities – the IRA used to put bombs in them. It’s hard to find trash cans in certain other parts of Europe, too.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I always carry a ziplock bag in my purse when I travel, in case I can’t find a bin.

                Also, my auntie whom I stayed with in London is fanatical about separating the trash. I mean, like EVERYTHING. She’s very green anyway, but of course the waste management is a bigger problem there because they don’t have the space for giant landfills everywhere. I really wish recycling were as ubiquitous here as it is there–I could have it picked up, but it’s expensive over and above what I pay for the trash pickup. :(

              2. Proofin' Amy*

                Yup. I lived in London in 1991, and after some IRA bombings, they took all the trash cans out of the Tube stations.

                1. Cordelia Longfellow*

                  They have trash receptacles again now on the Underground, but they use clear plastic bags hung from metal hoops on the wall. That way anything nefarious is still visible. Crime prevention through environmental design!

          4. AcademiaNut*

            But in Japan you don’t generally eat while walking down the street, culturally – you eat at the stall, and then leave. So that cuts down on bottles and cans and food wrappers. And smoking is restricted to smoking areas in large cities, so people aren’t walking down the street with cigarettes that need to be disposed of. So you’re down to used tissues for street garbage.

          5. katamia*

            Same in Taiwan, although most of the street vendors didn’t have trash cans. The lack of public trash cans (and actually pretty much everything about their waste disposal system, although that’s another story) was pretty much the worst part of living there for me. I just could not get it through my head most of the time that I’d need to plan my waste disposal, and on the rare occasions when I did remember, I wound up really resenting having to do so much mental work just to figure out how to get rid of a stupid Starbucks cup.

          6. Jack K*

            The trash bins outside convenience stores in Japan seem even more common than public trash bins in the average American city.

          7. Specialk9*

            Switzerland has no public trash cans on the street, at least in the town where I lived (non-touristy) but recycling containers were huge and ubiquitous. Trash bags were teeny (like 1/3 of a usual kitchen bag in the US), and had to have a sticker that cost money per, and still if your neighbor thought you were throwing recycling in the paid rubbish bags, they’d call the Sanitation Police, who would sift through your bags and fine you if you were truly a monster and had a glass bottle in the wrong container.

            // like Japan, Switzerland also has very high suicide rates.

        4. Bea W*

          BWAHHAHAHAHAAAAAH! Whoever made that decision obviously never rides a subway anywhere.

          We’ve had small fires caused by trash on the third rail. They are pretty minor and self-limiting, but highly disruptive.

        5. azvlr*

          They did this in Japan after the Sarin gas attacks in the subway station. When I returned for a visit, I noticed there were not trash cans and found out this was reason why. But oddly, the streets nearby were not littered with trash.

          So, it could work if done in the right spirit.

      6. TheBeetsMotel*

        Being mindful of trash only works so far, though. I can’t help the fact that something I bought came with a square foot’s worth of plastic packaging – I have no use for it, and have to get rid of it somehow (whether by trashing or recycling). Trash mindfulness needs to start with the manufacturers.

        1. Specialk9*

          Yes! A great trash reduction website I enjoy, their family’s yearly trash fits in a martini glass. They buy in bulk, putting food in glass or cloth containers that the store pre-weighed. They buy used clothing mostly. They recycle like crazy.

          BUT when she (seldom) buys things at a store, she hands them back the box and packaging, which they trash, so that seems a bit like cheating. But still, super admirable.

  14. Mona Lisa Saperstein*

    I’m in a similar situation, actually! My boss brings her dogs to work every day, and for the most part it’s great, they’re sweet little love bugs and it’s nice to have occasional pup-cuddling breaks to relieve stress. However, given the chance, they love to go through our trash cans and eat just about everything in them (paper, candy bar wrappers, whatever). So we’re supposed to always use the large, lidded garbage can in the kitchen–our individual cans are essentially just supposed to be decorative, and if we put anything in them, we’re supposed to keep the trash can on our desk so the dogs can’t reach. If anyone forgets, we can all look forward to an angry email about how it’s irresponsible for us to put the dogs at risk of choking on our trash. At this point, TBH, I would almost prefer her to just take away our trash cans because it’s so easy to forget and throw away a post-it note or whatever.

    1. Anna*

      You know what’s irresponsible? Your boss neglecting to train her dogs. I know that not every dog can be trained to stay out of the trash, but if that’s the case, then they should stay home. If my dog ate harmful things from trash cans, I’d be very worried about letting him roam around unsupervised.

      1. Anna*

        Sorry Mona Lisa, I don’t mean to sound as if my wrath is directed at you. I’m upset about your boss’s choices.

      2. Kyrielle*

        I had a boss once whose dog would sometimes go into trash bins. If my boss was with the dog, he’d tell the dog no, and the dog would stop, but the dog didn’t so much listen to other people.

        Except I was scared of dogs, so when I ordered the dog around I adopted my boss’s tone and manner – borrowing confidence. Guess whose trash he didn’t dig in, even when I threw away the tray from a beef-based TV dinner?

        But he totally snagged a coworker’s sandwich *off her desk* one day and she was not amused.

        1. Chinook*

          “Except I was scared of dogs, so when I ordered the dog around I adopted my boss’s tone and manner – borrowing confidence. Guess whose trash he didn’t dig in, even when I threw away the tray from a beef-based TV dinner?”

          This is how we trained all my nieces and nephews to be around the family dogs. We had them “borrow confidence” by reminding them to use the voice that their mom uses on them and it works perfectly. The indisputable proof was the day I yelled at my niece to not “stop” because she was about to do something dangerous and not only did she stop but so did every dog in the room to wait for the next command. When it comes to dogs – it is all in the tone!

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Agreed. I’m a fan of well-behaved dogs being allowed in offices, but “well-behaved” is a key part of that phrase. And your dog should stay near you, not wander freely through the whole office.

      4. Mona Lisa Saperstein*

        @Anna, I totally agree–unfortunately the dogs are her “babies” and she hates disciplining them or leaving them alone, even though it would be beneficial/healthier for them in the long run. We try to yell at them when we catch them in the act, but they’re sneaky little beagles and aren’t always caught until long after the deed has been done.

        1. Narise*

          What happens when someone was in a meeting and didn’t know the gremlins were visiting?

          I would either respond with ‘I am not a dog owner and not responsible for other dog owners pets.’ Or I would forward to HR and ask if you or the company are legally responsible if her dogs choke.

        2. L McD*

          Oh God, beagles??? Yeah, that’s a no-go. Ask Me About investing in a house full of dog-proof trash cans, because once my girl figured out that paper towels etc. sometimes have delicious food residue on them, she will now raid ANY trash can that has any kind of paper product in it, JUST IN CASE.

          It’s a compulsion. I’m sure there is someone, somewhere, who has managed to train beagles not to root through trash, and I would like to meet that person and start a religion based on their supernatural powers.

    2. TheBeetsMotel*

      So it’s up to everyone else, in a typically non-dog friendly environment, to go out of their way to make a simple thing inconvenient because the boss’s dogs, for whom an office environment wasn’t intended, can’t stop Going Dog on the trash cans?

      Good grief. I’m an animal lover, but I’d be more than a little ticked if I had to interrupt my day for the sake of my boss’s pets.

    3. KC*

      people need to stop thinking that just because they’re the most senior person in someplace they can dictate ridiculous rules to everyone else.

  15. Dulcinea*

    Allison is right that this is not the hill to die on, BUT what I would do is stash a plastic grocery bag under my desk or in a drawer to throw the tissues/other trash in and toss the whole bag when it gets full, rather than give any more satisfaction to the nutcase who is requiring the oath. First because its obnoxiously micro-managing, but secondly because it’s poorly though out (everyone has promised not to put food in their own trash cans but no one has promised not to put it in others’ trash cans).

    1. Kixco*

      I was about to post that I’d bring in those little plastic trash bags and use them instead.

  16. Catalin*

    Um, if he’s sensitive to smells, why are you all still “allowed” to eat at your desks? The eating of a boiled egg (or tuna sandwich, gag) is the scent-maker, not the trash itself. I’m sensitive to smells, but wouldn’t dream of banning trash cans! I have wonderful coworkers who take simple precautions (i.e. sealing smelly food in extra plastic bag before putting it in the trash).
    Your boss sounds like a control freak.

      1. AcidMeFlux*

        Maybe it depends on when the trash is collected? I work in a small language department within a larger cultural institute. Due to our location and class timetables most of us have to at least snack if not lunch in the office. The only problem with tossing food-related trash in the bin in the poorly ventilated teacher’s room is that it isn’t cleaned until the morning, so apple cores, tangerine peels, remains of ham sandwiches with pickles and mustard, etc. , stay all night (and no, negotiating with the cleaning staff is not an option. Don’t get me started….) Bringing food related garbage to the can in the men’s or women’s bathroom (where it IS collected at night)really isn’t a chore, but some people don’t get it.

  17. Lalitah*

    This is crazy but the solution is a different type of trash that are smelless trash cans, not banning trash cans.

    I’m sensitive to smells like perfume because of my asthma; but I’m not asking people to not wear perfume but to use a little less perfume. I don’t have the right to tell them to not wear perfume. I am sick to death of the dearth of hyper-sensitive people out there – and I had a controller like this who had to comment about smelly food of others – that dictate to others based on spurious pet-peeves instead of real, true to life health issues. The director needs a damn HEPA air filter and therapy. Rant-off.

    1. F.*

      Actually, if the perfume sets off a person’s asthma, the employee does have a right to request that it not be worn in the workplace as a medical accommodation. In my case, less perfume doesn’t help; it is the chemical in the air that sets off my asthma.

      1. fposte*

        They have a right to ask for an accommodation, anyway; while they may ask that it be nobody wears perfume, the accommodation doesn’t have to be what they ask for.

    2. Daisy Steiner*

      That’s a good point – what if you all had those trash cans with the little lids? Like tiny plastic versions of the Oscar the Grouch can?

    3. HardwoodFloors*

      When I read the post I immediately thought of the job where I worked where 300 people in a large room with open floor plan, no dividers, were allowed to smoke freely. The thought was they have ashtrays no problems; what would the smell sensitive boss think of this?

    4. Rachael*

      I agree. I’m sensitive to fragrances. Especially hair spray and certain perfumes. I would never ask someone to not wear it. It is obvious, though, to the person that it bothers me (red cheeks, coughting, sneezing..etc). Most people are decent and they would make sure that they don’t spray it around me or come to my desk after freshly applying. But, I just feel that I can’t ask someone not to wear hairspray. I wear it myself…lol…

    5. Cordelia Longfellow*

      It’s great that you’re not actually allergic to scents, but other people are genuinely allergic to the chemicals in scents, regardless of the amount of scent a person uses. My vocal chords spasm, shutting off my airway, and I’ve had more than enough experience with epi-pens and trips to the ER to dismiss other peoples’ sensitivities or diagnosed allergies. I agree that the boss’ sensitivity to food smells is neither life-threatening nor a reason to ban food in any garbage bins, but please don’t conflate this with other legitimate medical conditions. Scents aggravate a whole host of problems, from allergies to headaches (there’s a reason why hospitals and doctor’s offices tend to be scent-free) and it’s much more reasonable to ask colleagues to refrain from wearing scents than it is to demand that they not put food in any garbage bins.

      1. Lalitah*

        No one is dismissing someone’s life-threatening. legitimate allergies that would make them end up in the ER. Obviously the person would have to go through the rigmarole of getting ADA accommodation for a life-threatening allergy in the workplace.

        What we are talking about is the non-life threatening kind.

  18. F.*

    Okay, I’m really bad, but my nasty used tissues (and I use a LOT of them) would be going in the Director’s trash can. Individually. Every time I use one. And if it takes more than one to do the job, then I would just have to stand there in the Director’s office to finish the job. (just kidding, but there are some days when I wish I could do whatever I wanted with no consequences ;-)

    1. twig*

      along those same lines… I was thinking, just leave your mountain of tissues on his desk every day.

    2. Annie*

      Yup, I have allergies and the tail end of a cold right now and about 50% of my trash volume is gross nasty tissues. Do people just accumulate tissues on their desk until they have time to gather them up to throw away?

      In protest, I would take the long route to the garbage can every time I blew my nose. So much lost productivity.

  19. Sadsack*

    My company decided a couple of years ago to make all of our desk trash cans be paper recycling bins instead. They continue to supply plastic bags for our trash. So now everyone has a bin for their paper and a clear plastic bag for their trash. We throw away our trash bags in the large trash containers in the main hallways.

    I thought it was pretty stupid at first, but now I am just used to it. I would never throw food out at my desk anyway because I don’t want my area to smell like a rotten banana. I bought my own bin to put my clear trash bag in though, because who wants to see my used tissues?

    1. Nother Name*

      Why didn’t they just buy recycling bins? I have one of each. (Government contract – all our paper for recycling has to be secured and shredded, so they do have to be separate.)

      1. Sadsack*

        They didn’t want to buy them for 4000 people, I guess.

        There are still people here who just use the clear plastic bags for their trash. Plastic bags are just sitting on the floor or binder-clipped to the side of their recycling cans. So funny.

        1. Nother Name*

          Ahh, yes… The Fake Cost Saving. They didn’t want to spend the money, so they decided pretending people didn’t need garbage cans was a better solution. (How’d they get the original garbage cans? Did the Garbage Can Fairy make a big delivery?)

  20. Slimy Contractor*

    There’s a particular food I’m allergic to, and the smell of it gives me a headache and turns my stomach. My coworkers all know I’m allergic to it, and we joke about it sometimes (it’s a weird allergy). If a coworker eats a lunch with that ingredient and it smells in their trash can, I ask them if they mind if I empty their trash for them and I just take it to the main bin in the hallway myself. Problem solved!

    I guess what I’m saying is, I totally get where the guy is coming from being sensitive to smells, but MY allergies are not YOUR problem.

    1. Daisy Steiner*

      Yes, I’ve done this with banana peel and orange peel. I would never tell them to take their banana peel down the hall – I just do it for them.

    2. Stephanie (HR)*

      I agree with this. I have a horrible sensitivity to gluten, but I don’t rage a fit that I can’t eat the vegetables because they’re on the same tray as the crackers; I just get a cup of water and ignore the food. Sometimes the simplest solution (like one garbage can in the kitchen area that has a sealing lid where all food trash goes) makes more sense than trying to make everyone conform to a silly rule because of one person.

      To be fair, I did have a classmate once who was so allergic to peanuts that someone opening the bag of peanut butter cups across a large room would make her break out in hives. If there’s a legitimate medical concern that needs cooperation, this should of course be addressed. But this doesn’t sound like that kind of situation.

    3. Royal Merchant Ship*

      “MY allergies are not YOUR problem” Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. A voice of sanity.
      I’m more than willing to accomodate a co-workers allergies etc and have done so on multiple occasions, but once many years ago I worked with someone who may or may not have had the sensitivities she claimed, we never really found out for sure.
      Her behavior was so unhinged that it was clearly more about being the most important person in the room, even if the allergies were real. Unfortunately, this means that even now I’m sometimes unfairly reactive to this topic.

  21. Whoopsy*

    This feels like he must have been done very wrong at some point in the past by someone who is So Rational That They Do Not Subscribe To Social Conventions.

    1. TheBeetsMotel*

      Agreed; my other thought was a that someone threw something ridiculous, like a whole rotisserie chicken, into their can and left it for days once, and couldn’t understand why that was a problem. Hence the need for an overreactive “oath-signing”.

  22. Allison*

    That’s a little ridiculous. I mean, we don’t have personal trash bins either, so I often have to make trips to a communal trash can, but that’s because we just don’t have space under our desks for our own trash bins.

    If I was in this situation, I’d put my tissues in a plastic bag in my purse and dispose of them at home later. The fact is, you are new, and it’s probably not a good idea to protest or work around the rules until you’ve established yourself as a respectful, professional employee.

  23. INTP*

    I’m sure that having signed oaths on the waste baskets does not create the most favorable impression for visitors to the office. If your office has occasional visitors (especially external people or higher ups), and this is a hill you want to die on, you could probably accomplish something by pointing that out to someone above the crazy guy’s head. But as Alison said, this probably isn’t a hill you want to die on. Eventually someone will comment on the creepiness of signed oaths on trash cans all over the room and he will have to explain himself.

  24. SJ*

    Does your desk have those big file drawers in it? Could you keep a small trash can in one of those drawers for the tissues, so it would be out of sight?

  25. A Teacher*

    Take an old Lysol wipes container (or whatever) with the lid on and make it into a small trash can. I actually use one to store plastic bags in I use for my desk but it would work as a small trash can-and it doesn’t look like a trash can.

    1. Van Wilder*

      Great idea. I was going to suggest a plastic shopping bag. But I like this because it will look neater too.

      1. A Teacher*

        You can even take the label off of it, I use them to store plastic bags and other things in my desk drawer at school.

  26. Preggers*

    Speaking as someone who’s been diagnosed with a condition that has resulted in me getting violently ill from smells to the point that I was hospitalized numerous times…I think this is totally insane!!!! Just ask people to be respectful of your sensitivity to smells.
    This guys sounds like a tyrant. I like the other’s ideas of hiding a small trash can in your work area. Because I don’t know how you can rationalize with crazy.

  27. Kylynara*

    I would be very tempted to help him out and bring in a diaper pail for my trash.

    But that would be passive aggressive.

  28. Calacademic*

    I’m going to offer up a different perspective — and you’re welcome to hate me for it.

    Where I work (higher education, public university, non-teaching position) trash cans are only emptied by the janitorial staff in bathrooms and classrooms on a daily basis. They used to empty the trash cans in labs and offices on a bi-monthly basis (!) but no longer. If you were to put food in one of those trash cans, it would start to stink because it wouldn’t be removed for possibly two weeks (or now, never). The only solution was to walk to one of the bathrooms and dispose of food there — I was told to do this by the building maintenance staff.

    So before you ignore the edict, know that sometimes there are weird and tedious reasons for **** like this. Sorry.

    1. jhhj*

      The “no food trash in personal bins” is a totally reasonable rule. “I’m going to steal all your bins and make you sign an oath about it” is a really absurd instantiation of the rule.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Yeah… having to sign oath-like things at work should be limited to legal stuff: “I confirm that I have received the employee handbook.” “I understand that my role makes me a mandated child abuse reporter.” Not “I swear not to throw trash away wrong.”

      2. Semi-nonymous*

        I agree 100%! Even putting “no food waste” on the side of the cans would be OK in my book – but not the weird oath.

    2. Xarcady*

      And in addition to that, most buildings on an academic campus don’t have break rooms or kitchens. There are cafeterias and faculty dining rooms, but depending on the size of the campus, it could take you half an hour to get there and back again. Or you may just not want to walk there in the pouring rain or the snow or if its mud season. And if you only have 30 minutes for lunch, then you probably are eating at your desk.

      When I was in grad school, as a cost-cutting measure, they stopped emptying trash from all the offices. (Except the Deans and the President.) Only the classrooms had the trash emptied daily. So you had to trek to the bathrooms to throw out your trash. (I use the word “trek” because my office was at one end of a long, L-shaped building, and the bathrooms were at the other, far end of the building. It took about 4 minutes to get to the other side of the building.)

      So I still think the guy in the OP is a micro-manager, but the problem could be real.

  29. Mena*

    BIG allergy sufferer here. I echo Alison’s feeling that this person is a tad out of line in banning all trash cans. Odors can be tough for me, food not so much food but perfumes can send me running. I couldn’t imagine not having a trash can for my tissues!

    BUT, my allergies are my problem and not the problem of those around me. Sometimes I need to up my medication in some situations (I travel with 3 on a daily basis). I realize that you cannot confront the director on his unreasonableness but you can learn from it. He’s telling you something about himself which isn’t good … self-absorbed, insensitive to the needs of others … All things to remember as you think about the time you want to invest in this position and your ability to grow within this organization.
    Yes, assume this is a joke and get a small trash can – you need to meet your needs too. If confronted, simply point out is it for paper-based materials and does not contain any food waste.

  30. Raging Dragon*

    My office went from individual trashcans per office to a centralized trash can. It never really worked, now people just brought in little ones for their own office and put them in the centralized trash.

  31. Ruth (UK)*

    Drop your tissues on the floor until he lets you have a normal bin (and don’t take my advice)

  32. Stephanie*

    That’s so weird. We have a rodent problem in our office, so I could get wanting to keep food contained. But a pledge?!

      1. Judy*

        Someone said that if I gave you Pledge I could get a trashcan. (looking all innocent – Don’t do this even if you can pull it off)

  33. chumpwithadegree*

    No, don’t use a trash can for your used tissues. Use an intercomm envelope…addressed to him.

  34. Canadian Cube*

    Huh. I would have thought the norm was not to have food waste at ones cubicle or office simply because of hygiene and pest managemt issues. And yeah, I wouldn’t want to smell someone’s fragrant food waste for the afternoon either (potentially longer if waste baskets aren’t emptied everyday). I think this guys approach is obviously odd, but anywhere I have worked it would be a non-issue as personal garbages just aren’t used for food.

    1. Kelly L.*

      But then you’d have one in a less-populated area to put things in, right? Like…today I had a garlicky lunch, I don’t want to smell it when I get back on Monday, so I tied it all up in a bag and took it to the trash can outside in the courtyard. But there was a trash can to take it to! I wouldn’t want to carry all this home on the bus either. It’s got to go somewhere, and this manager is not giving people anywhere to throw the stuff out.

      1. Canadian Cube*

        I read the letter, and many of the comments, as being focused on the issue of personal garbage cans at one’s desk. And I really doubt the director in question was able to remove all the garbages from everywhere in the complex they work. I think the way he is going about it is ridiculous, but the core issue of not throwing out food waste , especially the smelly kind, at one’s desk seems reasonable to me. And if, by chance, there really isn’t a garbage anywhere then yes, not crazy to me that people would bring stuff that smells home with them.

  35. Hiring Mgr*

    God this is what does he do, go around inspecting everyone’s trash can every day? Bizarre.

  36. De Minimis*

    This makes me think of the novel Catch-22 where they had to do a multitude of “loyalty oaths” to be able to eat in the mess hall!

  37. Meliora*

    Apparently this was an issue at my workplace a few years back. Not with food but paper! (They were going paperless and the president was insane about cracking down on any and all paper. ) My coworker said that people just started throwing wrappers and tissues and things on the floor. I guess he changed his mind.

  38. Callie*

    I’m in the music dept of a university, so we have practice rooms for students to use to practice their singing/piano/other instrument. Our facilities person got tired of students throwing food in the trashcans because they only get emptied once a week, so he took out all of the trashcans from the practice rooms. Now they leave all their trash (food and otherwise) on the floor.

    The answer is not “remove the trash cans”. It’s “empty the trash cans every day.”

    1. Miles*

      If your custodial department is anything like the one at the school I worked at for a couple years, they sure love their bureaucracy. It’s not about finding the best answer, it’s about making sure policy is followed. And the policy is to clean the trash once a week.

      1. Miles*

        nb as the lowest rung, it was my job for a while to take the trash out every day and leave it next to the can in the hallway that was emptied daily.

      2. Callie*

        I’m sure the athletic department at my school gets their trash emptied every day! but the rest of us have to manage with once a week. It’s one of the stupidest things.

  39. CC*

    Why not just buy a diaper genie or similar diaper disposal system for use if your office? It controls odors and gives you a place to throw away your trash.

  40. Jane*

    Couldn’t he just put signs on all the buns indicating that food should not be disposed of in them and have a dedicated trash can for food in the kitchen?

  41. OP*

    OP HERE! Thanks everyone for your hilarious comments, and thanks to Alison for posting this! I have an update!

    As many of you mentioned, I did keep a grocery bag at my desk until I got the trash can, and removed it every day. It worked well, but I really wanted that trash can…

    The director returned from extensive travel yesterday and we briefly met to caught up. After I noticed the CONFISCATED TRASH CANS STACKED IN THE CORNER OF HIS OFFICE, I casually mentioned that I was going to take one to my desk. He said “Okay, but I swear if I ever smell guacamole at 7 a.m. I will not be happy!” He likes me, so perhaps that’s why I wasn’t required to sign the oath! (No complaints here)

    Today I found out from coworkers that the director is a real neat freak. Apparently on one occasion he PERSONALLY VACUUMED THE OFFICE because “it wasn’t clean enough for him.”

    Fortunately my interactions with him are limited due to the different nature of our work.

    1. Miles*

      Now that you mention that, this director probably has no authority to actually keep you from using a trashcan because you’re technically in a different chain of command.

      Congrats on getting it resolved

  42. AcidMeFlux*

    Also, I am a subversive so I would hide very small pickles in tiny places all over the office.

  43. GRH*

    It’s amazing to me that absolutely no one has mentioned that putting food in the trash can might be an odd choice anyhow given that almost all food waste is compostable. I work in a LEED-certified office building, and all the bathrooms have signs posted about waste reduction goals and there is a compost bin (along with recycling bins) in the communal kitchen area. I realize this is somewhat unusual but I would have assumed that this is becoming more common in major cities, especially as more office buildings are being built or retrofitted to LEED specifications.

    1. Cath in Canada*

      We have that system too, but I really don’t think it’s all that common… yet. It’s new for us after the city brought in new regulations about their food scraps program, to extend it to commercial buildings. There’s a grace period while people adapt, but after a certain date you can be fined if compostable waste makes up more than 10% of your domestic or commercial trash. It took us a while to adjust, but I think it’s going to be a fantastic initiative.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Nowhere I’ve ever worked has that yet as a company thing. Some people do it privately in their yard, but I’ve never worked anywhere that was set up for this as a company.

  44. TheExchequer*

    I have to say, that oath might make some personalities (not mine, but some) determined to find the stinkiest non-food items possible for the trash.

  45. Tess*

    I have a similar problem at work – in my case our cleaning staff are unionized and negotiated a large garbage pail in each area, instead of individual ones at our desk (takes less time to empty). I also hate having used kleenex, food wrappers, etc. on my desktop and I feel silly jumping up and crossing the room every time I need a tissue. I keep a shopping bag in a bottom drawer for garbage and throw it out on my way out at night. It’s not elegant, but it works fine.

  46. Liz L*

    Wow. Reading all the comments made me realized how spoiled we are here in Toronto. Each office desk has a garbage can and a recycle bin that both are emptied nightly, and the kitchens all have both PLUS a separate compost bin for food scraps. I’ve never not worked in an office that didn’t have all three after composting became mandatory.

    1. esra*

      Sigh, I work in Toronto too and our building doesn’t even recycle, let alone compost. And of course, supplies free pop to the staff. I take my cans out to the city recycles at the end of the day, but no one else does :(

  47. Narise*

    Tell him when you see the rule about food in garbage cans in the employee handbook you’ll follow it. If it’s added they have to provide an alternative. Or if you want to mess with him tell him it’s against your religion to take an oath in or pledge.

  48. Cassie*

    Our custodial staff is supposed to empty our trash cans 3 times a week, but sometimes they don’t (it’s especially bad when you come in on Monday morning and you see your trash from Thursday and Friday still sitting there). I usually take food trash to the bathroom trash can – those get emptied every day.

    When the custodial staff announced the cutbacks, a lot of staff complained. They found it really annoying that they’d have to either take their trash to the bathroom or just leave it until the next pick up. I actually didn’t find it that much of a hassle.

    Here in cities in the US, we’re used to trash trucks stopping by our houses to empty our trash cans once a week. In some cities in Asia (like Tokyo and Taipei), you have to bring your own trash to the drop-off point. In Taipei, the trash truck stops at each major intersection at a specific time each day for about 5 minutes and all of the residents living nearby bring out their trash (in special bags that you buy for about 5 cents USD) and toss it in. The trash truck comes by maybe 5 days out of the week and plays a specific tune (e.g. Fur Elise) so you know it’s there – if you’re not home around 6pm or 8pm or whatever time the trash truck shows up, you just have to wait until the next day. Or ask a neighbor to take out the trash for you.

    Those governments are very much into recycling and composting and encourage people not to generate trash. There are very few public trash cans on the street and yet the streets are fairly clean. Ironic, because in the US, we have trash cans everywhere (sometimes overflowing) and there is litter everywhere.

    1. katamia*

      Taipei’s system was a nightmare. I was at work every time the trash trucks came for about three weeks in a row (worked until 6pm, which is when they came in my neighborhood), and I didn’t know anybody to ask because I’d just moved in. I thought I was going to lose my mind by the end. Additionally, I have minor mobility issues (don’t need a wheelchair or even a cane, but walking several blocks while lugging a trash bag was a real struggle). So. Much. Hate. for Taipei’s trash system.

      1. katamia*

        (Just to be clear, there was no food trash in there because I didn’t have a kitchen. So it was awful, but actually not as gross as people are probably thinking.)

      2. Cassie*

        I was there for a few weeks on vacation and there were other trucks that stopped by on nearby streets so if you missed the 7:30pm one, you could wait for the 9pm one. So that wasn’t too bad. I heard a trash truck (in a different city) going past around 4pm – I always wondered what most adults are supposed to do, since I assume people would be at work.

        One alternative would be to take your trash to work and dump it there (but of course that might be frowned upon). I guess I’d prefer the Japanese system where they have stationary trash cans that you bring your trash bags to. That way you don’t have to wait for the trash truck. Although that doesn’t solve the problem for people who have mobility issues.

  49. Schnapps*

    Holy moly. I just typed up a long answer and then my browser crashed and Netflix wanted me to watch Fuller House.

    Anyways, I made the following disclaimer: it’s Friday night, it’s been a hellish week, I have consumed 90% of a bottle of wine.

    No one in my building has a garbage bin at their desks. We have a blue recycling bin and are have to sort our garbage into communal bins (in our office, we have bins at the back door and in the kitchen area). I don’t have a problem with sorting my leftovers into the green bin (which has a lid and is emptied every night). Maybe you could suggest to your boss to have a green bin for organics (includes paper that is soiled by food) in a vacant office or cube or just outside the door?

    Incidentally, I only use my blue bin for paper, and am perfectly happy to get up and dispose of other garbage. We sit too much anyways.

  50. Ella*

    I really want to know what happens when he tries to enforce his oath-signing policy on someone whose religion doesn’t allow them to take oaths (like me, for example).

  51. Fred*

    Dump your tissues on the floor in front of his office. I would actually do that. Probably not a good idea though..

  52. Dog girl in WI*

    The huge company I work for in Wisconsin just instituted a No Trash/Recycling WasteBaskets in ANY CUBICLE law at the start of this year. There are communal waste baskets and recycling bins now scattered throughout the hallways and cubicle farms in the buildings. The company said that 1. people weren’t separating trash/recyclables in their cubicles, causing increased trash costs. 2. it would not decrease productivity because employees could keep their trash and recyclables on a corner of their desks and went they went to a meeting or the bathroom, they could stop by a container and dispose of their trash.

    When asked about used tissues due to colds/allergies being a germ farm on a desk, they stated that sick people should stay home, and allergic folks could request a small personal trash container (the size of a small tissue container) to hold used tissues, which should be returned (empty) after allergy season.

    So. Most people have one of those metal tins on their desk — the kind you get popcorn in during the holidays.

    And I work for a company that has about nine thousand employees. And yeah, when I was recently in a low level VPs office a couple of weeks ago — he still had wastebaskets.

    Talk about a novel way to kill productivity and morale. The discussion in the office is what kind of crazy change is next (in the past two years the company got rid of the cafeteria, all the live plants were replaced by plastic ones, the holiday giving trees/donation bins were removed, there are no more corporate phones). And the corporate talking heads wonder why morale is so low and people are retiring like mad as soon as they’re eligible….

  53. Ms T*

    There is a particular kind of controlling that I simply do not want to engage in any form.

    OP, I advise handkerchiefs.

  54. KC*

    what the actual f. does this guy not know about garbage cans with lids or air fresheners? it’s unbelievable that an entire office has to conform in such a ridiculous way for one person’s preference.

  55. Nieve*

    Not that the micromanaging is OK but.. You’re not meant to put food in the bin anyways, unless its an organics bin? Huge amounts of methane gets produced from organic items in landfills :(

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