I’m in trouble for re-sorting a coworker’s trash — and I’m enraged

A reader writes:

I’ve worked at a medium sized tech company as a software engineer for the past two years now. Our city has an ordinance requiring all businesses to compost and recycle. I fully support this ordinance, as I’m a staunch environmentalist and care deeply about the future of our planet, for my sake and the sake of my children. I don’t want my kids growing up in a garbage covered wasteland.

For almost the entire time I’ve worked at this company, some anonymous employee(s) have been repeatedly tossing compostables and recyclables into our kitchen trash can, which sits right next to a compost bin and a recycle bin, with a giant sign posted in front of it showing what items belong in which bin.

The person/people who do this also have a nasty habit of leaving massive piles of unwashed dishes in our kitchen sink. It is not the responsibility of our coworkers or our janitorial service to clean these dishes after us and we are expected to clean after ourselves. There is even a giant sign posted over the sink requesting all employees to wash their own dishes.

I’m not the only person who is bothered by this, and several other coworkers and I have voiced our concerns to our office manager about it. Our office manager has been sympathetic and has organized numerous all-staff meetings where we went over these problems, asking everyone to be more mindful and to follow the directions posted in the kitchen.

Despite this, the people who do this continue doing it anyway. They don’t seem to care at all about the rules and they do pretty much whatever they please in our kitchen, leaving a big mess for others to clean up after them.

For the past two years, I’ve been voluntarily digging this person’s compostables and recyclables out of our trash bin and putting them in the recycling and compost. It’s pretty gross. I don’t enjoy doing it, but since no one else will do it, I do — for the sake of our planet. This issue is far bigger than the company and it has a lasting impact on the earth that will be felt by future generations long after we’re gone. It’s also against our city ordinance, and is just frankly a colossal jerk move.

I have no doubt that the person doing this is well aware of the nuisance they’re causing me and the other staff who actually care about this issue. They just don’t care.

About a year and a half ago, I decided that instead of putting their compost and recyclables into the compost or recycling bins where they probably wouldn’t even see it anyway, I’d leave them sitting on top of the bins so that the next time they step in the kitchen, they’ll be able to recognize their own trash and realize which bins it actually should have gone in. Unfortunately, they didn’t respond to that well. The very next morning after I did it the first time, I saw that this person threw all the recyclables and compostables I took out of the trash the previous day back into the trash bin, as if to say “F you.”

Well, I kept doing it anyway. A year and a half went by, we had several more all-staff meetings about the recycling and compost situation, and the problem persisted.

Then, just the other day, I was called into my manager’s office. He had our HR person on the phone, and she told me that she’d been getting complaints every day for a while now that I’d been taking recyclables and compostables out of the trash. She told me that the anonymous complainant claimed that they felt “offended” by my actions, and that they were now “scared” to use the kitchen because of me. I was astounded that anyone could be “offended” by someone trying to reduce unnecessary waste or feel “scared” because of some recyclables sitting on top of a bin. The HR person was totally unsympathetic to my situation even after i explained to her that this had gone on for almost two years, and ordered me to not touch the bins anymore.

This whole situation feels extremely bizarre to me. I never imagined that anyone would ever actually complain to HR about recyclables being taken out of a trash can and claim to feel “offended” and “scared” by it. I don’t see anything offensive or scary about what I did. I’m also pretty annoyed that someone actually went behind my back to whine to HR about what seems to me completely inoffensive and non-hostile behavior to get me in trouble instead of just confronting me directly like an adult. I find what they did to be incredibly petty and childish. I mean, really, over some garbage? If anyone should be offended, I think it should be me and all the other employees who have had to clean up after this person.

It’s also especially annoying considering I’ve done some really novel work for this company in the two years i’ve worked here. I’ve powered through an insane amount of projects that I don’t think any other developer here could have powered through at the speed that I did, while delivering on every requirement flawlessly. I haven’t been offered a single raise and am still being paid just slightly over minimum wage. I did a salary report online recently and it told me that I’m making less than 99% of the people in my field.

Am I wrong for feeling astounded and enraged by this incident? Am I really wrong for trying to protect our environment, clean up a huge mess left by some jerk who can’t follow simple directions every day, and keep our company compliant with our city ordinance?

Oh my goodness, you must let this go.

Yes, people should be putting their recyclables in the correct bin. And yes, they should be cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen. But they’re not, and it’s not your job to fix that.

You’ve gotten overly invested.

It wasn’t a great move to take it upon yourself to re-sort their garbage — that’s not your job. I understand that you’re doing it out of concern for the environment, but there are far bigger environmental crimes being committed all around you and you can’t solve all of them yourself. Moreover, I doubt your employer wants you spending your time that way while you’re at work.

But beyond that, it sounds like you got really invested in this at an emotional level that it really didn’t warrant. That report about someone being “scared” to use the kitchen sounds over the top without any more context, but your level of emotional investment/anger?/frustration over this may have legitimately rattled someone. The fact that the HR person didn’t find that claim ridiculous on its face makes me wonder if there is some context like that that makes it make more sense.

In any case, at this point your boss and HR have ordered you to stop, so you need to stop. Honestly, I’d be ordering you to stop too if I were in their shoes. This is just way more energy and drama than any employer wants on something like this. Feel free to be annoyed by how it was handled if you’d like, but being “enraged” is — again — way too strong a reaction.

There is something in your letter that you should find unacceptable though, and it has nothing to do with the recyclables. You’re being paid just slightly over minimum wage for work as a software engineer?! You’re making in the bottom 1% for your field. That’s not okay, and it’s a sign of a serious problem that you’ve been more focused on the recycling culprits than on changing your severely under-market wages.

In fact, your level of angst and agitation is so misplaced for both of these issues (way too high for the kitchen issues and way too low for the salary issue) that I’m wondering if there’s something more complicated going on … like do you feel powerless to find a better job, but the kitchen feels like something you can control so it’s getting all your energy? Something is out of whack here, and I’d take this as a nudge to figure out what’s going on — and to start looking for another job, one that will pay you what the market says your work is actually worth.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 742 comments… read them below }

  1. Sassy*

    Alison, your comment about the trash being something the LW can control is so on point.

    1. annakarina1*

      Definitely. It feels as if she’s either feeling powerless in her job and needs something she can control or feel like the authority on, or that she’s lacking something else in her life and controlling the garbage makes her feel more important. I get wanting to be environmentally conscious, but a lot of this comes off as being very self-righteous and having a “me vs. them” attitude, which is really unhealthy to have at work, and this isn’t a hill worth dying on.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I think “self righteous” is on point. In fact all the references to “the planet” really kind of rubbed me…wrong. Like sure, recycle and compost, but dude…really she needs to not worry *this* much.

        I also think Alison is spot on that she has other issues and feels powerless so she uses “the environment,” and “our children” almost as a cudgel to get someone …anyone… to do things the way she wants instead of fighting for better pay, benefits, etc. because she feels helpless as well. Possibly some personal non-work things too?

        1. MsClaw*

          If the OP primarily was concerned about the trash ending up in the right bin, they would just be quietly resorting the stuff and going about their day, pleased to have done their little bit to correctly order the universe and make the planet a bit greener.

          But the OP instead seems primarily concerned that the Terrible Rule Breakers know that they have breached the bounds of decency. And moreover, every should see the evils wrought by the Terrible Rule Breakers who hate the planet and children, so the OP displays their errant garbage in an attempt to shame them into compliance.

          We don’t have composting in my office, but if I see a soda can at the top of the trash bin, I’ll roll my eyes and move it six inches to the recycling bin. I don’t dig through the trash or work to teach anyone a lesson. So, I understand this impulse but the OP has gone WAY too far.

          1. Sleepytime Tea*

            In my office we actually don’t have recycling at all, and it annoys me to all get out. But I don’t spend any political capital as someone who’s relatively new by making a huge stink about it. My mom suggested that I sort the trash and take home the recycling. My response was that would be WILDLY inappropriate for me to sort the trash at work, not to mention disgusting. My hope is to look into recycling options and see if I can at some point convince the right people to set it up.

            Chastising anyone at my company about our lack of recycling would be so incredibly beyond my thought processes that I really think that this is exactly what Alison has pointed out. OP is frustrated about other things and they have latched onto this. If they are truly as underpaid as they say, they should gtfo and find a healthy work situation.

            1. MsClaw*

              I worked in a building without recycling before (the city offered it; the building manager chose not to deal with organizing it). There was a dude who set out bins and would take the cans and bottles to a recycling center in his pickup truck. That’s not practical for everyone, but for our group of about 30 people that worked out well.

            2. Chris*

              In that same vein, years ago when I worked at a very large well known office in NYC, we had two
              bins at every desk, a black garbage bin and a blue recycle bin. One day I worked really late into the evening on a project , late enough to see the cleaning crew come in. I saw a worker with one of those big rolling barrels going up and down the rows, she was just dumping both cans into the same barrel. I bought it up to the office manager for our floor the next day and he just gave me a sly smile and said, “Yeah, we have no real recycling plan, we just do that to make people feel good”. DOH!

              1. Tin Cormorant*

                That happens way more often than a lot of people think. The teachers in my department at school just found out this semester that the recycling bins that had been on our section of campus for many years were just being dumped into the garbage.

                The town I used to live in had public trash cans with two openings on top for garbage/recycling, but if you actually looked down into it, it was clear that there was only one large bag underneath.

                1. MatKnifeNinja*

                  The elementary school I worked at had a huge recycling program.

                  The nasty secrete is ALL of the sort items went straight into the regular dumpster at the end of the day.

                  My city’s recycling is a sham. It costs more to get rid of it. Recycling does not make the city any money, so 8/10 it gets shipped off with the regular trash.

                  OP, call you can do is make better choices for yourself purchasing items with better packaging. I have found a lot of office recycling is a scam. Either at the office level (it gets dumped at the end of the day into regular trash anyway), or at a municipal level (I know recyclables are getting dumped with regular refuses).

                  What you did was aggressive. I know people who would have thrown the recycling on your test with an “recycle this” item on top.

                  There are always going to be gross coworkers. You want people to get a memo, don’t do the passive aggressive leave it where you see it. You confront them face to face, if you are willing to die on that hill.

                  In the future, if you want to do good works, really look behind the scenes to see if it’s true. I could wash/sort/bin cans or whatever, but at the end of the day, it’s all going to the dump. I work at a consumer level to lower my foot print. That is all I can control.

                1. Emily K*

                  I work for an environmental organisation and for the past year or two I’ve been telling everyone not to stress about recycling. It’s not economically viable any longer and it doesn’t make much difference. Like, recycle if you can, but don’t worry if there’s no bin or someone messes up the sorting. The main benefit that recycling has nowadays is that it’s a daily activity that constantly reminds someone that they consider themselves to be a person who cares about the environment, and having that self image will influence them to make better environmental choices elsewhere in their lives. In other words, it’s a mostly symbolic act, which has some value, but there’s really very little benefit to policing other people’s trash. If they don’t do the sorting themselves they don’t get the self image/encouragement benefit and the recycling itself is close to pointless.

                  Zero waste, waste reduction, plastic avoidance, water conservation, and energy conservation are all much more effective than some pipe dream that your soda can/water bottle is going to be melted down to make another soda can/water bottle – it almost definitely will not be. Just try to use fewer single use soda cans/water bottles in the first place.

              2. Memyselfandi*

                This is true in my office, but it is because the statewide recycling system uses a sorting machine, so the recyclables are sorted at another point. It is an office and it is not as if a great deal of gooey stuff is going into the trash, anyway. Food items are disposed of separately. Not in our office bins to control for vermin.

              3. Socks*

                The trash cans at my old community college literally just had two openings (one labeled trash, one labeled recycling) feed into the same bag. It wasn’t even that hard to see if you looked. I was in student government at the time, and like, it was a big joke among us that this was basically the peak representation of the major problems that school had going on- it was on the verge of losing accreditation for failing to maintain the grounds (I guess because that meant they’d mismanaged funds or something).

            3. Rosie217*

              My office didn’t used to have recycling either and I couldn’t believe it honestly. I asked our office manager, she made some calls, and turns out it would cost us anything to add it! So I feel warm and fuzzy for making a small difference. Never hurts to ask!

            4. The Other Dawn*

              I now work in a company that doesn’t have any recycling at all, which now seems weird to me after being at a company that had bins all over the place. I wouldn’t say I’m a recycling nut, but it’s disappointing to see so many clean plastic and paper/cardboard items being tossed, mainly because it creates so much bulky trash. We have Keurig machines and they order the Green Mountain coffee in the standard 12 packs you’d buy at a grocery store. With so many people having coffee, that’s a lot of cardboard boxes to toss and of course no one flattens them before tossing them in the trash, so the trash fills up very quickly. I also feel weird tossing newspapers and clean plastic in my trash. But I’m the new person so I’m not going to insist on recycling right now.

            5. SunnyD*

              If I worked with this seething, arrogant, self-righteous man who had spent 2 years picking through the trash to leave it strewn around the kitchen while fuming enragedly about the coworkers’ transgressions and how ill treated he is…

              I’d be reading up on Workplace Violence behaviors and have a word with Security about my concerns.

              1. Original Poster*

                wow, i’m pretty blown away by the hostile comments in this section. I figured people would be a little more sympathetic to my situation, especially considering this company has been treating me as basically slave labor, not paying me anywhere near a fair wage for the work that I do and just treating me like trash (no pun intended) in general. But anyways, thanks for the nasty comments. I can tell that a lot of the visitors of this website are the same type of inconsiderate jerks like the guy at my job who keeps knowingly tossing compost and recycling in our trash bin and leaving unwashed dishes in our sink. The most ironic part about this is that you label me arrogant and self-righteous. Pretty extreme projection coming from folks like you!

                Anyway I enjoyed reading all your nasty comments viciously attacking me and subtly trying to imply that I’m some kind of violent psycho because I had the audacity to clean up after a manchild like you. Thanks for that.

                1. Copier Company Admin Girl*

                  This… is alarmingly aggressive and angry. OP, I *am* genuinely sorry that you feel unwelcome here. That is difficult. Please, though, take a step outside yourself. The commenters here are thoughtful, well-intentioned people. This is a wonderful space for *honest feedback,* which is what you asked for. You wanted the truth- you’ve got it now. Our community is saying what they are saying for a reason. Perhaps you can come back to this thread in time and take to heart- more gently- some of what has been written. It is so tiring, I know, to live with heavy amounts of anger, disappointment, and defensiveness. It spills over into many areas of your life, changes your personality, and it sounds very much like that is what is happening to you here. I hope you consider talking to a professional about managing your distress and I wish you loads of luck on your job search. Sending peaceful thoughts your way, friend.

                2. Anne Noise*

                  You didn’t clean up after anyone, you made a larger mess behind you to prove a passive-aggressive point. That is unbelievably rude behavior. You could have sent an email to the building/workgroup and discussed a recycling/compost plan like adults, and those of you who didn’t participate in the voluntary employee group can’t be treated less-than because of it. (That includes digging compost back out of the garbage and leaving it lying on top of the shared cans…!)

                3. Observer*

                  You are getting hostile responses because your behavior is both hostile and hypocritical.

                  If you had actually bothered to read what people (and Allison) have been saying, you would have perhaps noticed a rather important point. That is that underpaying is NOT a good thing, and you are completely right to be upset about that. It’s something you should to address, and if that’s not successful, you should look for a job that pays you as you should be paid.

                  But that has NOTHING to do with the behavior you describe. Being underpaid does NOT excuse what you did, nor does it excuse being passive aggressive (heavy on the aggressive, to be honest) and not being straight with people, and then complaining that someone “went behind your back.”

                  If you don’t want to clean up after someone, the DO NOT clean up after them! Don’t do it and then complain when people call you on it.

                4. LaWraa_with_a_W*

                  Oh OP I so relate to you. I’ve had similar issues in my office with certain people’s behaviour bothering everyone, then taking it upon myself to do something about it…. and then getting a bollocking for it even though I was just trying to help. What I learned was that I probably shouldn’t have done what I did (calling out someone’s behaviour on a group mailing list) because everyone who was also annoyed with the person’s behaviour suddenly went very quiet and the person used our over-zealous HR Department against me! So when it comes to personal issues like this at work, I now find it better to just leave it alone – as unbelievably frustrating as that may be. Because it’s just not worth getting into spats like this at work because it always comes back to bite you on the arse.
                  Also I agree with Alison that you should look for a new job, it sounds like they completely undervalue you at your current one. Unfortunately every office has idiot co-workers who are incapable of using simple things like recycling bins or washing-up liquid, but hopefully if you go in with the mind-set that you just have to leave some things alone at work then you’ll be ok. It sounds like you genuinely care and just wanted to do the right thing in this situation, I’m sorry it worked out so badly for you and that some people have made unkind comments :(
                  p.s. If the HR issue continues – say you are sorry if you caused anyone any concern, but that you were not directing your actions at any individual/s – you were just trying to demonstrate the right bin usage to the office (this way they can’t say you were harassing anyone, if there were no particular targets). Then just say you’ll stop doing it – that should get them off your back. And if you’re not in a Union – join one!

                5. LF*

                  OP, you sound a lot like me. I’ve been in situations like yours, and reacted the same way you have.

                  When thinking about the incidents later, I realised that what bothered me wasn’t really the original issue at hand but just that someone was doing the wrong thing. For example, I get more annoyed about people bicycling on sidewalks because it’s illegal here, than because of the being hit by one (which has never happened). When I have asked them to get off the footpath and they have not, I have felt enraged. I realised that it was rage at being defied – not actually rage at the bad thing being done.

                  I think your thinking might be similar.

                  So, I think that, yes, you might be a self-righteous arsehole, because *I* am a recovering self-righteous arsehole, and you sound exactly like me.

                  And it sucks! It’s no fun! I don’t enjoy getting angry, and I don’t like being wrong. But I’ve had to confront the possibility that, well, maybe I *am* wrong, if not in my stance on the issue at hand then by reacting disproportionately to it.

                  By and large, I think the responses to this article have been very insightful, even compassionate. I’ve got a lot out of them, myself. I hope that you can re-read them in a calmer frame of mind and get something out of them too. Genuinely. I wish you all the best.

                6. C.*

                  I’m late to this post (but found it thanks to Nicole Cliffe!) and just need to not let the “basically slave labor” comment go unchecked. Please don’t use that comparison, OP or anyone else who reads this. It doesn’t matter if you are being paid less than 99% of people in your field. Just don’t.

          2. Elspeth*

            Yep, this. ^^^

            As an aside, my Mum used to get so annoyed with my Dad. Scotland (where I’m originally from) has had recycling/composting for decades, and every time my Mum or brother would place stuff in the bins outside, Dad would go out and make sure there wasn’t anything in the wrong bin. I thought it was kind of hilarious, actually – the idea of an elderly man checking to make sure the household was using the right sorting bins. Dad is almost 95 now, and recovering from a broken hip and hip replacement, so he hasn’t been able to do his “sorting” for several months now. Still, that memory always makes me smile.

      2. Dust Bunny*


        LW, the compostables will also decay into nothing in a landfill. And putting stuff on top of the bin just made the space gross for everybody. You’re not punishing the “miscreant”: If that person cared, all of this would have ended a long time ago. But this person doesn’t care, so you’re fighting an adversary that you will never beat.

        1. Heather*

          This isn’t accurate. Compostables don’t decay in a landfill in the same way as they do in compost. When they decay in a landfill environment, they often don’t have access to the oxygen needed to decay properly, so they produce greenhouse gases (methane) as they decay, and they don’t decay to nothing. Compostable material is actually really bad in landfills.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            It’s amazing how many people don’t know this. I had to tell my well-educated, environmentally friendly mother this after she initially brushed off my concern that while her office has all compostable disposable materials and a big compost bin, they don’t pay for a composting service…..so it ends up just getting taken out with the trash. So pointless.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I mean…how *would* people know this, though? I really don’t think your average person is ever told much about how recycling and composting work beyond “this goes in this bin, that goes in the other bin”, so I’m not seeing how it’s “amazing” that most people don’t know it. I definitely didn’t know this until I just read Heather’s comment

          2. C Baker*

            Additionally, even if they did the resulting composted matter would be contaminated with all sorts of stuff.

        1. Bubble butt*

          What if OP is non-binary? How do you think he/she/xe/they would feel? We should not be assuming gender. It’s problematic and hurtful! Especially when I’m reading other comments about how OP is “mothering” the workplace.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I default to “she” in my writing if gender is unknown (explanation here), and some commenters have picked up the habit. In this case, judging by the email, the letter writer is a man. And I’m deleting an off-topic thread here about gender.

          1. nêhiyaw ayahkwêw*

            Have you considered using a singular “they”?

            The explanation states that using he or she, or he/she is unwieldy and doesn’t flow well, and I think using “they” could help!

            It would also be inclusive to people of all genders, rather than just “both” as explained in the link.

      3. Rust1783*

        I strenuously disagree with this. Our society is trying really hard to come to some kind of agreement about bare minimum things like recycling. I would call the trash-leaver’s behavior anti-social, full stop. You can’t blame people who react strongly to anti-social behavior and accuse them of being self-righteous. This is exactly the dynamic some people revel in creating around them, and it should not be encouraged. I agree that it’s not a hill to die on, but I also don’t see LW dying on any hill at the moment. I see them being extremely angry about straight-up anti-social behavior in their midst. I wouldn’t be passive aggressive about it (leaving recycling on top of the bin, etc) but the fact that they are being disciplined for trying to make the situation right infuriates me, and I’m just a random person on the internet.

        1. Anti-Social Social Club*

          Just because *you* would call the trash-leaver’s behavior anti-social does not mean that others would, and, since there is no consensus that this is anti-social behavior, people are not going to react as though it is. You’re falling into the same trap that OP is, and it’s not a productive way to deal with a work problem (or, really, to influence people to join your cause).

          And, frankly, it’s this sort of histrionic framing that alienates people from one’s point of view. Behaviors typically classed as anti-social tend to be violent or hostile. Throwing your soda can in the trash hardly qualifies, particularly when there is not presently societal agreement about the moral value of recycling.

          OP is not being disciplined for recycling, OP is being asked to stop an 18-month long, passive-aggressive campaign of rooting through company trash and setting used food containers/waste on top of designated bins in a petty and immature attempt to shame people who don’t share their values and commitment to sorting. This is not an attempt to make a situation right, it’s a public value judgment and no better than a vegan chucking their omnivore coworker’s food on the basis it’s immoral by their standards. One can be a passionate advocate, but one’s company can limit the forms of that passionate advocacy their offices. Environmentally conscious is not a protected class.

          1. Commenter*

            “OP is being asked to stop an 18-month long, passive-aggressive campaign of rooting through company trash and setting used food containers/waste on top of designated bins in a petty and immature attempt to shame people who don’t share their values and commitment to sorting.” — Anti-Social Social Club

            ^^ YES this!!

            “I’m also pretty annoyed that someone actually went behind my back to whine to HR about what seems to me completely inoffensive and non-hostile behavior to get me in trouble instead of just confronting me directly like an adult. I find what they did to be incredibly petty and childish.” — OP

            I’m astounded that the OP doesn’t realize *she’s* the one acting passive-aggressively and petty by making a big display of re-sorting the trash, rather than engaging the culprits directly “like an adult.”

          2. Jasnah*

            Best comment! OP is setting a value judgment and overly focused on doling out punishment. This has nothing to do with saving the planet.

          3. tamarack and fireweed*

            IMHO you’re overshooting your otherwise spot-on comment. The spot-on part is “OP is not being disciplined for recycling, OP is being asked to stop an 18-month long, passive-aggressive campaign of rooting through company trash and setting used food containers/waste on top of designated bins in a petty and immature attempt to shame [someone]”.

            But this isn’t just a matter of not having shared values. Leaving a mess in the kitchen for others to clean up *is* anti-social, and so is nullifying a community’s recycling effort by blithely ignoring instructions. It’s just a case of “you may call it that, but others may not”. Plus, it’s also acting against the employer’s set-out policies.

            I’m always dissatisfied when, in the effort of dealing with someone who overreacts to a problem, the jerk who caused the original issue is left to get off. Unfortunately, this being a workplace advice column, we’re concerned with the OP’s relationship to their employer and co-workers. Which is in a place where the OP has to step back from their course of action. This is despite the fact that apparently the employer’s role here isn’t really glorious either.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          He us being disciplined for his aggression which makes a(n) other employee(s) uncomfortable.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I’d agree with you except for the fact that getting this one person (or few people) to recycle will not save the planet.
          OP has put tremendous energy into something that will have very little effect. If OP wins here, what has she won?

          Now if OP was going up against Huge Corporation Known for Polluting, I would donate money to that.

          1. bleh*

            These are similar to people who block Tesla’s in charging stations with giant trucks. They don’t just not care about the environment; they are aggressively trying to thwart/hurt people who do. It *is* antisocial and the next generation will pay, not us.

            1. TL -*

              A few petty truck drivers blocking in Teslas (for presumably short, if annoying, periods of time) isn’t going to have much effect on the environment.
              Getting in corporate/federal regulations that and helping developing countries stabilize and put in effective infrastructure is going to have the biggest impact most quickly.

              Everyone should do their part because, yes, millions of small actions can add up to a big effect. But the bigger problem is the infrastructure and regulations in both developing and developed countries – those are the biggest determinants of impact on the environment.

            2. MsSolo*

              Obviouly, i don’t know how old you are, but if you’re expecting to live another 20 years or more, it absolutely is your (our) generation that will pay, as well as future ones. We are the children people have been begging others to think of for decades!

              1. Ego Chamber*


                I’ve been hearing 2040 being kicked around as the next date of the end times and I figure I’ve lived through two apocalypses so far (Y2K, 2012), so maybe the third one will finally stick.

        4. Jadelyn*

          Not sorting one’s trash…is…anti-social?

          Are you genuinely serious in saying that? That seems like a shoulder-dislocating level of reaching, to me. I’m just baffled that you’re so confidently describing something as minor as throwing away recyclable items as “anti-social behavior” and extrapolating from there that of COURSE others are justified in “reacting strongly” and being “extremely angry” about it.


        5. Original Poster*

          thanks for being like the only person in this comments section with any semblance of sanity and compassion for a fellow person. I appreciate seeing your comment in this ocean of hostile comments straight-up insulting me, implying im some kind of violent psycho for cleaning up trash after others, labeling me “self-righteous” and all sorts of other nastiness. Thank you for being the sole voice of reason in this whole thread. You’ve restored my faith in humanity just a little bit.

          1. Princess PIP*

            You ARE self-righteous. Incredibly so.

            It’s no surprise you’re reacting this way considering the content of your letter.

            How you’re paid and treated at work has NOTHING to do with this trash problem. You are linking the two together in an effort to paint yourself as some sort of martyr when in fact you’re just someone who cares deeply about good things but does not know how to go about handling your passions around others who couldn’t care less. That’s on you and you alone.

            Do not pull trash back out, as if the offender is the sole person who will have to deal with the extra mess you’ve made. You are bad at supporting your cause, which is a commendable and worthy one when supported maturely.

            Bottom line is, work is for work, and when you disrupt the purpose of why everyone’s in that office in the first place you mark yourself. Maybe you like being a victim and maybe you don’t, but the truth is your solution to this thing that offends you is INAPPROPRIATE for a work environment.

            Find a job where you are treated fairly, and the office culture better matches what you want to see in the world. For your own sake.

    2. I Heart JavaScript*

      I agree. There’s probably an element of BEC with the other employee too—getting that worked up about something that petty is usually symptom of either (or both!).

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      I do understand OP’s objection to this – after all, with every environmental issue (and probably all larger social issues) you can always say your part of the problem is small and you’re not going to “solve” it with any single thing you do. But you have to start somewhere. That said, OP should start somewhere … else. Always start with something that you can control, which is not other people’s behavior.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Exactly. Usually you should start with yourself (not with controlling others). OP’s doing that, so it’s time to let it go.

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        OP, why not look for a job at an environmental firm? You’d be happier there and fit in more with the office culture.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Honestly, I worked at an environmental firm, and OP’s behavior would be wildly inappropriate there, too.

          1. Antilles*

            Have worked at an environmental firm, can confirm – Sorting someone else’s trash would be odd even in that setting. And leaving it out to passive-aggressively shame people would be a hard no.
            Also, from a recycling perspective, environmental firms actually recycle less than you’d think – because we know enough about the process to not bother with many things that the normal person would toss in the recycling bin without realizing that “no, plastic bags actually can’t be recycled even though they’re made out of plastic”.

          2. Close Bracket*

            I took JJ as meaning that OP would fit in with a culture of sorting garbage correctly in the first place, which would presumably be found at an environmental firm, not that they would fit in with a culture of pulling stuff out of the trash and leaving it in a heap on top of the recycle bin.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I understand that that’s what JJ was saying, but even at an environmental firm, you’re going to have at least 1 person (probably more) who don’t sort everything properly. And if that’s the case, the approach that OP has adopted at their current workplace would not go over well at an organization where staff ostensibly are more invested in proper waste sorting.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Maybe OP should start a business where he goes around separating/disposing of business trash/recycling/composting.

                I know this sounds snarky but it’s not. I’m totally sincere.

          3. Original Poster*

            Sounds like your environmental firm doesn’t really care about the environment. I wouldn’t want to work with people who hate the planet and treat fellow human beings like the trash they’re cleaning up for them. Thanks for the heads up!

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              The literal embodiment of Poe’s law, right here.

      3. Fortitude Jones*

        OP should focus on finding a new job if he/she hasn’t already. 99% of software engineers make more?! That payscale is a mess, and I too would be overly touchy about everything at work if I was being undervalued like this.

        1. Minocho*

          I’ve been there, very low on the national average salary due to location and a lack of understanding how poorly I was being paid. It can add a lot of stress to your life, both inside and outside of work. Focusing on improving your work situation may not only help with whatever might be behind the thought processes driving this activity, but may also help put you into a better position to help the environment in other ways, letting you contribute how you want to the cause though an avenue that doesn’t harm your career or work life balance.

    4. A Person*

      Agree with the last two paragraphs completely. In previous workplaces where I’ve become overly emotionally invested in getting a certain outcome out of minor office drama, it’s been in work environments where I felt I had no control or influence over more important things.

      In this case the letter writer’s energy would be much better spent on finding a job with an employer that pays a fair wage and recognizes employees for their work accomplishments.

    5. Mel*

      Yes. I’ve been there. Not with garbage, but other petty office irritations that were just stand ins for my broader frustration about my job.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If OP had written in two years ago I’d suggested reporting the non-compliance to the employer’s facilities manager. And ask if they want repeated notification of individual intances.
      THAT is the person whose job responsibility is the proper sorting of trash vs recycling. THAT is who will be getting the non-compliance letters & fines from the trash company and/or local government. And THAT is who needs to know where/when the non-compliance is occurring so they can track down who.
      By now…I’ve got nothing except that yes being around someone who is muttering and sputtering like OP’s apparently doing can feel scary to be on the receiving end, even if it’s not intentionally directed at that person.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Unfortunately, we have people in our society who are on a crusade. Usually it’s one single issue that they beat to death. The problem is that there are parts of what they are saying that everyone can agree with. It’s the delivery method that unravels everything.

        I am more concerned about OP’s drilled focus on this tiny problem then I am concerned about the recycling that ends up in the garbage. As an aside to OP, find out where recycling goes in your locale. Ours goes to the burn plant because there are no buyers for the massive quantities we have. And we are rural. I cannot imagine how much NYC or other large areas have.

        1. valentine*

          I’d suggested reporting the non-compliance to the employer’s facilities manager. And ask if they want repeated notification of individual intances.
          This would still be way too much. It’s just not OP’s to sort and it’s not important enough to the company to discipline anyone over it.

      2. Safetykats*

        I guess this works if you assume recycling is mandatory. Mostly, it’s not; mostly it’s voluntary. Definitely if recycling is mandatory and the company is getting fined for improper sorting, there should be a strong policy and define do penalties for noncompliance. But this doesn’t be sound like disposing of radioactive waste in with the garbage for the construction landfill – it sound and like yogurt containers in the soda can bin, or half chewed sandwiches in the plastic bottle bin. Normally that’s not illegal.

        Unfortunately, haranguing people about work kitchen use typically doesn’t work. We have self designated kitchen police where I work too. Last year they put up signs everywhere about how too many disposable plates and utensils were ending up in the garbage. So some of us brought in regular dishes and utensils, and someone brought dish soap and a dish drainer. Next thing we knew the signs were about how unacceptable it was to leave (clean) dishes “on the counters” (in the dish drainer). That week most of us went back to paper bowls and plates. Some people can’t week to help but tell others how to be – but some people can’t be pleased no matter what you do.

    7. motherofdragons*

      Agreed. It actually helped clear up a confounding interpersonal issue in my workplace, too. Frustration at management coupled with feelings of burnout, loss of control, and self-righteousness have been leading to petty actions like this, and it’s ridiculous. It will help me to have this kind of framing when approaching it.

    8. bluephone*

      The moment you (collective “you” or in this case, the LW) start digging through the trash, you have definitely lost any high ground, at all, ever. Just, no.

    9. lilsheba*

      I agree the recycling is a little zealous and weird. But on the other hand, if people are being rude and leaving a mess in the kitchen all the time they need to be held accountable. They need to learn that people are not there to be their mommy and clean up after them. On the recycling note we had a bin just for food at our old location and people paid ZERO attention to it and put all kinds of trash in there. It’s like, seriously can you not read people?

      1. BirdGirl*

        I agree. The LW needs to relax a little bit, but I think the person/people leaving the trash and not following the kitchen rules should also have to change their behavior. I don’t think I’d get upset to the point of the LW, but I don’t think that “They probably don’t actually recycle it anyway so what difference does it make?” should be our default setting in today’s society. Not doing the right thing, or doing the lazy thing, because you’re not sure it really goes to a recycling plant is not a good look. I applaud the LW’s dedication to the planet and the environment and hope that their office will crack down on the people who don’t comply with the rules.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Woah. Yeah, if I saw that someone dug out my trash and left it sitting on top of a bin, I would absolutely throw it away again and be incredibly disturbed.

    It’s not your job to make sure that everyone follows the rules in the kitchen and your boss and HR are absolutely correct in telling you to knock this off. They are not paying you to sort trash and you should be focusing on the job you are being paid to do.

    Also, what makes you so sure it’s only one person doing this and not multiple people? In general, humans are pretty terrible about reading, comprehending, and following directions.

    1. Lance*

      Also, as Alison says: this issue, ultimately, is minor. I get that ‘minor’ can gradually add up, and it would be responsible of the coworkers to toss things where they’re supposed to go… but as it is, it’s still minor. It’s not worth this level of outrage, and as it is, at least with these methods… nothing is changing.

      Sorry, OP, but you need to shift your focus, and quite probably let this go.

    2. Justme, The OG*

      Leaving sorted trash on top of the bin is so passive aggressive and childish.

      1. PMP*

        I came here to say this…the irony of letter writer saying the HR complaint was petty and childish (probably true) and I’m like, hey wait a minute, you passive aggressively left the recyclables on top of the trash which is…petty and childish, go figure.

        1. Hannah*

          Oh I thought the exact same thing. Gotta let this go OP – Alison is exactly right. If I were you, I’d be hunting for a job where you are paid your worth (and maybe one that aligns a bit more with your values visa vi environmental causes). Sending lots of luck your way!

        2. Gymmie*

          Indeed. The pulling it out of the trash is weird, but LEAVING it on top. For all to see? That’s really crossing a line there.

        3. many bells down*

          Yes, OP is upset that the people in question didn’t talk to them “like an adult” and went over their head, but … they did the same thing?

        4. Marion Cotesworth-Haye*

          100%. This was my exact reaction. Pot, meet kettle. Just because your passive aggression is on the side of the environment does not make it the appropriate response.

        5. 5 Leaf Clover*

          Yes! Going to HR about tension with a coworker, on the other hand, is normal adult behavior. It was especially surprising to hear “instead of just confronting me directly like an adult” from someone who had tried to communicate by moving trash around.

        6. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          “I find what they did to be incredibly petty and childish.”
          Two years. A two year personal vendetta against this person’s lunch.
          Singling out coworker’s trash daily and building a shame mountain with it.
          I’d feel pretty persecuted myself. And I would feel like I couldn’t go into the lunch room.
          OP. You need to let this go. And you need a new job.
          Not just because you are getting screwed by the company, but because you are turning into the office eccentric. And not in a self-contained way, but in a way that makes other people uncomfortable.

          1. TRex*

            Agreed. Let it go, find a new job and treat your new coworkers like adults. More time doing the job you’re paid to do, less time sorting and leaving coworkers garbage and compost out. No one is perfect.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Two years.
            You know if someone did this to me for two years, I would also go to HR.
            And I recycle/reuse like crazy, I am a big fan. But I know I can only control me and no one else.
            I believe in the power of role-modeling, peer-pressure and time. Just my thought that the offenders would have converted themselves long before now if OP did not make it feel like a contest of wills.

            At some point this stopped being about recycling and started being about berating.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              I’m surprised they waited two years, frankly. Ain’t nobody got time for that kind of weird vindictiveness.

        7. bonkerballs*

          That is what stood out to me most in the letter. Two years (!) of passive aggressive recyclable sorting instead of talking to people directly (not even just removing the recyclables and putting them in the correct bin, but leaving them on top of the bin so the coworker would feel shame over their actions) and then indignation when someone didn’t come talk to her directly. If you’re showing by your actions that you don’t want direct communication, you can’t be surprised when you don’t get it.

        8. Essess*

          Agreed…. I keep seeing so many conflicting comments in the OPs post…. 1) Angry about the person going to HR instead of coming to the OP like an adult, yet the OP is sorting trash and being passive aggressive instead of going to the offender like an adult. 2) OP is disgusted by the mess left in the kitchen, yet OP is leaving piles of trash on top of the garbage cans which would be disgusting to encounter every day which impacts everyone that uses the kitchen.

      2. Jack Be Nimble*

        I thought initially that OP had only been resorting the recyclables/compost into the correct bins, which is a weird thing to do, but within the range of acceptable behavior (if only barely). But leaving the stuff on top of the bins? For a year and a half?

        That’s beyond passive aggressive and childish.

        1. Yorick*

          I think quickly resorting (when you see something on top of the pile) is an appropriate thing to do. But the rest of this is just not.

          1. valentine*

            quickly resorting (when you see something on top of the pile)
            It’s still gross, not your job, and a waste of time.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              Yah but if it’s, like, an empty water bottle (ew, stop drinking out of plastic water bottles, World!) right on top, I wouldn’t eyeball someone moving it over to the correct bin. If they washed their hands after.

              1. Yorick*

                Yes, that’s what I’m imagining and it’s not too gross or really wasting any company time. But digging through the whole trash to resort anything you find is so different.

        2. Princess PIP*

          Exactly. It signals caring about the environment is now a secondary concern of the OP, after shaming their coworker.

        3. My Alter-Ego is Taller*

          The people who encounter the stuff left on top of the bins aren’t even going to be the right culprits. They’ll be the people who use the kitchen next, after the original poster – not the people who were there before the original poster. Sheesh, if I kept finding gross dirty containers and compostable food on top of the bins I’d be scared to use the kitchen too! This has way crossed over the line from friendly reminder into crazy and obnoxious coworker territory.

      3. Mel*

        True. And most of us don’t respond well to passive-aggressive actions. It makes us want to double down even more than if someone was direct.

      4. Classic Rando*

        Also, doing that with compostables?? Like, taking banana peels and food scraps out of the trash and LEAVING THEM ON TOP OF THE COMPOST BIN?? Totally gross, if I worked there, I would have complained about that immediately.

        And, OP doesn’t even know if the person throwing the items away a second time is the same as the person who did it the first time! It’s probably a grossed out coworker or janitor who doesn’t want pests in the building.

        1. uranus wars*

          I actually had that thought at that point “but..but..what if its not the same person?”

        2. Ego Chamber*

          Plot twist: The person who reported OP to HR? Also not the same person.

          The person who can’t be bothered to read the signs above the bins or wash their own dishes is fully unaware of the sneaky hate spiral they kicked off on the OP that’s been burning for 2 effing years. (I’d totally watch that movie btw, the revenge flick where at the end the villain is just like “I’m sorry, have we met?”)

      5. Genny*

        Not to mention, it makes the kitchen gross for everyone, not just the non-recycling/composting coworkers. My guess is the non-recycling/composting coworkers weren’t the only ones complaining about this behavior.

      6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It seems more parental than childish to me. I can see this happening at home if your kid is throwing recyclables away and your way of “teaching” them to do it right.

        It’s like how my dad would purposely move a forgotten dish into my bed to “remind” me to put it in the right spot. I was thinking OP was going to say they left things on the person’s desk for a quick second and was relieved it was just on top of the bins but that’s still gross AF and not office appropriate.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Ha! My mom did that kind of stuff to my brother all the time. She’d dump trash in his bed when he left it strewn about his room after she repeatedly told him to clean up and he didn’t – that didn’t work well on my brother, either. He would continue to leave his room a wreck and then would do the same to our living room as retaliation, lol.

          Passive-aggressive lessons very rarely work.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            The funniest part is I got my “Don’t tell me what to do” streak from my dad of all people. So I would just throw it somewhere that would make him even more irritated. Even as an adult I’m not above going “Hey dad, see you later!” as I’m leaving his house and tossing an old big-gulp cup or whatever into his driveway and waving at him as he laugh/scowls at me as he goes to pick it up.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              LOL! You and my brother sound exactly alike because he does the same thing – and he also inherited my mom’s rebellious streak. Their fights are epic.

              1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                It’s okay, Alice. It’s a joke and I’m a big ol’ daddy’s girl.

          2. R.D*

            One roommate put all the dirty dishes on another roommates bed in college. They were pulled out of the sink and were wet and gross, so I’m sure the sheets were gross, probably the mattress, too.

            The non-dish washing roommate just started locking his bedroom door. Next dishes were piled in the hallway, which he just stepped over on his way to buy paper plates.

            As 3rd party observer, it was rather amusing as long as I didn’t need a plate. Generally, I just grabbed a plate out of the pile, (regardless of if it was on a bed, the floor, or in the sink) washed it used it washed it again and left it alone on the drying rack. I don’t believe that the one guy ever did change his ways.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              When my mom was upset that my brother and I weren’t washing dishes and/or putting them back the way she liked, she’d confiscate all of the dishes in the house and lock them in the trunk of her car, lol. This is why I don’t bat an eyelash when people do things like the OP’s been doing, even though I understand that, objectively, it’s childish and only serves to exacerbate an issue. It’s still deeply amusing to me on some level.

              1. many bells down*

                I gave my stepson his own set of dishes that no one else is allowed to touch. Because although he will happily sleep in a literal pile of garbage, he refuses to a) wash a dish anyone else has used, and b) eat off a plate that isn’t 110% spotless.

                Maybe childish, but I only have so much energy and I’d rather not spend it every single day arguing about who didn’t wash what dishes. Or who didn’t put the banana peel in the compost bin, for that matter.

                1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

                  Win/win. He wants it done his way? Rock on with that compromise. And I bet he does keep them spotless. A helluva better way to teach personal responsibility than with a pet!

            2. Fish*

              One of the people in my uni accomodation always had his stuff piled up in the kitchen. One time he also cooked a chicken and left most of it to start going bad in the fridge.

              A couple of days later, he accidentally left his keys sticking out of his door lock when he left his room for the day. The rest of us who had to use that kitchen stole his key and when he came home only gave it back after he’d done all his washing up and disposed of the chicken.

              It worked!

            3. pentamom*

              My brother-in-law had a roommate who wouldn’t clean up his dishes. So one time, in front of the roommate, he took a dish from the pile, gave it to his dog to lick clean, and then put it back in the cupboard.

              The roommate didn’t leave his dirty dishes around anymore after that.

          3. Inch*

            This was what I thought too — that this sort of thing would not work on a LOT of people, who would be pissed off to be policed and called out like this. For many (including myself, I admit) this sort of coercive shaming would mean hell would freeze over before another Diet Coke can went into the recycling. Petty? You bet. It reminds me of the scene in the movie “The Cutting Edge” where the female skater is nagging her male partner to button the top button on his shirt and he eventually says, “If buttoning this button was the difference between a long happy life and death by hypothermia, I still wouldn’t give you the satisfaction.” All of which is to say, I don’t think the OP’er thoughtfully considered whether his own behavior was really likely to lead to the result he wanted.

        2. Le Sigh*

          I was once home from college and my mom was irritated that piles of clothes, etc., were all over my old bedroom. “Does your bedroom at your apartment look like this?” she said, pointedly, as if to make the point that I wouldn’t treat my a space I personally was paying for like this.

          “Uh, yes?” I said.

          I mean she was ultimately right and I’m a much cleaner adult by 20 yo me just didn’t care.

      7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. It also makes the kitchen super gross. I get that OP started by just resorting things. But now that things are being left on top of the bins, it’s reached peak petty.

      8. Akcipitrokulo*

        And I can imagine that being scary. “Someone at my work has been following me into the kitchen and removing my trash… I didn’t know who was doing this until recently.”

        Ibwould feel it was verging on stalkery behaviohr and be freaked out.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Absolutely agreed that this feels like stalker behaviour. To the OP: you may be doing this for completely different reasons, but the intention doesn’t really matter when you take it to this level. I would feel deeply, deeply creeped out and intimidated to know that someone I work with was monitoring my trash and digging through bins in order to teach me some kind of lesson. Again, that is literally something that stalkers do. I am honestly shocked that it’s taken this long for you to be reported to HR. And not only are you obviously making your colleague feel intimidated and harassed in their workplace, but you are making a shared space dirty and unpleasant for everyone else who has to use it and making life harder for your building’s cleaning staff.

          1. Wintermute*

            I would think someone, maybe my boss or a coworker that has a problem with me, is digging for some smoking gun to run right into the grandbosses’ office waving like they had the golden ticket.

      9. Le Sigh*

        Also: “I was astounded that anyone could be “offended” by someone trying to reduce unnecessary waste or feel “scared” because of some recyclables sitting on top of a bin. ”

        OP — you were clearly doing this to send a message. They got the message and the message was not about reducing waste. You were making a point. So…you’re surprised that when you escalated this way beyond where it needed to go with aggressive tactics, the person was a little freaked out? If this was really about it being in the right bin, you would have just kept sorting it out and/or maybe talked to the culprits and asked them to help you out.

        Instead you leave a horse head in a bed for a year and a half and then are surprised someone was rattled by how far you had taken this?

        1. Decima Dewey*

          But the message conveyed by “some recyclables sitting on to of a bin” isn’t that it’s important to reduce unnecessary waste. The message conveyed is “some weirdo is going through the trash and recycling bins and its gross.”

          1. Le Sigh*

            Oh I completely agree. I just also think the OP’s claim that someone was offended by trying to reduce waste is…disingenuous, whether they realize it or not.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          That is because OP thinks they are still talking about recyclables. At some point that discussion ended and the discussion moved to OP’s behavior toward one or more people. OP, if you had done any action for two years against a person, you can be reported for that. Let’s say for the last two years you did x because Sue always does y. Sue is going to report you, that is to be expected.

          They gave you all this time to stop and you didn’t.

          You know, OP, if we don’t prioritize people first and foremost our message gets lost. It’s just human nature, when we start telling people that other things are more important than they are or their feelings are, then people stop listening.
          We see this same pattern with pets. Love me, love my dog, does not work. Fido cannot not mow down my company, I will stop having company come over. People have to know that they are first consideration, not second consideration.

          1. valentine*

            They gave you all this time to stop and you didn’t.
            I thought neither side knew names to name, but if HR really sat on it in the hopes that OP would see they’d assigned themselves a Sisyphean task and stop on their own, that’s on-brand and further shows the company’s not a good place for OP.

    3. Anax*

      I also assume that either the trash-culprit or the OP may not be completely clear on what’s recyclable in their area, despite the many meetings, because it’s often complicated and varies wildly by area.

      Say, for instance, that the trash-culprit often eats an individually-packaged muffin from the break room for breakfast. Perhaps they assume the muffin cup is not recyclable (it seems to have a coating and is covered in food), and the OP assumes that it is (it’s paper).

      That specific case is probably not on the sign, but it might happen constantly if individually-packaged muffins are a breakroom staple.

      And since OP and trash-culprit never talk about this, they just continue being absolutely sure they’re right – which makes this passive-aggression totally unproductive.

      1. Antilles*

        I also assume that either the trash-culprit or the OP may not be completely clear on what’s recyclable in their area, despite the many meetings, because it’s often complicated and varies wildly by area.
        This is an underrated difficulty in recycling (at least in the US): Recycling rules can be drastically different on even a suburb by suburb level, since it’s usually handled at the municipal level.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          And this inability to sort recyclables has lead to China refusing to take a lot of our recyclables now. So lots of places even stopped recycling =(

          So I’d rather people who didn’t know if it’s recyclable just toss it in the trash so that it doesn’t ruin the recycling programs more…

          1. Just Elle*

            Seriously, I listened to a podcast about how one “bad” piece of recycling (like say, a carton with a bit of milk still in it) ruins entire garbage bags worth of recycling and I am now terrified of recycling lol. I’ve kinda gone the other way to “when in doubt, throw it out” because I want the things I do recycle to actually be recyclable. Probably not the best approach but OMG it is SO STRESSFUL!

            There was also a recent Earth Day Superstore episode where the woman stands paralyzed in front of the sorting bins for a full 30 seconds before putting the tray of trash in the floor and running away. I related so much.

            1. Antilles*

              “when in doubt, throw it out”
              My city provides the large blue recycling cans to wheel out to the street for pickup. The cans all have this exact phrase written on the top in VERY LARGE ALL CAPS PRINT, to encourage people to not recycle items unless they’re 100% sure it meets the criteria listed (in smaller font).

        2. dealing with dragons*

          my municipality has people recycle in one big bin rather than having people pre-sort :(

          and we don’t have a normal composting situation – it’s really just once a year they say drop stuff off.

          1. Fiberpunk*

            I thought the one-big-bin was really stupid when we started it in my city, but they say they just get so many more recyclables now that even with all they just trash, it works better.

            It would be better if people would sort, but if sorting is too much at least this moves in the right direction.

        3. Dust Bunny*


          Also: Why are recycling symbols so tiny and hard to see? Packaging designers, please enlarge those and post them front and center where we can all see them! Why is the Triangle-1 on the bottom of the milk jug, tiny, and embossed so you can hardly read it? Put it loud and proud on the front so a) those of us with weak-ass eyes can be sure this thing is recyclable, and b) it would be a good reminder!

        4. many bells down*

          I live outside of Seattle and the recycling/compost/trash rules are arcane and bizarre and different in every single city. I am thinking specifically of one food-court area in Seattle proper in which some of the restaurants have compostable utensils and some don’t. Is that fork plastic or compostable? Depends on what you had for lunch!

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            Oh yes, and different methods of recycling per municipality! In my city we’re supposed to crush cans and bottles if possible. But in a relative’s city we visited, their recycling machinery blows air into the bottles for some reason, so they are told absolutely NOT to crush the bottles or cans! How is a reasonable traveler supposed to keep up with the recycling rules for every city?

            1. Jadelyn*

              And this is why I have just given up. I put broken-down cardboard boxes into the recycling and that’s pretty much it, because I don’t have the mental bandwidth to keep track of what can be recycled and what can’t, what needs to be washed out or crushed or not crushed or wrappers torn off or or or or or…make something complicated enough and people will just…stop doing it.

        5. Anax*

          Yuuuup. And it’s not just that work may have different rules than home – municipal boundaries in many places are also strange and confusing. A municipality may have boundaries like this, depending on how the neighboring municipalities expanded. (And yes, this one has separate trash collection, and the rules are different than those for the neighboring municipalities.)


          Mailing and physical addresses can be different, especially in rural areas. So unless you’re the property owner, you might not even know that your workplace is in a different municipality than the buildings next door or across the street.


          And in some municipalities (like mine) it’s really hard to even find a solid list of what’s recyclable – and that’s before they change providers in October, and start having completely different rules. Argh!

          I try to be responsible, but recycling is not always Easy-Mode Adulting!

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House*


        We once spent an entire week when my MIL came to visit picking trash out of the recycle bin. Dirty napkins, paper towels, paper plates- she thought were “paper” when they were really “trash.”

        1. President Porpoise*

          Could be worse. My dad will pick out burned toast and nasty lettuce. Because to us, it’s “trash” and to him, it’s “Edible food being wasted”. He’ll eat a bite while making sure the culprit is watching, then quietly dispose of it later. It is annoying as all get out, and really gross. Messing around in the trash to make a point is a gross thing to do and so, so hostile the way it’s being done here.

          1. Jaid*

            How… how does he not get ill?

            I wonder if he’d do that at work or if he’s just being passive aggressive at you…

            1. fposte*

              Unless there’s something like a litter box being emptied on top of it, it doesn’t sound like anything that would make him ill. He’s just eating toast and lettuce–that’s his point. It’s just that those of us with food security can afford to throw out toast and lettuce we don’t like.

              I personally think he’s built in his own punishment in there; when you grow up with it, of course you have the buttons to be pushed, but as an outsider, I’m like “You’re eating out of the garbage. How do you figure that’s punishing *me*?”

              1. Busy*

                It is interesting what you say here (and what President Porpoise) says below. As someone who grew up with food insecurity and who also had depression era grandparents do this type of thing when I visited (they weren’t aware of the food insecurity at home), I will say this is one of those ways at least in my family eating disorders were created.

                So my grandfather would like poor coffee in his cereal and eat it to prove a point about wasting food. Or they would say at every meal to finish what you have or you will regret it later. Guess what? Because when its real to you, that actually becomes damaging. I won’t get into the details of what these types of disordered eating and food hoarding are like, but just know my siblings and I suffer with it every day.

                In the end, its best to do not do either of these.

            2. President Porpoise*

              I wouldn’t put it past him doing it at work, but he’s absolutely just being passive aggressive at me. But, he did learn from the best – my grandmother was visiting us for Thanksgiving one year and was annoyed at me for throwing out the apple peels and cores while I was making pie, declaring that they should be saved and turned into jelly. The next time she visits, she brings a jar of (disgusting) peel and core jelly, that she, an 85 year old millionaire, took the time to make just to prove a point. My family is weird, passive aggressive, and pretty dang cheap.

              1. Anax*

                Yeah, that’s something my family would do too. Not only did Grampa grow up in the Depression, but he and his side of the family have this need to believe they’re “just ordinary folks who work harder and save better than anyone else.”

                They identify really strongly as blue-collar, even though they’ve been upper-middle-class for generations. Performative frugality is how they justify what’s really just… luck.

                Luck is scary – it’s not earned, it’s not repeatable, and it could reverse at any time. ‘Being frugal’ is a lot more predictable – and there’s a certain subset of wealthy folks who will cling to that predictability.

                1. fposte*

                  Yes, though it’s not necessarily just performative–as with the OP, it can be an issue of core identity. I also think people who’ve lived through really tight times can find it frustrating what others who haven’t seemingly take for granted, or it’s just a way of expressing anger about what they had to go through in what were some pretty frightening times.

                  But that doesn’t mean the response is optimal. I can sympathize with PP’s dad and also think he’s causing more problems than solving them.

                2. Anax*

                  @fposte Yeah, that wasn’t the best phrasing, but I’m not sure what would be better.

                  What I’m trying to get at is… My family’s actions aren’t meaningful ways to save money or reduce waste. They’re important because they’re symbolic. Somewhere along the way, my mother internalized that $0.25 coupons are the way she will protect her family from illness and poverty. If she performs frugality – if she takes these specific symbolic actions she’s internalized as Super Important – then we’ll be okay.

                  For my family, this isn’t a trauma-response based on experiencing poverty – we didn’t. It’s a way they seek control and quell anxiety. Mom can’t prevent hospital bills, disability, or arson – the sort of unpredictable events that could really leave us poor. But she can clip coupons, and she can shovel snow by hand, and hand-deliver letters instead of paying postage, because if she can just budget WELL ENOUGH, she’ll be safe.

                  I’ve seen this kind of thing fairly often in upper-middle-class families, in my own life – and in “fiscally conservative” folks in general.

                  (The problematic flip side, of course, is that Mom believes that she deserves her wealth because she worked harder than anyone else – and if someone doesn’t take the same actions and then experiences poverty, then in my mom’s eyes, they deserve it. This is not good.)

                  I think it’s kinda important to distinguish between behavior coming from a place of privilege (‘this is why I deserve what I have’) and from a place of trauma (‘if the worst happens again, this is how you can survive’), because the former seems to lead to judgmental behavior far more often, even if neither is necessarily a productive or optimal approach.

                  I, uh. Hope that made sense.

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  Adding: We can’t MAKE others understand what it is like to be us.

                  Once in a while I have to remind myself that the reason I can’t make someone understand what it is like to be me, is because they don’t actually have to understand. I am the number one person who needs to understand what it is like to be me.

                  Dad here in this story is the only one who totally understand what it is like to be him. However, he never took back his autonomy, his own power. The depression is long over but in his mind it rages on. He still feels powerless and he is showing everyone.

                  OP. you are trying to save the planet by making/forcing one or two people to recycle. This fails the logic test, I think you know that. If these folks start recycling tomorrow our planet is still one hot mess.

                  Alison is right, OP, don’t mix up saving the planet with saving yourself. When details matter to this degree, we are on the losing side. What are you successfully avoiding thoughts about? And why?

                4. Armchair Expert*

                  Anax, I’ve run out of nesting but this is a GREAT post. It sums up a lot of my own behaviour (not the smug rich self congratulatory part, but definitely the performative frugality as a way to quell anxiety part) and I thank you for putting it so eloquently.

                5. Jasnah*

                  Anax, your post is so, so, so insightful and really made a lot of stuff click for me.

                  There is definitely a strain in upper-middle-class “fiscally conservative” culture that goes:
                  The world is scary and unknowable, and any accident can leave me poor.
                  So it’s important to be frugal just in case.
                  Being frugal looks like: clipping coupons, not wasting things, fighting for discounts (etc other performative behaviors).
                  The harder I work at [clipping coupons], the better I protect myself from hardship and contribute to my wealth.
                  People who don’t work hard at [clipping coupons] are irresponsible and don’t deserve their wealth.

                  To bring this back around, I think OP is doing something similar here by conflating the performance of a certain behavior with having certain values. “If I don’t recycle properly then I put my children in environmental danger. If someone else doesn’t recycle properly then my children are in danger.”

          2. Chip Hackman*

            Ugh this freaks me out so bad. I have an intense paranoia about eating food that’s even on the border of not being fresh anymore, so reading that made me wanna toss my cookies. Any lettuce that is getting wilty or getting a little slimey I can’t really look at without feeling ill, same goes for fruits, etc.

        2. DataGirl*

          I constantly fight with my husband about putting his used tissues and paper towels in recycling. He comes from Germany where everything is recyclable and cannot get it through his head that it doesn’t work like that in the US.

          1. Dahlia*

            If you want some ammunition, my-currently-lives-in-Germany friend doesn’t think that’s a thing :P

            1. only acting normal*

              Tissues and paper towels (and already recycled paper) aren’t usually good for recycling because the fibres are too short – there’s only so many times paper fibres can be recycled as they break down a bit more each time they’re processed.

      3. Mazzy*

        This is the story of my life! I do the recycling for my building. People think waxy food stained paper is recyclable! They also put flimsy non rigid plastic in the recycling. Unfortunately, plastic bags and wrapping are not recycling

      4. 8675309*

        As an ex-office manager of a tech company, I gotta say, even the one-on-one conversations about specific things do not work.
        My colleagues would throw things in the wrong bins moments after speaking about it while looking at signage that specifically listed the item.
        Some people just don’t care and will never care and you cannot make them care. Show up, take your trash home in your lunch bag so you can ensure it’s sorted correctly, and focus on how to show your manager and HR that you can work in a team environment, because if you’re doing great work but being passive aggressive about trash, I’m guessing this may be the way you handle other problems at work and you want to make sure it doesn’t obscure your work product.

      5. BadWolf*

        A local grocery store with a eating area has a board above with the trash/recycling/compost area with all of the packaging used in the deli/etc stapled to it, telling you want it is. It’s a thing of beauty. I have to consult it frequently.

        1. Jaid*

          The one nice thing about Whole Foods is that they do label their bins appropriately.

          1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            Where I live, composting isn’t available, so Whole Foods composting compartment gets dumped in with the trash.

      6. Is It Performance Art*

        I worked at a place where we had a person who went through the trash, recycling and compost bins every day around 2. She’d pull the compostable cups and utensils out of the compost bins and put them in the recycling. I think she also pulled the aluminum foil out of the trash and put it in the recycling. This was not what the posters above the bins said. Every month or so, she’d send out an email to the whole floor telling everyone where she thought each type of waste went.
        After a while, I realized that it’s really hard to change some people’s minds about what bin stuff goes in. It probably depends on what was recycled when you were young or first started recycling. It’s also true that when it’s debatable which bin the stuff goes in, different people will choose different bins. Which is why in the end, it’s something to just let go unless the building is getting fined and management has said to stop.

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      Yeah, honestly if I were the offending employee (which yeah, jerk move) and saw or heard OP talking about this (and I’d bet real money she mentions it) I’d probably start feeling a little threatened TBH.

      And gete’s the thing OP, your city has an ordinance for the *businesses* to recycle and compost…not individual workers, ergo it is your company’s responsibility to sort stuff if the employees don’t.

    5. OhGee*

      Agree. It really annoys me that people in my workplace don’t follow the clearly labeled recycle/compost/trash rules, but it’s not my problem. That said, we do hear from the property manager about it, because the waste management company they contract with fines us (I believe) and has threatened to cancel our contract if we don’t comply. But it’s not LW’s job to dig out trash and pointedly leave it on the counter.

    6. Anon.*

      At my first job post school, I threw away a water bottle one day. My trash can was located under my desk. It was an open concept office. My then supervisor dug the water bottle out of my trash and left it on my desk with a post-it that said “please recycle.” He signed the postit note so I knew it was him. I remember thinking he was over the top for going through my trash but since he was my supervisor I never threw away another water bottle.

    7. PizzaDog*

      Honestly, if I knew who it was, I’d not only not throw it back in the bin, I’d leave it on their desk.

    8. President Porpoise*

      Yes, OP – I get that you don’t see it this way, but I read your repeated leaving recyclables/compostable on top of the trash bin as extremely hostile. I might be scared to use the kitchen trash myself, depending how vocal you are about this.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Yep this reads as hostile to me…particularly “enraged.”

        Alison says up/down thread that OP is likely male. If so, as a woman…even not being the errant employee, a hostile, “enraged,” likely vocal about it male who does this kind of stuff would make me worry about my safety.

        Not like things never happen…like the (former?) employee in Va. Beach most recently… Before anyone says that’s hyperbole or the like, we get these mass shootings so often they barely register as a surprise anymore, so no, it’s really not.

    9. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, however noble your motivation for caring about the issue, that doesn’t make self-martyring passive-aggression an effective communication tool.

  3. Dotty*

    They aren’t offended and scared because of trash. They’re offended and scared because your behavior is crazy.

    1. A Person*

      I hope the letter writer will take a hard look at what they just wrote and how their actions were perceived and truly let this go. And then put their energy into a job search to get a fresh start with another company that pays a living wage.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Please don’t stigmatize mental illness like this. Try ‘your behavior is well outside professional and social norms.’

      I’m crazy – I have OCD (diagnosed and medicated, no I am not just claiming that casually). I manage it and generally stay within professional and social norms, and rarely scare anyone.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Same. My OCD sometimes scares me, but I’ve never had any issues with outsiders when it came to my mental illness, at least not where they would say they were afraid of me. More often they would be concerned for my wellbeing and will offer their assistance with anything I need.

      2. Yorick*

        Exactly. For the most part, only jerks would call someone with OCD or schizophrenia “crazy.”

      3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Also, the average person isn’t capable of, and shouldn’t be expected to, diagnose someone after a brief interaction.

      4. R.D*

        I’d like us not to use “crazy” in either situation.

        Jules is right that it stigmatizes mental health issues. It’s also name calling, which is childish and lazy. It takes more effort to describe the actual behavior and why that behavior is not ok.

        If you just dismiss something “crazy” there is no need to examine the causes or effects, there is no need to understand or empathize, and there is no way to fix it.

        1. CynicallySweet*

          I disagree. I think that crazy is a good way to say “outside the bounds of normalcy” when not connected to a mental illness (otherwise it’s just mean). I don’t think it’s lazy, it’s the opposite of wordiness (ironically I can’t think of the word for that rn)

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            I think it’s worth paying attention to people who are directly affected by particular words when they ask for them to be avoided.

            That makes it not a good way to express “outside the bounnds of normalcy”.

            If you’re looking for a single word, ridiculous or one of its synonyms may fill the gap.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      I wouldn’t say “crazy” – probably “extra.” And I think OP’s general frustration with this job is manifesting in some pretty unpleasant ways.

    4. VictorianCowgirl*

      Normally I would push back on a comment saying OP is crazy. And I want to push back on that wording here. But in reality, OP can’t see that they themselves didn’t talk to the other person like an adult either, and went behind their back to pull trash out of the bin, just as the coworker went behind their back to complain to HR. So that is a really low level of introspection there.

      OP, it’s really easy to target all your frustrations into one area and let that area take all the beatings. I have been the office environmental troll 20 years ago in much the same way and it cost me my job and the respect of my coworkers. This situation was over water wasting. The reality was that I was horribly unhappy in other aspects of the job and my life.

      It sounds like you do feel powerless and taken advantage of and are focusing on the understandably upsetting trash situation instead of, like Alison said, your pay situation and possibly others outside of work. That’s a really hard place to be in and I urge you to talk with someone who can help you find clarity and a plan for turning things around and focusing your righteous energy on environmental causes and outreach that will have more of an impact than sorting trash at work.

      Wishing you the best and thank you for caring so much about our Mother Earth.

    5. Zip Silver*

      Not only that, but so much of our recycling just gets shipped to third world countries and China to be processed, and is instead just dumped in landfills there. OP’s heavily invested in something that has a marginal impact at best.

  4. Colette*

    OP, you have been taking trash (albeit trash that should have been recycled) out of the trash can and putting it outside of the can in a work kitchen for a year and a half? That’s not OK. I’m surprised it took so long for you to be told to cut it out – but, as Alison says, you have to stop. There are more effective ways you can make a change environmentally, and you are creating conflict and drama at work while doing things that are not what you are being paid to do.

    I also second Alison’s recommendation that you look at finding a job that will pay you fairly.

    1. Veruca Salt*

      I agree. Putting the compost and recyclables on top of the bins is just disgusting for everyone who uses the kitchen. OP is also grossed out about the dirty dishes in the sink- which is legitimately gross- but seems to have a huge blind spot for how gross walking into the kitchen and seeing a pile of garbage on top of the compost bin is for all their coworkers.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        And honestly if I walked in and saw it, it would all get swept into the trash because 1) I’m not about to use the kitchen that way and 2) not about to muck through it.
        Furthermore…yeah…I’d complain to HR about OP. ::nodnod::

        1. Jess*

          I agree – if I saw a pile of rubbish sitting on top of a bin I would very gingerly just dump it all into the rubbish. Ew!

        2. Willis*

          Yeah, this is what I could see happening. There’s crap covering the lids of the compost and recycling bins so whoever is using the kitchen just swipes it all in the trash rather than trying to figure out what’s going on with it.

      2. M*

        Also, just to emphasise: the *composting*. Not even like, “I fish out newspapers from the bottle recycling because they actually go in the paper recycling”, but *actual rotting food*. Piled up on top of a bin stinking up the entire kitchen and attracting flies and other vermin. Sorry everyone, Cersei in accounting’s lazy about where she throws her apple cores, and Daenerys from the software team isn’t good at proportionate responses, so *you all have to stare at this rotting hellscape while you make your lunch*.

        Quite aside from the OP being massively overinvested in this, how in the seven hells did it take a company a year and a half to address that? I’d have cornered a coworker who was building tetris towers of rotting fruit for a firm no-stop-it-what-are-you-doing chat by, like, definitely no later than the third time they did it.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I read the first phrase as “talking trash” and thought, oh Colette, too soon! But really, two years of what I have already called a personal vendetta, (because it is) has passed the pale and into the stratosphere.

  5. Single Stream*

    LW is upset that this person didn’t “confront them like an adult” instead of going to HR, but they left their coworker’s recyclables on top of the trash (and voiced their concerns to the office manager, who then indirectly relayed it to the entire office) and expected them to get the message rather than directly asking them to recycle and compost.

      1. Bulldog*

        I agree that OP doesn’t know the identity of the culprit(s). Considering the amount of energy she has devoted to this, I don’t believe there is any way she would not have confronted them in person if she knew who wasn’t recycling. From the tone of the letter, I think she would have confronted someone over just a strong suspicion.

    1. ZSD*

      I don’t think they know who’s doing it, or they would confront them. (However, placing the bottles on top of the bins was still super passive aggressive.)

    2. KHB*

      That’s what jumped out at me, too. If complying with the city recycling ordinance is important, that’s exactly the wrong way to go about it.

      1. boo bot*

        In fact, if complying with the city ordinance is important, the best thing to do might be to step back, let the trash be wrong, and let the office get a citation, which might spur the management into taking it more seriously.

        Right now, the OP is spending a lot of energy on this in a way that’s not good for them, but they’re also preventing the office from feeling any consequences of not sorting the trash, which gives the office no impetus to sort the trash.

    3. LSP*

      I also think it’s just bad management to have all-staff meetings about this instead of doing some due diligence to find out the culprit(s) and have their managers talk to them about it directly, explaining that by not sorting their own trash, they are in violation of a local ordinance for which the company could be fined.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I raised my eyebrows at that too. It smacked of having to stay after school until somebody confesses to clogging the toilet.

        1. Lance*

          Plus, from the sound of things, being (unsurprisingly, really) completely ineffectual.

          1. Antilles*

            As usual, I’ll bet the person (people?) who *actually* needed to hear the message failed to realize that the Generic Company Meeting About Issue was really intended to be a targeted reminder just for them.

            1. R.D*

              I actually wonder is some of the all company meetings about how to handle the trash might have been partially directed at the letter writer in that trash, recycling & compost should be placed in the bins and not on top of them.

              1. Antilles*

                I wasn’t thinking of that, but that makes a lot of sense and goes a long way to explaining things – that HR and the manager are seeing this as “OP, we had three meetings to warn people on how to use the bins, how are you *still* leaving stuff on top of them?”

      2. a1*

        I wondered about this, too. If even one of the culprits is know (and it sounds like one or two are know), management should deal with them directly and not have multiple all staff meetings and emails about it. It made me think they are conflict averse, but then they rightly address OP specifically for their bad behaviors, so I don’t know.

      3. BRR*

        I’m glad I’m not the only person who noticed this. I really hope there have not been multiple meetings about trash sorting. If this is how the employer operates, I can see that elevating overall frustration levels.

      4. TootsNYC*

        I would be the company won’t be fined at all, ordinance or no ordinance.

        If that risk were real, the company would be on it.

        Most municipalities just don’t have the bandwidth to enforce at a petty level–and one or two people in an office is “petty level.”

    4. Heidi*

      I also found this to be ironic: “I find what they did to be incredibly petty and childish. I mean, really, over some garbage?”

      If the non-recycling coworkers did not get the message after one day, they are not going to see the light after 2 years. I imagine that for their part, they either do not care or are now persisting in their behavior because they know it bothers you and are chafing against your attitude, which, sounds a little…sanctimonious?

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        Yes, I think OP needs a little help. Doing something over and over for SO LONG and expecting different results is not a very healthy-seeming approach.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I’m pretty sure they have the message, they just don’t care. You can’t win this with somebody who doesn’t care.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Honestly, if I were on the receiving end of OP’s behavior, I would be really tempted to continue doing it incorrectly just to mess with them. (I don’t think I would do that, but I have a pretty strong anti-authority bent and a petty streak, and when they collide it can be a bad combo.)

          1. Windchime*

            Yeah, we had a self-appointed Trash Patrol Officer in our office too. They also were digging recycling out of the bin that wasn’t cleaned to the TPO’s standard. That escalated to aggressive notes posted above each bin (compost, recycling, garbage). It was happening daily so I finally started tearing the notes down when I found them. And putting them in the recycle bin, naturally–because I am a good citizen. I think someone finally talked to them about it because the trash-digging has stopped.

  6. Alianora*

    I can understand why the LW is upset about this person refusing to recycle and compost. But a feud for two years is not the way to convince someone to care about the environment.

    In my experience, people react really poorly if they think you feel morally superior to them. It gets better results to lead by example, to be positive about actions you’re taking, and to let things go – accept that you can only control your own actions. Some of my family members have started to do things like reusing containers and trying low-packaging products after seeing me do it.

    1. Lilo*

      I do wonder if there is a reason, though. If you have to spend a decent amount of water cleaning a recyclable object, the energy used makes recycling a wash. And those “compostable” cups are actually a bit iffy, depending on the type of composting.

      The person may have their reasons.

    2. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

      In my experience, people react really poorly if they think you feel morally superior to them. It gets better results to lead by example, to be positive about actions you’re taking, and to let things go – accept that you can only control your own actions.

      THIS +1000!

      This is a great outlook to have on life in general, but especially in this kind of situation. I also don’t get the deal with not recycling properly when someone is able to this easily, but yeah, you can’t force someone to do what you want and especially in a work context, hostility is not going to motivate them to follow your lead. Even if you are right, if someone gets the feeling that you’re acting superior or self-righteous, that generally will make them want to give you a metaphorical middle finger and not go along with you, even if it’s against their own self-interest.

      There’s nothing wrong with trying the kindly and gently encourage others to follow your lead, but if someone doesn’t want to, this is not a hill to die on at work.

      1. L Dub*

        And to that point about this not being a hill to die on – digging through trash and deliberately leaving it so your co-worker(s) know what you’re doing as a means of sending a message would rattle the hell out of me too. It’s bullying behavior, and trying to wrap bullying in a message of “but the environment” is still not acceptable. It’s even more concerning to me that the OP doesn’t realize the seriousness of the conversation with HR, and still thinks everyone else is wrong.

        1. Mel*

          Yes. People often get hung up on a thing and it sounds like they have a good reason, like the environment or whathaveyou, but it ends up being about controlling other people and that’s always gross.

          1. VictorianCowgirl*

            Yes it is, and I was in a similar position to OP 20 years ago over water wasting at work. I was eventually fired and looking back, my actions were really a result of extreme unhappiness and feelings of powerlessness in life in general. It’s so easy to redirect but I needed therapy to help me out of that mindset. I’ve since run into a couple of old coworkers and brought it up – luckily they all could see what was going on and felt sorry for me, not bullied by me. But I was pretty close to crossing that line and I regret that time in my life. I feel for OP. Recently when I’ve run into non-recyclers at work, I’ve been able to shake it off and redirect that energy into an extra hour volunteering for beach clean-up, or what have you.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              We all had things “20 years ago” (or whenever) that we regret now. Or at least go “wtf was I thinking…? But if we learn from them, then usually whatever the thing was…was necessary/worth it.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        And sometimes an actual middle ginger. Not that I’d know about that stuff…

    3. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

      “It gets better results to lead by example, to be positive about actions you’re taking, and to let things go – accept that you can only control your own actions. Some of my family members have started to do things like reusing containers and trying low-packaging products after seeing me do it.”


      Look, I understand the LW. It is really frustrating that some people don’t recycle. I might do what the LW has done, putting the garbage on display… once. (And even then) But definitely NOT 2 YEARS. The more hostile you are, the more they stay in their defence and refuse to do it. It is a workplace, you don’t dictate the rules. Just keep recycling yourself and hope that others will follow (and after a while, most will do that. It is just a matter of making it a habbit).

    4. some dude*

      Ditto. Focus on yourself. If people think caring about the environment means you have to be a mean, passive aggressive, self-righteous jerk they are going to get totally turned off. Also, what they are doing is having minimal impact on the environment compared to other things. The earth isn’t going to be covered in garbage because your colleague doesn’t know how to recycle.

      I was on an environmental group at work a while back and it ended up being totally counter-productive. We were focused on tiny things and scolding people about tiny things and it made my colleagues feel judged and wasn’t respectful to how people are most productive at work and just wasted a lot of time. The parts around educating people about how to recycle and compost were great. Setting macro-policies about double-sided printing were great. Scolding people about printing emails is Not Great. And it had to do about control and trying to control what we could because we couldn’t control other things.

      In general, I am skeptical of the focus on individual efforts re the environment, especially when those individual efforts are coated in self-righteousness and/or used as an excuse to not do bigger, policy-level things that would drive substantial change.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Exactly. Suzy from payroll not composting isn’t affecting the environment on a macro level. Stuff like strip mining and clear cutting are.

  7. I Heart JavaScript*

    You need a new job ASAP. They’re way underpaying you. And I don’t mean in comparison to other engineers with comparable experience. I mean in comparison to new grads and interns. If a new grad came to me to ask about that salary, I’d tell them to run the other way and not even bother trying to negotiate.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      We hired a co-op student last summer. (For those of you not in engineering/comp-sci/programming, think full-time internship, mandatory for graduation, always paid.) We don’t usually hire co-op students, so my boss asked for advice on what we should set the pay at. I don’t know what the final decision was, but my recommendation had a floor of somewhere around double minimum wage, and a caveat that my knowledge was out of date, so a higher rate might be more appropriate. This was for someone with NO professional experience who did not yet have their Associate’s degree.

      In other words – GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT! You have two years of experience, you have completed projects you can point to, so you have the technical skills to get hired somewhere else. Somewhere that pays at least a median wage for your skills.

      1. BlackBelt Jones*

        The company where I used to work paid $17+ hourly to interns back about 10 years ago.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          That’s more or less what I got in my first programming internships about eight years ago: one at Big Tech Firm, and two others at Very Small Tech Firms. (My last internship, at Other Big Tech Firm, paid more.)

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        US South, Fortune 100 employer, $25/hr last year for programming interns with 0 years experience.

        OP, you are *vastly* underpaid. Alison’s got some great tips on resume, cover letters and interviewing. Your reason for leaving this place is that you’d ‘like to be paid market rates.’

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        “In other words – GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT! You have two years of experience, you have completed projects you can point to, so you have the technical skills to get hired somewhere else.”

        More to the point, get out while your story is still “I left because despite my great work I was badly underpaid”, not “I was fired because my colleagues felt intimidated by me angrily going through their garbage for two years”.

    2. maramalade duke*

      Seriously. Just over minimum wage as a software engineer with a degree? I made $21/hr as an intern with no degree and no certifications – and that was a good few years back!

    3. emmelemm*

      Yeah, seriously, get out get out get out. I’m way underpaid as a software developer, but I have relatively antique skills at this point, and I still get paid way more than minimum wage and enough to live decently in my current environment, so I don’t feel like I have to go right now.

      If you could just as well be working at WalMart, get out get out get out.

  8. JustKnope*

    Leaving the garbage back on top of the bins is super passive aggressive! It’s one thing if LW just did this altruistically and put the items in the correct bins, but leaving garbage sitting out in the kitchen regularly (!?!) isn’t acceptable. I would be freaked out too if I regularly saw my trash sitting out after I’d thrown it away.

    1. fposte*

      And I also imagine somebody else, who isn’t throwing the recyclables in the trash, is choosing to or having to throw the stuff away. So if it’s not a volunteer, the OP is making annoying extra work for the janitor.

      1. TootsNYC*

        yeah, I wonder how the OP knows it was the same person tossing the trash back into the bin?

    2. Psyche*

      I would be freaked out if I regularly saw other people’s trash sitting out after they threw it away too. The person(s) complaining is not necessarily the non-recycler.

      1. Jennifer*

        It would disturb me that someone was watching to see exactly what I’d thrown away and digging it out. It’s honestly kind of stalkery.

    3. hbc*

      I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to accomplish. Person A comes in and dumps all their garbage in the trash bin. People B, C, and D all come through and more or less comply with the rules. OP enters, digs Person A’s garbage out and puts the recycling and compost on top of the appropriate bin. And then, most likely, Person E comes in and has to choose between dealing with Person A’s garbage blocking the bins they need or dumping their compost in the trash bin because it’s the only one not blocked by garbage. This is likely creating *more* non-compliance.

      Is the assumption that Person A will immediately follow OP in, recognize their particular garbage, and be somehow inconvenienced or shamed by seeing it on top of the bins they never use? Or that People E-J might come in between, but they will very carefully lift the lids to properly recycle and compost but not disturb the sculpture? And somehow this will effect change after 19 months when it hasn’t for 18?

      I can get behind a good passive aggressive maneuver like delivering the dirty mug to the desk of the person who left it in the kitchen, or a short insulting poem written on a Lean Cuisine box that should have been recycled, but OP, you’ve been actively working against your own interests.

      1. Jasnah*

        Yes, honestly I have no idea why OP or anyone would assume that the offender would come in after OP has “punished” them and recognize that they have been “punished”.

        I think what is more likely is that everyone has been recycling to the best of their ability, then compost trash starts appearing on top of the trash instead of inside it. Company has meetings about “please throw your trash away properly” because they don’t know who is doing it. OP smugly thinks the “offender” is getting scolded when actually they are the one this meeting is for!

    4. TootsNYC*

      and to point out, it may be passive but it IS aggressive!

      No wonder someone else is unnerved by it.

    5. JessB*

      I totally agree! I’m passionate about recycling too, and at work if I see something in the recycling bin that shouldn’t be there, and I can easily remove it and put it in the trash (we don’t have a compost bin), I’ll do that and say ‘oops, that shouldn’t be there!’
      Shaming people is 100% not going to help and could actually hurt.
      My perspective is that everyone is usually trying their best. If someone gets something wrong with the bins, they’re not doing that AT me.

  9. Cordoba*

    This letter is a good example of how even if you’re technically “right” about something you still need to match your response and level of emotional investment to the actual stakes of the issue at hand.

    Yes, the LW is correct that the other employees should sort their trash and do their dishes.

    No, the LW should not have made a years-long passive-aggressive campaign out of either one of these things. It seems that local management was aware of the problem and was working on resolving it; this is a good occasion to just let managers do their job. Or not, whatever. Either way, it’s still not LW’s problem to fix.

    This whole situation is weird, and combined with “high-performing software engineer making just over minimum wage” makes me think there’s more to this than is covered in the letter.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This comment totally nails the situation – in our house, we use the Futurama reference, “You are technically correct! The best kind of correct!” (S2 E14) when someone is starting over a cliff.

      The only thing I’ll add is that OP’s mention of what a great employee they are, and I always hate it when someone thinks that, just because they are a good worker, they should be exempted from following the same rules of courtesy and professionalism as everyone else. It’s possible that she means it in that her track record should lead the HR person to interpret the situation more favorably, but I’ve managed more than one person that thought the rules should not apply to them because they were a high performer in one area.

      1. Ralph Wiggum*

        Yes, common courtesy and ability to get along with coworkers are core job requirements.

        But I’m also suspicious of OP’s claim that she’s high performing, since she’s startlingly non-self-aware in other respects.

    2. Nicki Name*

      Combining this with “software engineer” actually helps explain it for me. In coding, you are either following the spec (the requirements for what the program is supposed to do) precisely and completely, or you are wrong. Unfortunately, and I say this as a software engineer myself, this mindset can start leaking into non-coding tasks.

    3. Babyface SLP*

      “This letter is a good example of how even if you’re technically “right” about something you still need to match your response and level of emotional investment to the actual stakes of the issue at hand.”

      I don’t work with kids as a professional, but when I was getting my speech-language pathology degree as a grad students, one of my practicums was working with children on the autism spectrum, and I’ve found that the way we taught problem-solving and emotional regulation for these kids was actually very astute/enlightening from an adult perspective!

      What we did was define the Problem occuring on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being a “I can fix this easily by myself” problem (“I knocked over my water bottle and have to clean it up”), a 3 being a “This problem isn’t dangerous, but it’s big enough that it can’t be left alone/I’ll need someone’s help to fix it” problem (breaking a window, perhaps), and a 5 being an emergency. We then also defined a scale for Reactions from 1 to 5, with the scale ranging from no reaction, to having to take a break or talk it out with someone, to crying/screaming/running/etc. This way, we were literally teaching the kids how to do exactly what you recommended in the quoted bit– matching the size of their reaction to the size of the problem. Sometimes when I find myself getting upset I actually find it helpful to think about whether I’m practicing what I preached!

      In this case, if the LW is getting ENRAGED, then we’re treating a 1-2 sized problem with an at least 4-sized reaction, and it’s no wonder that their coworkers are unsettled!

      1. Windchime*

        Yes, and not to mention — if I worked with someone who was constantly ENRAGED over recycling (or anything, really), I would be fearful and speaking with my boss, if not HR. So I’m not surprised that it has escalated to this point for the OP.

  10. fposte*

    OP, I also think you might have crystallized all this into a single offensive enemy when that’s not the case. What is making you think that that person throwing garbage into the recycling is the same person who leaves dishes in the sink? Both are shockingly widespread tendencies, and I’m presuming you don’t know who the actual person is doing either of these things. So I’d go back to Alison’s last paragraph, add in throwing out recyclables and leaving dishes in the sink as two separate items on the list, and ask yourself if you got only one issue fixed–say, the recyclables–if you’d feel okay about the dishes and the pay. My guess, though I could be wrong, is the answer is no.

    1. Lance*

      To be frank, on that point, I’d be more worried if OP did know that it was the same person/people doing all those things. That points to an even bigger level of ‘you really need to let this go’.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, if the employer knows who it is and has decided the limits of what they’ll do, the OP is out of step with management on this, to say the least.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        eh, if the office isn’t large, over time you can often figure out who is responsible for this kind of thing. For example, I used to work in an office where the company didn’t supply dishes, so people brought their own. And we usually know who ate what because they habitually bring the same thing or because we all generally eat lunch around the same time. If this had happened in that office, I’d almost certainly know who was doing both.

        I don’t know that the OP’s office is like my old office was, but we also don’t know that it wasn’t. There’s enough to be concerned about based on what we do know about OP’s situation. But that the OP knows it’s the same person isn’t really the concerning part.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yup. My last workplace had signs up over our kitchen sink that specifically said not to leave dirty dishes in the sink for the cleaning crew to handle because that wasn’t their job. We either needed to hand wash our dishes ourselves, or put the dishes in the dishwasher. Well, one day, I saw our CEO come into the kitchen with an armful of coffee mugs that he then placed in the sink and left. From that point forward, any time I saw the sink full of coffee mugs, I knew it was him. I’d spent enough time in the kitchen in the morning making my tea and heating up breakfast to know that no one else left days worth of dishes in the sink, so I too didn’t find that part of OP’s story odd.

    2. Mel*

      Yes, people at my old job always assumed that there was one jerk who would not replace the toilet paper in the restroom. I thought it was waaay more likely that everyone forgets sometime or another (including the annoyed people). I doubt any grown adult is thinking it’s too much trouble to replace the paper, but I think we’re all capable of being absent minded once in a while.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I think multiple people have tossed non-recyclables in the recycling and multiple people have left dishes in the sink, and the person who went to HR may have been in neither group.

        1. nonegiven*

          Maybe person A put the recycling in the trash, OP climbed in sorted. Persons B, C, D, E started in over the next several minutes and stopped because of what they saw. Eventually one of those reported it.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      That’s the one thing that stood out to me: LW’s certainty that they knew who did these things. If they truly knew, they should have talked to that person directly, just like they say the offender should have talked to them directly. But people are amazingly good at being certain that what they have decided is true is absolutely true.

  11. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Given that you’ve been trying to correct this behavior for two years and nothing has changed, I’d say your current strategy is completely unsuccessful.

    What I don’t understand is why you didn’t give up after the first few times.

    Given how little you say you make, I’m not sure why you’re not choosing to die on that hill as opposed to the environmental one. Yeah you don’t want your kids living in a garage wasteland. Neither do I, but I also want to be able to provide for my family *right now*.

    If ever a lesson in picking your battles, it’s this one.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Exactly. That’s why this is coming off as weird to other coworkers. If this approach was going to work, it would have worked already. So why are you still doing it?

    2. medium of ballpoint*

      This is a great point. A few years back my office moved took away the trash and recycling receptacles that we each had in our offices and were emptied by the janitorial staff. They replaced them with big old recycling bins and teeny tiny trash bins we have to dump ourselves, with larger trash cans often being a fair distance away. For a lot of different reasons, sorting and dumping my own trash isn’t the best use of my time with the way my workday is structured. There are no tweaks they can make to this system that’ll make it workable for me and I imagine it would drive someone up the wall waiting for me to get on board. I don’t like it, I don’t like adding to waste, but this just isn’t the hill to die on for me. People value things differently. Let it go and be a little happier with your life, OP.

  12. Amber Rose*

    Leaving trash on top of bins is kinda aggressive. It sends a pretty harsh message, and since you aren’t dealing with children and it never changed anything after years (!) I would be a little worried too.

    1. PVR*

      Honestly, I don’t really think this method works with children either, especially compared to, I don’t know, speaking plainly and directly with the person who is doing it incorrectly and finding out why they are not sorting it properly? Are they confused? Didn’t feel like it? Weren’t sure if the food that spilled all over the cardboard made it trash instead of recyclable? In my experience, clear, direct conversations are also a lot more effective with children than these types of convoluted messages.

  13. Sloan Kittering*

    I do pick recyclables out of the trash when I see them, but only off the top, and it takes five seconds – I’m not rooting around in there, and I would never leave the dirty recyclables sitting out somewhere to shame the offender. That’s where you crossed the line, OP, in case you’re unclear.

    1. Brandy*

      Me too. If I was to see a recyclable on top Id grab it and throw it in the right bin. But IM not riffling throw the trash nor am I making a big to do about it. I just do and go on with my day.

    2. Person of Interest*

      That’s what I came to say – feel free to quietly and anonymously sort the trash if that’s something you care about, but you can’t control how other people should feel about recycling.

        1. whistle*

          What? You don’t loudly talk about how you are once again washing the dishes (even though no one asked you to)??? So I guess that’s just my coworkers, then…

      1. Yorick*

        I generally agree, but I think at this point OP should not continue to quietly and anonymously sort the trash.

        1. R.D*

          yes. Anonymously sorting the trash would have been the better way to handle it before HR was involved, but now OP has been told not to touch the trash and so OP should not touch the trash. Instead OP should find a new job.

    3. R.D*

      I sympathize with the desire to get the recyclables and compostables in the right bins, but it is hard and there are so many reasons people might not be doing it, from laziness, to thoughtlessness, to disbelief in climate change, to not understanding which items go into which bins.

      Plus throw in the fact that China is no longer taking US plastic to recycle, so much of the plastic that is properly sorted still isn’t being recycled and you are fighting a losing battle.

      Leaving trash on top of the bins would have scared me out of the kitchen, too. I wouldn’t view it as aggressive, so much as just gross, a hassle, and just drama I didn’t want to deal with. It would probably make me less like to recycle because I would be using bins outside of the kitchen and in my experience, that means just trash or maybe trash and recycling, but never compost.

    4. WakeRed*

      And if I want to sort trash (sometimes I do, this stuff annoys me to) I just do it. Some zebras aren’t going to change their stripes, and if I take it upon myself to sort, then that’s on me, not on the person who doesn’t sort their refuse.

  14. Princess prissypants*

    Only one solution here:

    Post *more* *bigger* angry signs. Gets em every time.

    1. Natalie*

      The real problem here is the lack of passive aggressive rhyming couplets and hackneyed mom jokes.

    2. Princess prissypants*


      How does a nasty, trashy, careless, anti-environmentalist
      colleague, a negligent inconsiderate Benedict
      risin up in the ranks while his stank dries up in the kitchen
      defeat OP’s mission to be the garbage police
      with no intention to be an imposition to her barbarous feat?

      1. Pinky Pie*

        Does not give damn
        Not one small damn
        There is a million things to get done
        Can’t you wait? Can’t you wait?

        1. Zephy*

          This is just to say

          I have sorted
          the things
          that were in
          the trash can

          and which
          you should probably
          have tried
          to recycle

          Forgive me
          for being ridiculous
          so rude
          and so weird

        2. Princess prissypants*

          (insert baroque-y harpsichord)

          You say
          My garbage game’s not a game you wanna play
          You cry
          In the trash heap while I heap your trash up high
          Why so ‘fraid?
          Remember that my trash rules you are to obey
          Now you’re making me mad
          Remember when the last fools got in my way
          You’ll recycle, soon you’ll see
          You’ll remember waste goes to the sea
          You’ll compost, it’ll do you well
          You’ll remember and you’ll live to tell
          Oceans rise, icebergs fall
          The apocalypse I must forestall
          And when your gunk takes on a funk
          I will send the rubbish police to relieve you of your junk

          (please don’t tell LMM, this is terrible!!)

  15. KayEss*

    Between the pay, the all-staff meetings to address a problem centered around a few individuals, and the weird HR response, I feel pretty confident this is not a great company to work for. If your work has been so innovative, OP, take that and leverage it into a better job elsewhere.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      Agreed, but it still doesn’t excuse the over the top behavior of the OP. They will need to come to terms with what THEY did so that it doesn’t happen in the future, no matter what company they end up with.

  16. Natalie*

    what seems to me completely inoffensive and non-hostile behavior to get me in trouble instead of just confronting me directly like an adult. I find what they did to be incredibly petty and childish. I mean, really, over some garbage?

    When the person you’re mad at could write the exact same paragraph about you, it’s probably telling you something.

  17. Antilles*

    The HR person was totally unsympathetic to my situation even after i explained to her that this had gone on for almost two years, and ordered me to not touch the bins anymore.
    If I was the HR/manager in this situation, I’d actually be *less* sympathetic after you explained this has gone on for two years. You’ve been in a passive-aggressive war over dumpster use for two years? Really? Really?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*


      Honestly, this whole thing makes me concerned for the OP’s mental health. This is an unhealthy level of rage for the situation.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Not to mention I wouldn’t want to shake their hand ever! Digging through trash every day??? Ick.

    2. J*

      Two years… YEARS. If this was my co-worker, I’d have been sick of it after two months… Maybe even two weeks. The long-term timing of this makes it extraly extra.

    3. A Nony Mouse*

      This. Makes the salary issues more understandable. Leads me in the direction that if the OP get this emotionally invested in trivial issues at work, probably other things going on as well. If I were this person’s boss, this issue alone would send up a bunch of red flags concerning an employee’s ability to manage people and work well with others.

      1. Marthooh*

        Nope. If OP were that bad, they would have been fired by now. It’s a bad place to work (at least for them), and the pay is terrible. The office manager has been letting this go on for two years. That doesn’t give the company the right to mistreat the OP.

        1. A Nony Mouse*

          OP said that management was weak. They don’t seem likely to be firing anybody.

  18. Zephy*

    That your workplace is violating city ordinances wrt trash/recycling/composting is not your problem and never was, OP. Alison is right, you need to let this go, yesterday.

    1. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

      “Alison is right, you need to let this go, yesterday.”

      More like a year and 364 days ago.

      Please LW, this is not healthy to focus this hard and this long on how garbage should be disposed.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      A lot of businesses have a private trash disposal company, not city trash pickup, so it doesn’t matter if they’re violating the city’s trash sorting ordinances. The city’s not picking up their trash, WasteCo is, and WasteCo might not bother to inspect commercial customers.

    3. JustaTech*

      And the other thing is, putting compostables or recyclables in the trash isn’t helping, but it doesn’t “contaminate” the compost or recycling, so it’s a lesser error than putting plastic wrap in the compost.

      I genuinely get the OP’s frustration, but you have to let it go. All the signs, meetings, passive aggressive leaving things lying around, isn’t going to change that some times people are in a hurry, or don’t know and don’t want to mess up so it just goes in the trash.

    4. Jem One*

      After the first all-staff meeting didn’t fix things, I’d have just reported the company to the city. If the company doesn’t want to enforce the recycling policy, then that’s their decision to make and they can decide it’s just easier to pay the fines.

      1. TRex*

        Hmm seems like a waste of time to go « report » this. What will they report actually? Company puts out required bins, company trains team on how to use them.. several times, sends reminder communications. Seems like the company is making best efforts to comply with the ordinance.

  19. Snubble*

    “I find what they did to be incredibly petty and childish. I mean, really, over some garbage?”
    It strikes me that this same complaint could be made about that one coworker who has spent years on a personal vendetta to pull your banana peels out of the trash. Knowing every day that someone is going to be unpleasant and passive-aggressive over the garbage is not going to make anyone happy at work, and by the sounds of it OP hasn’t spoken to this person in words about their concerns at all. They may not even know, or may not have known when it started, that this was about composting and not some kind of weird stalkerish “look what Karen eats for lunch” display.
    Please, OP, look for a job that pays decent wages, and do not mention compost in your interviews.

  20. Random commenter*

    “I have no doubt that the person doing this is well aware of the nuisance they’re causing me and the other staff who actually care about this issue. They just don’t care.”

    I’d rethink this. They’re probably not thinking about it at all and are not thinking about whether or not it’s causing work for other people. Framing it as something they’re doing TO you as opposed to something that they’re just doing is probably making it more frustrating than it needs to be.

    1. Zephy*

      +1000. Assuming it is just one person doing this (unlikely), and OP does know for certain who they are (also unlikely), I guarantee that Planet-Killer Pam doesn’t think about OP at all.

      Also, if OP’s goal is for their children not to “grow up in a garbage wasteland,” putting your cans and bottles and banana peels all in separate boxes is not going to help avert that future.

  21. Katie*

    I had a coworker like the OP once, and she drove me absolutely crazy. I’m all for recycling, but she was so obnoxious about calling out people she didn’t think were being environmentally conscious that she made me want to NOT recycle just to spite her. As they tell little kids, “Worry about yourself.” Don’t let your concern for the environment veer into self-righteousness.

    1. Psyche*

      I had a coworker who seemed to think almost everything was recyclable and got upset that other people were not putting cling wrap, foil, pizza boxes and dirty plastic salad containers in the recycling. She refused to believe that by putting these items in the recycling, the janitors would have to throw the whole bag away (because they were NOT going to sort though).

      1. fposte*

        It’s also a question of what the recycling facility involved is currently taking–something can be recyclable and still not be able to be accepted in this particular recycling. Our office recycling doesn’t take glass bottles, for instance.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          I’m still trying to find a recycling facility that will take clean styrofoam (egg cartons, in my case).

          Yes, it is possible to recycle styrofoam. But most places won’t take it because a) it’s impossible to clean if it gets food waste on it (and it’s usually used for food packaging, especially raw meat), and b) it’s shipped by volume, but paid by weight, and styrofoam is both light and bulky, so it’s not cost effective to ship it anywhere.

          1. VictorianCowgirl*

            Gah, the styrofoam. I was able to find a company that uses it in production of a building product after I ordered furniture that had a truckful of it in packing, so now twice a year I head to the industrial sector to take my bag of styrofoam to them. I collect from my family, friends and neighbors, and just hold it in a bin. They think I’m just a little silly because it’s never a huge amount, but they’re always respectful about taking it and it makes me feel good.

            1. VictorianCowgirl*

              Forgot to add, the “price” to recycle is cookies, so I will take them a plate of cookies each time. :)

      2. WellRed*

        This is one thing I am wondering about. People try to recycle so much stuff that isn’t recyclable in many places, I’d be surprised if the LW isn’t inadvertently contaminating recyclables. Sometimes it really is just trash.
        also, echoing others’ comments about concern for the LW mental health. This is unhealthy.

        1. Alienor*

          I’m grateful every day that the city I live in sorts the trash for us – I’d probably get it wrong all the time if I were in charge of deciding what goes in which bin.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I’m willing to believe the OP is actually accurate about what goes in which bin.

          That doesn’t change anything.

      3. TootsNYC*

        back in the day, NYC could ONLY recycle newspaper, white office paper, and corrugated cardboard. The Department of Garbage said that including mixed cardboard like shirt cardboard or cereal boxes would ruin and entire batch.

        My neighbor insisted that they should be able to, and she used to hide her flattened cereal boxes in stacks of newspapers.

        I was like, “Whut?”

        1. fposte*

          I had a reasonably sensible friend who was like that about which plastics could be recycled–she genuinely thought that putting plastic they technically didn’t accept would force them into recycling the other kinds. Alas, no.

    2. Zephy*

      It sounds like your Eco-Friendly Esther at least used her words and tried to talk to her coworkers. The impression I get from the OP’s letter is that they’ve been seething about this in silence and letting those emotions fester for two years. I’ve been that person – not about recycling specifically, but definitely holding on to negative feelings for way too heckin’ long, until they bubble over, and then I look like the unreasonable person for suddenly being extremely upset about something that nobody else realized was that much of a problem. It’s not a good look.

  22. Powerpants*

    Wow, OP. Just. Wow. You are repeatedly harassing this person. You can’t control their behavior, but you can control your own.

  23. CatCat*

    Yeah, OP, I get that you deeply care about the environment and this is a core belief for you. However, you are not the police of your coworkers on this issue regardless of your deep feelings and the existence of separate bins and a city ordinance. Imagine if one of your coworkers took something they deeply cared about and decided to evangelize about it to you at work by leaving things in areas where you are going to be and taking passive aggressive behaviors like putting it back when you’ve tossed it. Not cool. Does not belong in the workplace.

    You need to find a venue outside of the workplace where you can devote your time and energy to the cause and not get worked up that some of your coworkers don’t care about that cause.

  24. Ralph Wiggum*

    While I agree that OP is paid well below market rates, I don’t think she should be broaching the salary discussion right now, since it would be right on the tail of behavior issues.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. This isn’t the time to ask for a raise! But I wouldn’t go the raise route here even without the trash situation — the OP is so far below market rate that no raise at this company is likely to get them where they need to be. This is new job territory.

        1. Czhorat*

          Maybe when they look for a new job they can peek into the trash bins to make sure that their next employer recycles.

            1. Czhorat*

              Sorry, I can see that.

              Joking aside, if this is such an important issue to the OP then they would be well-served to get into a position with a culture that respects and cares about environmental issues.

              1. VictorianCowgirl*

                Truly – it’s very unlikely OP can be happy otherwise. If OP was a friend of mine I would urge them to take a little healing time off between jobs. However being so underpaid I doubt this is possible. But OP could use some help in managing these emotions.

        2. No Longer Working*

          Alison, has this issue hindered her getting a good reference from this employer? What would you say about her?

          1. Czhorat*

            YOu don’t always get a reference from your current employer because you don’t usually tell them that you’re seeking.

            The norm of requesting prospective employers to not contact ones current job works well for OP here. THey can hopefully start with a clean slate elsewhere.

            1. No Longer Working*

              I know she wouldn’t be using them as a reference for her current job search. I’m talking about in the future.

              1. Czhorat*

                The great thing about references is that you get to choose them.

                I wouldn’t direct someone to the job where I got reprimanded for being the trash warrior.

                1. No Longer Working*

                  The thing is, her work is good. When she’s applying for job #3, she then wouldn’t have references from either job #1 (this one) or job #2 that she’s leaving. So I’m wondering if Alison would say her work is good and not comment on the behavior, or if this is a burned bridge.

          2. TootsNYC*

            If I were the manager or the HR person, and I were asked for a reference for the next-next job, I wouldn’t bring up this trash thing at all. I’d focus on the work, and I’d focus on OTHER things about the OP’s office behavior.

            Because I’m willing to let people be quirky, and I don’t need to trash* someone over this kind of thing; I’d stick to work.

            So it wouldn’t hurt. But if the OP is this pissy about the garbage, I might worry if they’ve damaged their own reputation in OTHER ways.

            *totally accidental, I swear.

            1. Yorick*

              I guess if they specifically asked about how OP dealt with personal conflict, this would affect my answer. But otherwise I wouldn’t mention it at all.

              1. TootsNYC*

                and if someone actually asked that while getting a reference, I’d worry that the job was a shit show. Because why else would you need to know that going in, unless you expect there to be a lot of personal conflict? Like the job I interviewed for where they asked, essentially, “How are you at working with assholes?”

                And I don’t really think of this as “personal conflict.”

        3. Fergus*

          I think even a junior software engineer right of college in the DC market makes at least40-45K, an intern makes maybe 30K. I think if someone told me the job paid minimum wage I don’t know what I would do, laugh or just have a dead pan stare into space. The mere fact the job paid minimum wage I would think the person on the other end might be totally clueless about life and money and bills.

            1. alphabet soup*

              Yup. Junior devs on my team start at ~$75k (and I’ve been told this is on the low side for the current market).

      2. Heidi*

        I agree with OP searching for a new job. I’d also be somewhat concerned that OP is now more known for being the angry garbage sorter than for the quality of their work. This story is pretty memorable, and if they’re using this job as a reference, it might find its way to prospective employers. Hopefully OP can get ahead of that.

        1. Czhorat*

          This is SO important – you only get one reputation.

          Putting so much energy into this makes “the trash-sorting obsessive” a major part of your professional identity. That’s not going to be good for your career long-term.

    1. Shad*

      That’s why the advice on the wage front was to find a new job, not try for a raise at this one.

    2. Princess prissypants*

      Interviewer: Why are you leaving your job?

      OP: I was in a two-year long passive-aggressive behavior war with an unknown person or persons about their garbage.


      Okay, thanks for your time.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Correct answer: “I’d like to be paid market rate for the wonderful things I can do for your company.”

  25. dramallama*

    tbh, the person I feel sorriest for in this story is the Office Manager. There’s nothing more demoralizing than having to put significant effort (all these staff meetings and elaborate signs) into getting adults to clean up after themselves. I also had to deal with the impotent rage of the people who felt REALLY strongly about the dirty dishes in the sink back when I was admin, and it was a definite low point of that position.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        When I used to work at Evil Law Firm and volunteered to clean my floor’s break room every Friday in exchange for vending machine money, if I saw dishes left in the sink (after I sent my email out to the floor letting them know I’d be chucking anything that was left in the sink and in the refrigerator unlabeled), I’d toss them. Sure, some people got upset when their favorite bowl was disposed of, but they were warned, and they stopped leaving their crap behind for others to clean up.

    1. TootsNYC*

      The folks who don’t recycle or wash their dishes would be easier for me to handle than the people like the OP.

      I understand why people don’t wash their dishes (I’ve forgotten mine when I left them to soak), and I kind of understand why people don’t pay attention to recycling.

      It’s laziness, forgetfulness, a lack of trust in the efficacy of the recycling, or sometimes just an honest mistake that they don’t want to dig back out. I would have some enjoyment in trying to invent ways to help them remember. And having been lazy, forgetful, etc., in the odd moment over my lifetime, I can live among those folks with equanimity.

      But there’s just so much rage and resentment in complaining about other people’s inadequacies.

  26. Kasia*

    LW- Maybe think of another thing you can do to “even out” this person’s effects on the environment instead of dealing with their trash directly. I bet you do more than just sorting your trash but maybe there is something small you can add to your environmental efforts to mentally balance out what this person is doing. Pick up trash around town every weekend, help out the bees, anything that you can mentally go to when you see this person throwing away recyclables.

    There are so many bigger issues with the environment than this one person but you can only control your own actions.

    1. CJ*

      This is what I came to suggest. OP, it *is* infuriating to see people chucking recycling in the rubbish, but I find it helps to channel that energy into supporting structural change – lobbying manufacturers and retailers to reduce packaging, pushing city government to reduce car dependency, supporting renewable energy…

  27. Emily*

    I had a coworker who did this to me, and it was so creepy! She used to take frozen meal trays and berry baskets out of the trash and move them into the recycle bin. I finally got so irritated by it that I sent her a link to the city website, where it clearly explained that those items weren’t recyclable plastic, and that they cost a lot of money for the city to separate out and return to the trash. She never forgave me, ha.

    1. Rainy*

      I was waiting for someone to mention this–I’ve had so many experiences with passive-aggressive housemates who were insistent on “recycling” things that aren’t actually recyclable. The pizza boxes, oh god, the pizza boxes. Yes, you can recycle them–as long as they’re not covered in grease or food residue! Once they are, they’re compost at best!

      1. Psyche*

        And if you do manage to get them taken away with the recycling, you just ruined a whole load of recycling because it is all greasy now and can’t be used.

    2. Eukomos*

      Are frozen meal trays ever recyclable? They all have to be coated in plastic, how are the sorting machines going to peel that off the paper? And berry bins aren’t cheap to recycle, though it can be done. They’re not exactly high quality plastic, why do people assume they can just be tossed in there?

      1. LovebyLetters*

        Because EVERYTHING can be recycled, didn’t you know? I have this discussion with my wife a lot, although fortunately between us it’s not at all hostile! But a lot of people just assume that everything “plastic” (without qualifying what “plastic” means) can and should be recycled.

      2. Samwise*

        It depends on what your city (county, whoever it is that’s in charge of trash and recycling) allows. My city will take plastics numbered 1 thru 7, cans, glass, mixed paper, paperboard, cardboard, and even aseptic boxes (like the shelf stable mini juice boxes).

        No plastic bags, no styrofoam, no pizza boxes, nothing with food stuck to it, etc.

        When in doubt, throw it out.

      3. Batman*

        I always recycle the plastic frozen meal trays. They almost always have a number on them. I’d actually never thought they wouldn’t be recyclable. You just gotta clean them out first.

        1. Marthooh*

          It’s not about the number, though. It’s entirely a matter of what your local recycling center will accept. If they don’t want food trays, they will have to spend an inordinate amount of time sorting them out, or, more likely, toss the whole lot into the trash.

          tldr; The first step in recycling is “Find out for sure what’s accepted.”

          1. fposte*

            Right, for a long time my local recycling only accepted #1 and #2 plastics; it didn’t matter that other numbers might be technically recyclable. They now take 1-7.

    3. Pipe Organ Guy*

      There’s a lot of stuff our city recycling will take. They won’t take aluminum foil, though, nor will they take foil trays. It’s the food residue that they don’t want to deal with. There are many plastics they will take, but not 7, and not Styrofoam. They’ll take some, but not all, 6-code plastics (polystyrene). They definitely won’t take plastic grocery bags.

  28. LaDeeDa*

    Holy passive aggressive batman!
    OP, what the hell were you hoping to accomplish by leaving the garbage out in the appropriate bins? You say you can’t believe they didn’t come talk to you but went directly to HR, but you went to the office manager about them not sorting their garbage, and never spoke to the person directly. Alison is so right when she says there is something more and out of whack going on there. The more I read your letter the more I was sure that you are angry, but not sure why, until the paragraph about your salary. I am also wondering if the behaviors that you exhibit by being so passive aggressive and obviously angry could also be holding you back professional. It is not just about getting things done, it is about how you get this done and how you work with other people, and your letter does not suggest you have a good relationship with or communicate well with your colleagues.

  29. Per My Last Telegram*

    oh wow. Yikes yikes yikes.

    LW has taken this too far. I’m sure we’ve all moved something like a bunch of cardboard boxes from the trash into the recycling, but digging around in the trash for things like compostables? Goodness that’s too much. Let it go. Let it go.

    LW could have done something about two years ago like talk to this person directly but it’s gone way too far. Allison is right. You have just let it go and focus on things like getting paid better!

    1. TootsNYC*

      The thing is, compostables will probably help the regular garbage decompose!
      Putting those in the trash only means that the compost is missing a banana peel or two.

  30. Stephanie*

    Yeah, I appreciate the impulse, but you gotta let this one go. If you really want to push environmental causes at work, doing things like advocating for WFH policies, subsidized transit, or reusable silverware are some example initiatives that won’t have you resorting to digging through trash. Digging through trash at work makes it seem like you don’t get office norms.

    I think Alison’s right that the trash may be symptomatic of a larger control issue.

  31. Another PhD student*

    Setting aside the issues with over-investment into other people’s trash habits, if the company is acting against a city ordinance, I think the thing that is most likely to end in the company actually taking the ordinance seriously is for them to get in trouble with the city. The OP digging through trash cans for two years means they don’t actually have any problems with the city and therefore don’t have any incentive to change how they’re doing things – it just means that their poorly-paid software engineer will keep digging through the trash to fix things for them. It is not OP’s job to keep their company from suffering the consequences of a city trash ordinance!

    1. TootsNYC*

      and if the company hasn’t seemed to care much, then I would bet that they have NOT been fined by the city, and that the city doesn’t want to bother with low-level screwups like this.

  32. lizza*

    climate change is so far gone that we’re looking at mass uninhabitable regions & social collapse before 2050 – a teeny uptick in one individual’s recycling habits is not going to fix or undo that

    1. another anon*

      If what you’re saying is true, it’s partly because of people who say “there’s nothing I can do” and continue with the status quo. I admire the OP’s commitment to making positive change, even if her actual methods aren’t achieving the desired result.

      1. Wrong Target*

        While it’s partly because of individuals’ mistakes, it is much more strongly related to the actions of large and powerful companies.

        1. lizza*

          that’s correct – individual recycling will not save the planet (or natural resources, or pollution, etc. as alphakitten points out below) because corporations will soldier on destroying it and their impact far outweighs even collective action

    2. AlphaKitten*

      We don’t recycle to fight climate change (recycling only helps a little bit). We recycle to fight pollution and the depletion or natural resources. There are a lot of environmental issues other than climate change.

        1. Fieldpoppy*

          Except in the municipality I live in, Malaysia is sending us back tons of rotting “recyclables” we shipped there a few years ago at huge cost because there is too much cross-contamination (things that don’t belong there) for them to recycling it. And that’s because the list of what is acceptable /not is so complex and badly understood even the most well meaning people get it wrong ALL THE TIME.

  33. ZSD*

    Alison, can this please be added to the updates list?

    OP, I completely understand the frustration about people who refuse to recycle, particularly when the recycling bin is *right next to* the trash! But Alison’s right that you need to take a deep breath and move on. Moving people’s recycling to the recycling bin doesn’t actually seem like a big deal to me, but leaving the recycling on top of the bin for them to see was terribly passive aggressive. Since you crossed that line, you need to back way off and stop sorting people’s trash at all.

    TLDR: You have good reason to be somewhat frustrated, but you need to let this go. And find a new job.

    1. designbot*

      Agreed. Ideally I’d love LW to find a job where their passion for the environment can be channelled in productive ways, and where they get paid fairly. Not one where they have to declare themselves Trash Monitor to find fulfillment.

  34. Shinobi*

    You say you are shocked that someone would be offend or concerned by your actions. But I am shocked that someone would sort through a garbage can while at their job on a daily basis.

    You seem very invested in this and I would look and see if your company has any resources around counseling that could help you put this energy to better use for you. I think you may not realize how weird this behavior is to most people because of your emotional investment. It’s good that you are an passionate, so maybe a counselor could help you with harnessing that energy.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      “I think you may not realize how weird this behavior is to most people because of your emotional investment. ”

      I agree. Something that started out as a simple “ugh, I’ll just sort it myself” has grown and grown until it reached this stage and I think along the line the OP has lost sight of exactly how strange they must appear to others.

      Like, okay, you’re at work. You go to the kitchen for a mid-afternoon coffee and in the kitchen you find that one guy from Development, in a state of rage, searching through the bins to find some specific pieces of trash which he then rearranges on top of different bins and leaves there. And you see this every day. And after a while you realise that it must be Fergus from Marketing’s trash because Fergus always has that candy bar with the blue wrapper and the bananas, and this guy is furiously going through the bins every day looking for Fergus’s trash.

      OP, even if this behaviour has an internal logic that makes perfect sense to you and is motivated by the best of intentions, please realise that that is obviously not how it appears to others and your colleagues are not being childish or petty to object to it. It seems like you have a lot of very strong emotion tied up in an issue of waste disposal, which is obviously not being put to good use.

      1. Common Welsh Green*

        Actually, if I kept bumping into someone furiously sorting through the garbage, I’d find it – not frightening, exactly, but certainly odd enough that I’d try to steer clear of that person whenever possible.

  35. Interviewer*

    “I find what they did to be incredibly petty and childish.” So, what do you consider digging through the trash and putting their stuff on top of the canisters for that person (and everyone else) to see, for 2 years? A mature, measured response?

    You are clearly very passionate about recycling and composting. Maybe you would make more money working for the city’s waste management team.

  36. Hmm*

    Probably would had been better to just talk to this co-worker about it. If a co-worker felt strongly about something and if it didn’t take much effort on my part to make them happy, why not?

    In all fairness to this person though. They obviously care about environmental issues and maybe this small company policy of trash sorting means a lot to them (it obv does) so to dismiss their concerns with “there are far bigger problems” seems oddly facetious. *Shrugs*

  37. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Oh no, OP, you’ve picked the wrong hill to die on. I’ve worked at an environmental organization in a city with mandatory waste segregation, where employers can be fined for failure to properly sort compostable waste. Even at that organization, your approach would have been a problem.

    You can be morally right and still be “wrong,” and this is one of those times. We can’t try to coerce, control, or override our coworkers’ lawful behavior, even if they’re being incredible jerks. You complained up the chain—that’s all that can be done. They did the same, and HR is telling you that your approach is not ok. You’ve got to let this go.

  38. King Friday XIII*

    OP, I think you need to seriously consider that Alison is right and you see this as the one thing you can control. While caring for the earth is important, caring for YOURSELF is important too. Take that energy and channel it into hunting for a job, maybe at a workplace that has an environmental mission. I think you’ll be much happier.

  39. Data Analyst*

    Oh no! LW, you’ve gone way too far because you feel like your cause is noble and so justice is surely on your side. But one person messing up compost and recycling is not going to make or break our planet’s future (and yes, I understand the mentality that if everyone did that then where would we be, but…yeah, you’re still spending way too much time and energy on it). If I saw someone angrily digging through the trash bins every day at work, I would be a little freaked out even if I wasn’t the offender. If I saw that it had escalated to leaving out trash on top of the appropriate bins (a shaming move, and gross for people who have nothing to do with it and are now just seeing the trash sitting out) I would be even more concerned. I do think calling HR every day to say they felt scared is also sort of an overreaction, and I’m with you that they should have just modified their behavior and done the right thing, but the fact that they didn’t is not your problem and you need to let it go.

  40. LaDeeDa*

    To me it is no big deal to sort out the trash if you believe so strongly in it, the problem is leaving the offender’s trash sitting on top of the appropriate bin- THAT is clearly going too far. The point was to embarrass and shame them, not to do the right thing.

    1. EtherIther*

      Yeah, maybe this is field dependent, but I don’t think spending 5-10 minutes reorganizing the recycling (compost is a little gross but still) of kitchen sized trash cans would be an issue anywhere I have worked. Honestly I suspect I would’ve gotten praise. But I work in ecology, so it’s a pretty hippie bunch as is.

      But OP clearly is over invested by taking it any further, and has reason to find a new job anyways.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        There is a woman in my office that is part of the green initiative, while she is heating her lunch in the break room, she will put on a pair of rubber gloves and sort the garbage, no big deal. It is just her thing, she never mentions it, and she certainly doesn’t shame the person by leaving their frozen dinner box sitting on top of the recycle bin.

        1. Heidi*

          Agreed. If OP had kept the sorting quiet, this may not have gotten to HR. But putting the garbage on the bins is like running after them ringing a bell and yelling “Shame!” at regular intervals.

          1. Fergus*

            I would love to see the OP walk past the offender stating lowly shame and hitting a bell, just kidding

        2. TootsNYC*

          I don’t mess with the garbage, but I wash all the unwashed dishes while my lunch is heating. Or, I take little enough time to eat my food that those 5 minutes would legit be part of my break.

  41. Bee*

    Frankly, despite the focus on recycling (I certainly know it’s been drilled into me since I was very small), it’s…an extremely, extremely minor issue in the matter of climate change. And there is so much plastic that can’t even be recycled, and it is so cheap & easy to make glass new; there’s just not a lot of payoff to recycling, and a lot of what goes into the recycling bin ultimately winds up in landfills anyway. Use more reusable stuff in your own life, and channel that energy you’re currently using to dig through the trash every day to a) find a new job, & b) join a climate activism group in your city.

    1. AlphaKitten*

      Well, recycling can help fight climate change, but it’s mainly a way to reduce pollution and consume less ressources. But I agree that joining an activism group would help OP focus their energy for environmental causes outside of work, it’s a great idea.

      1. Bee*

        It helps! But it’s still better to use reusable stuff. I am working on this myself, but then I run up against things like the fact that I can only get styrofoam egg cartons in my neighborhood, and is it even better to travel elsewhere to get eggs if I’m using fossil fuels to do so, and this is exactly why it’s better to focus your energy on big-picture changes. There’s only so much individuals can do!

        1. AlphaKitten*

          Yes, I agree it’s way better to use reusable things and to reduce the amount of things we have to throw away (even if it’s thrown in the recycle bin). I realize my first comment wasn’t clear, I meant that there are other environmental issues than climate change (pollution, depletion of natural ressources) and recycling is part of the solution to those. Recycling would be important even if there was no climate change at all. And yes, there is only so much we can do as individuals, we need big-scale policy change to help us (such as getting rid of petroleum-based plastics and using plant and mushroom based packaging instead, or ending the subsidies to oil companies, etc.). I think people who use their energy to be as environmentally friendly as possible in their circumstances and engage in activism have more impact than people who only focus on doing everything perfectly in everyday life or shaming people who don’t do everything perfectly.

    2. Hamburke*

      This is so true! start with the first of the 3R’s and work your way through (reuse, reduce, recycle).

    3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      A good number of cities are ending their recycling programs, because it’s cost-negative. My current city doesn’t recycle glass, and the city I grew up in ended its glass recycling program. Glass goes in the garbage now, even though it feels really weird to do so.

      1. Dragoning*

        This frustrates me, because to me, recycling isn’t about “Saving money” it’s about “less waste in landfills”

        1. Eukomos*

          Right, but there are more problems than the expense. Recycling anything other than metal has almost always cost money. Unfortunately right now they can’t even find anyone to take the recycled materials, China used to be a huge buyer and about a year and a half ago they realized they didn’t need other countries’ recycled materials anymore. Now there is simply no one to take the stuff, and a lot of it is getting landfilled because there’s nowhere else to put it. There’s no sense in sustaining a separate recycling program when the only people who will accept your “recyclables” are the landfill operators.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, it’s another variant of the KonMari/clothing donations effect; it’s built deep into the American psyche that other people will always take stuff that we get rid of. But ultimately the generation of stuff is much greater than anybody’s need for it or ability to deal with it.

            (See also: New York garbage barge.)

            1. Dragoning*

              I mean, honestly, I assumed they santized and re-used them as was. They used to do that. They still do it some places.

              I didn’t realize we recycled glass into…something to be sold?

              1. fposte*

                I think that was true once upon a time–if you look in the Wikipedia article “Container deposit legislation” you can see some of that history–but that it’s been a long time since the stream was simple enough to get the bottles back to the right manufacturer.

                Basically, nobody, not even the people who made it, wants our crap when we’re done with it, and even our out-of-sight/out-of-mind options of shipping it abroad are starting to fail.

              2. Batman*

                I didn’t even know reusing as-is was a thing! For the past 20-30 years or so (if not longer) recycling has been dealt with by melting it down (or shredding or whatever is appropriate for the material) and then turning it into the basic material that can be used to produce new products.

              3. Eukomos*

                Glass tends to break in single-stream recycling, and it would be very hard to separate out the still useable ones and get them to someone who needed them. Typically glass is cleaned, crushed, and sold to someone to remelt and form into new materials. I believe in places with bottle bills, where you pay a deposit when you buy the drink and then get a nickel back when you return the bottle to the store who then sends it back to the drink manufacturer, the bottles are reused. That’s a very different system than curbside recycling, though.

            2. Batman*

              This is 100% true. Americans really need to change their collective mindset to not buying so much stuff in the first place and keeping things for longer.

        2. Birch*

          Exactly, and there’s a huge problem with people misunderstanding how landfills work. Most landfills are not designed as giant multi-material compost piles like people assume–the combo of organic and synthetic materials breaking down creates gas and toxic leachate which can cause damage to the environment if it gets out of the landfill, so they’re built on liners to try to keep the trash separate from the surrounding environment. Landfills doing what they’re supposed to do don’t break down or decay back into the environment.

          I feel like I’m always that person going “hey look what they’re doing in Europe, we can learn from that” but some countries are actually closing a ton of landfills because of better waste disposal techniques. In my area there are municipal bins for compost, most plastics, glass, metal, paper, and cardboard. We fill maybe one grocery bag of trash every two weeks, and the regular trash is incinerated for energy, so I have zero shame about occasionally just throwing away a tupperware that got forgotten in the back of the fridge.

          That being said, OP needs to chill. Massive scale environmental issues need to be placed on the shoulders of the companies that do the most damage. Yes, we each have a role to play, but OP has no way to know what else the offender is doing to contribute, and as others have pointed out, it’s likely that it doesn’t make a difference in this situation anyway. Sounds like a BEC situation and OP needs a reality check.

    4. DEJ*

      There was just a story in our local paper about how 30-40% of sorted recyclables is now going to the landfill. It was pretty depressing, since I really try to make a difference where I can.

  42. Shoes On My Cat*

    OP, I hear you and the situation is frustrating! -most especially your pay rate vs. your field. That is something to focus on. Regarding the HR trash reporting, have you considered that the person going to HR was not the jerk? It might be some other innocent person who finds your ‘enraged resorting’ energy scary. I say that because I was lucky enough to have a couple ballsy friends who took me aside to explain how my enraged energy was coming across—I had no idea I could even be scary! As for the jerk, stop trash sorting and absolutely leave the dishes!! Don’t touch! Bring a cooler with your own dishes and do them at home if you can’t get to the sink. Let it roll. Let the office manager sit the jerk down and deal with it or do the dishes themselves. Step away now!! (And if it was the jerk complaining, it may have been a deflection after being called into HE for other jerk moves and HE needs you to stop so jerk has no other deflection options.) Good luck!!

  43. AlphaKitten*

    OP : I personally think that the people not recycling and not cleaning after themselves are the ones whose behavior is very offensive. Sometimes it’s hard for people who wouldn’t describe themselves as environmentalists to understand the deep emotional investment one can have toward our planet and its future. Nevertheless, as Alison said, if your boss and HR tell you to cut it out, you have to cut it out. As employees, we do not have total control over our work environment. And I can understand how some of your colleagues could be weirded out by you digging through trash for months. Now, what you can do, is find a job where you are paid fairly for your skills and leave this behind.

  44. Kiki*

    There’s a lot going on here! I think Alison is completely right about everything with your misplaced agitation. I also want to bring up that, unless you are observing the culprit(s) in action, you don’t know that the dirty dish person/people are the same as the refuse-to-compost person/people. I think it’s most likely that several people are imperfect composters and several people are imperfect at cleaning up after themselves. Some people may overlap, but I doubt that it’s a group of people actively out to annoy you! Focus on finding a job that pays you well!!

  45. Not Me*

    Considering the OP says they are “enraged” by this, I think the co-workers claim they are scared of them seems reasonable.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Indeed. I’m a pretty brave person when it comes to talking it out with people, but I absolutely wouldn’t with the OP. I’d be letting HR handle it.

  46. Hamburke*

    I’m curious if the mandate to sort recyclables and compostables from trash comes with a fine – the letter writer could have been saving the company actual dollars. But the office doesn’t seem to feel that this is something important to worry about.

    I worked in an environmental science lab – I get the save-the-planet-perspective – and we had rules about sorting recycling (not single stream) and kitchen manners that people are held accountable for on their own. It doesn’t sound like the LW’s office does this so LW needs to let it go and come to the conclusion that they are only responsible for themselves.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Our city ordinance comes with a fine.

      However, I have had employers who have weighed the cost of the fine and the cost of managing the sorting of each one and it’s cheaper to pay more for disposing everything than to sort it out, sadly.

  47. Fortitude Jones*

    In fact, your level of angst and agitation is so misplaced for both of these issues (way too high for the kitchen issues and way too low for the salary issue) that I’m wondering if there’s something more complicated going on … like do you feel powerless to find a better job, but the kitchen stuff feels like something you can control so it’s getting all your energy?

    Bingo. I think you nailed the crux of the issue here. OP wants to feel like he’s contributing something to the team, this became his way to do that, and now he’s being told to quit – of course, that’s not going to go well.

    I do the same thing when I’m in one of my OCD meltdown modes (and no, I’m not trying to diagnose the OP, just giving context for my own situation), especially when I feel powerless and under-appreciated in other areas of my life. I latch on to something, anything, that allows me to feel like I’m accomplishing meaningful and will become overly upset if someone disturbs or disrupts my coping process in some way. I feel your pain, OP, but Alison’s right – let this go.

  48. Moray*

    LW, I really feel for you. I have anxiety and depression, and it frequently finds an outlet in things I sorta can control but shouldn’t, either because the consequences aren’t worth it or because it just isn’t worth my time.

    For example: when I have a job interview I’m worried about, I will spend hours obsessing over what I’m going to wear, because it’s an easier thing for my brain to agonize about clothes than the actual interview and how devastated I’m going to be if it doesn’t go well.

    If I have a friend I’m worried about, I will put way too much thought into exactly how I’m going to word my next text to them, sometimes delaying getting in touch for days. Seeing a professional has really helped, I think it’s something you should consider.

    1. Alexis Rose*

      I stress clean. Anxious at work: clean desk. Lysol wipes, wipe down surfaces, keyboards, mouse, dust monitors, everything.

      Anxious at home: Mop, dust, windows? baseboards?!?! the garage hasn’t been swept in a while oh and maybe i should organize this file cabinet of all our documents why hasn’t this box been unpacked since we moved a year ago my car is kind of dirty but its raining so i guess i’ll clean the inside of the windows furminate the dog brush his teeth clean his ears do his nails need to be clipped do we have ANY OTHER CLOTHES THAT COULD MAKE UP A FULL LOAD OF LAUNDRY? NO? OK WELL I GUESS I’M WASHING ALL THE GUEST BEDDING………. why is this cup here? why didnt you put this in the dishwasher i just cleaned the kitchen can’t you see this is awful for me?

      Anxiety sucks. I’m not diagnosing OP because thats not what the internet is for, but a lot of the reactions and patterns of behaviour are things I recognize and I have anxiety.

      Talking to my doctor helped, I’m on meds now, and I have a therapist helping me sort through (pun kind of intended) WHY I have anxiety. It helps.

      1. Lucy*

        Stress baking here. If I’ve escalated to stress cleaning (dismantling things to clean them, pulling out fixed furniture to clean behind) it means things are real bad.

        1. Jiffy*

          I get the “stress pacing” over here. It helps me somewhat to burn off the energy, and I also get like a zillion extra steps on my fitness tracker those days.

    2. August*

      Oh man, I do the exact same thing! I’ve stayed up all night before a big interview stressing over whether my interview heels are “too matronly,” and if I should try to run to the mall at 8am to buy new ones.

  49. NW Mossy*

    OP, while I know it seems ridiculous that someone would go to HR over trash, the vibe of your letter points to why – you’re really upset about this and it shows. And when humans get really upset, we’re normally not that great at hiding it. Even if we never say the words “I’m mad,” we cue it with our bodies – our facial expressions, the way we hold our bodies, and even the way we walk tip others off to how we’re feeling inside. Your colleagues spend enough time with you that they can read your mood, just like you can read theirs. They got your vibe and thought “whoa, this is really intense, not sure what to do with this, HR please help.”

    You care deeply about the environment at large and that’s great, but what about your own personal environment? It needs care just as much, but it looks like you’ve let that slip away from you. You’re way underpaid, you’re underappreciated for what you contribute, and you’re in a state where what others do with their waste is taking on an outsized level of importance in your life. You’re hollowing out, and when you get to that place, it’s really hard to be the person you want to be for any of the things that matter in your life – your family, your friends, the world at large. You can’t nourish those things well if you don’t put some care and love into your own self.

    It’s time to find a new path. It’s scary and uncertain to do that, but you deserve better than feeling this level of anger. As Carvell Wallace would say, my heart is with you.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      This this this. +1

      OP, I am deeply sorry for the people who are being flippant in prior comments. But there are often gems in these comments, and this is one. The kitchen wars will always be with us, but you need to step back from that fight. Look for ways you can make your life better – eg, get a good job with appropriate wages and save up for an electric bike / car or solar window shades on your apartment.

      You can’t control other people, you can only work on yourself.

  50. Rebecca*

    I misread the title and thought the OP was enraged because they were forced to sort through their coworker’s garbage to recycle and compost…ummm…that I could understand, but not this. OP, please step back from this. You’re working for just over minimum wage, you haven’t been offered a raise for 2 years (?) at a company where your biggest concern at work is recycling and composting. Please stop this one person campaign against your coworkers. This is NOT YOUR PROBLEM. NYP. Repeat this to yourself.

    I’d also point out that in some cases, recycling is a feel good measure only. I’ve read articles lately where other countries aren’t taking plastics, for instance, and our county recycling center doesn’t accept glass any longer (it was costing the county $50K per quarter to deal with it).

    Maybe you could do things for yourself – use less one use plastics, for instance. But stop policing the people around you. Your coworkers will thank you.

  51. Elizabeth West*

    OP, you need to find a new job if you’re that grossly underpaid. I mean, really; that’s ridiculous.

    As for the recycling, it’s great that you care about the environment, but this isn’t your problem. You mentioned a city ordinance — if the company can get fined for trashing recyclables, let them! If they were concerned about the money this might cost them, they would find out who’s doing it and make them stop. That is not what you were hired to do. And my gaw, you’re not getting paid enough to care about it.

    Concentrate on doing your job, but spiff up your resume and start looking.

  52. Jam Today*

    There are zero people in this story who are functioning like regular adults. I’ve worked in offices where people were a-holes because they truly, honestly only cared about their own convenience and enjoyment and were deliberately heedless of the need to exist in a community, so on that level I sympathize with the OP. Its maddening . On the other hand: two years, my man? Take a page from Reinhold Niebuhr and learn the difference between the things you can change and the things you can’t (or, more bluntly, the USMC: display some adaptability.) Move on, preferably to another job where they pay you more but I’d avoid talking about this situation in interviews.

  53. Bostonian*

    OP, I truly feel your frustration. It does seem out of whack that you get reprimanded for re-sorting the trash, whereas the people who aren’t following the rules don’t get a talking to. And as someone who has changed their diet for environmental reasons (if you haven’t considered going vegetarian or vegan, that will help WAY more than composting and recycling at your company), I totally feel you on the frustration of seeing people just not care.

    That being said, you have to put this in perspective and let it go. You can’t make other people care, and you’re not in a position to make other people follow the recycling/composting rules. This is especially true in a work environment, where everyone is forced to be together and maintain reasonably cordial interactions. You really shouldn’t stoop to passive-aggressive actions (leaving items on top of the bins). You’ve done everything you can: you do your part in what’s right, and you told management, who made an effort to re-train everyone.

    I think there might be some truth in Alison’s suggestion that the impetus in doing this ALSO stems from a feeling of general dissatisfaction in your job/pay. If you haven’t done anything yet to address those problems, please look into AAM archives for advice on how to ask for a raise. If your job satisfaction doesn’t improve, please look elsewhere if you can. It is evident from your letter that you’re unhappy with several aspects of your job, and taking actions to change that IS something you have control over. Best of luck to you.

  54. ooo*

    If it makes you feel better, OP, recycling and composting at the consumer level are not effective enough at this point to make any substantive difference in warding off climate change or otherwise keeping the planet habitable for humanity, so the net effect of you letting go of this is basically zero! Drop it and concentrate on finding a new job where you can advocate for shutting down the mass-manufacturing operations that are responsible for the vast majority of the carbon in the atmosphere.

    1. AlphaKitten*

      We don’t recycle to fight climate change (recycling only helps a little bit). We recycle to fight pollution and the depletion or natural resources. There are a lot of environmental issues other than climate change. But yes, at the individual level, one or a few person who do not recycle practically don’t change anything.

      1. feminzagul*

        Just like with climate change, pollution and the depletion of natural resources are affected far, FAR more by the U.S. military and large corporations. Recycling is a nice idea but to be perfectly blunt, it’s been dead since about 1994.

    2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      This is sadly true. While we still should do what we can in our daily lives, we need to increase pressure on governments and corporations to enact real change.

      1. alphabet soup*

        Yes. The LW should channel their anger at their coworker into political organizing/advocacy, which would make a bigger difference than getting one individual to put their banana peels in the compost bin.

  55. CupcakeCounter*

    Oh dear…
    OP – GTFO and get a new job. Also stop digging through garbage (I get it I really do but you have to stop).

    I’m also very disappointed in this company that has all the necessary signs/bins/ordinances but refuses to take action when they are very aware of what is going on (all staff meetings on this type of stuff are usually worthless – they should have had the one and then gone straight to the offenders). The company is at risk if the city cracks down on the ordinance so I would think they would have taken more significant action against the culprits (which would have then negated the OP’s actions).
    Based on how seriously your city seems to take the recycling and composting, after the first meeting had no effect you should have reported the company/office to the enforcement board. Can’t do that now as it will seem retaliatory to this meeting but maybe in 3-6 months or have the information available if another employee complains about lack of compliance with the environmental efforts you can let me know how to alert the city.

  56. Admin Amber*

    Do what you can for the earth, but accept that many will not either out of laziness or ignorance. Focus your energies on something more beneficial.

    1. Whatever works*

      THIS. I am one of those lazy people. I will throw things in whatever trash can is more convenient for me. Things only get “recycled” because it’s too big/bulky/takes up too much room in the actual trash. I’ve thrown dirty napkins into an empty food container cuz it’s just easier. Left cracked eggshells in egg cartons to be recycled. *shrugs*

      1. Dahlia*

        If you’re going to leave shells in the cartons, just don’t recycle them. That’s just being rude to the person who has to deal with your batch.

        1. whatever works*

          I always assumed giant machines sorted the trash…and egg cartons are too bulky for the regular trash so it’s just easier to throw it in the big recycling stash/bins in my apartment complex. If I threw egg cartons out in the regular trash, I would have to take out the trash more often. :)

          1. writelhd*

            In many single stream recycling plants (where the agency collects glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, etc all together instead of the user having to sort those things separately prior to pickup, which is becoming more common in most places precisely because it’s easier–people were always bad about pre-sorting), there *are* people physically sorting at certain intervals, especially the non-metal things. I visited such a plant and it was an unending conveyor belt of stuff that several people stand on the line and pick through before the machine does some mechanical sorting of different plastics and metals. The volume of blatantly non-recyclable stuff some that I saw running across that conveyor belt was pretty enlightening about humanity in general. They have to prioritize the stuff that’ll gum up the machines–like plastic bags and tinfoil–but they’re also actually sorting things into recycling categories and removing the stuff that isn’t recyclable because it either inherently isn’t or it’s too contaminated/gross to.

            Having seen that helps me to *humanize* recycling too, and maybe it’ll help you. So you aren’t adequately moved by sad stories of birds and whales dying from stomachs full of plastic, maybe you’ll pause when you consider that but when you do thinks like that, another real human being somewhere has to clean it up for you. Does it really cost you that much to make their job a little easier?

            1. whatever works*

              …But I’m not throwing plastic directly onto the beach/ocean to kill the whales and birds?

              How is “another human being has to clean it up for you” in this scenario different than say, hiring a cleaning service for the office, or the chef at a restaurant cooking you lunch/dinner because you didn’t want to have to cook a meal? So if I didn’t go visit a restaurant or hire that cleaning service, I would be “making their job easier” but someone else will be visiting that restaurant or hiring that cleaning service anyways?

              1. londonedit*

                But if you do go to a restaurant, do you make a huge mess all over the table, spill food everywhere, and then just leave it for ‘someone else’ to clear up because that’s their job? Or do you try to keep the table tidy, stack up your plates when you’ve finished, and use a napkin to wipe up your spilled drink? Just because it’s ‘someone’s job’ that doesn’t mean you have to make it more difficult for them.

          2. Dahlia*

            No, that’s not how it works.

            Throw your trash out more often or empty out the shells. There’s being lazy and then there’s being inconsiderate of others.

  57. Ptarmigan*

    This is one of those situations where you can’t let go of something because you are right, damn it! Unfortunately these arise all the time in life, especially at work (where we have less power to choose our companions), and you do have to let them go. “But I’m right!” Yeah, that and $2 will get you a bus ticket.

  58. prufrock*

    OP, get a better paying job. Take the difference in pay and donate it to an environmental activism group of your choice. That would be a much more productive and effective use of everyone’s time and energy.

  59. FatCat*

    I am scared reading this letter! omg! OP, please, please, please get the mental health help you need — and a new job.

    1. Jem One*

      I don’t think OP needs mental health help. They just need a new job where they’re properly compensated, with a company culture that more closely matches their own desire to look after the planet.

      1. dramallama*

        Yep. I wince when I look back at some of my behavior in a job where I was seriously unhappy for a whole grab bag of reasons. But I didn’t need mental health help, I needed to get out and get some perspective.

  60. Aeon*

    This reminds me of a colleague who got overly invested in correcting the problem of people forgetting their food in the work fridge. The food would go bad and the fridge got a little gross. One morning the colleague decided to lay out the rotten food in the kitchen, like a buffet, for everyone to see. It was a gross problem, but also a very common one. No one was doing it to try to bug him on purpose. And it was absolutely the wrong way to handle it.

    Kind of like what the OP is doing. I agree that the recycling neglect is probably a surrogate for some bigger problem that the OP needs to deal with instead of pouring their energy and upset into trying to control this one.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      If the fridge actually smells bad, it’s probably a health hazard, not to mention unsanitary. At that point, I’d simply throw out anything that was growing fur and stop storing anything in there.

  61. Garland not Andrews*

    Well one solution to motivate the management to action on the recyclable/compostable issue is to report the company to the appropriate city department. The city can check the trash and issue whatever penalty is in the law. Depending on the severity, it might light a fire under management to take action.

    1. AlphaKitten*

      Yes, that’s totally what I would have done in OP’s shoes. Don’t put your hands in the trash, call the city.

  62. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Run. This job is affecting your happiness and peace of mind. I recycle every little piece of paper/plastic/food/anything else than come across my path. So I get how you feel at seeing things thrown away like this. But it can’t affect your peace of mind to this extent.

    Think of this way: You won’t be in any state to help others or the planet if you’re this unhappy and angry. And how is this affecting your family? Do you bring the anger home with you? (Not an accusation, just genuine questions to ask yourself.)

    They’re underpaying you, taking advantage of you and disturbing your peace of mind. Run away. You’ll find something better soon. Good luck – and keep that passion for the environment! There’s so much you can do. We need people like you to join us in putting pressure on governments and corporations to take real action. But in the meantime, take care of yourself. Get a better job. Good luck and please update us and let us know how you get on.

  63. SenatorMeathooks*

    Two years of sorting through trash in order to send a passive-aggressive message is borderline nutty behavior and I’d be uncomfortable too.

  64. Gail Davidson-Durst*

    “I’m also pretty annoyed that someone actually [did something passive aggressive] instead of just confronting me directly like an adult. I find what they did to be incredibly petty and childish. I mean, really, over some garbage?”

    Hooboy, you are showing a colossal lack of self-awareness here!

  65. Curiouser and Curiouser*

    Others have said it, but to add my piece: they weren’t ‘scared’ about the trash. They were ‘scared’ because your behavior is over the top, and, I assume, your attitude in person about this is overly intense. Be honest: had they approached you about the issue, is there anything they could have said that would have made you stop doing this? They gave you very obvious non-verbal cues for a year and a half that they have no intention of separating their trash, even if you do the sorting for them, so what would they have said in person that could have smoothed it over for you?

  66. Dragoning*

    This letter reminds me a little of my college roommate who kept stealing our recycling bin and putting it under her desk and leaving me with only the trash bin.

    She was a foreign exchange student, so I’m not sure if it was a cultural thing and she didn’t realize what the blue bin was for, or simply didn’t care.

    This annoyed me immensely and I kept moving it back to a more central location every time I emptied it–which went far too often into the trash because she wouldn’t separate the items–but you know what I did not do?

    Empty the bin onto her desk.

    Come on, OP, that’s an incredibly weird and unhelpful response.

  67. Eleanora (UK)*

    The thing that stands out to me the most is that the OP wrote: “I’m also pretty annoyed that someone actually went behind my back to whine to HR about what seems to me completely inoffensive and non-hostile behavior to get me in trouble instead of just confronting me directly like an adult.”

    For two years, the OP has not been confronting this person directly like an adult, when it likely would have made this whole thing so much simpler.

    “Hey, I noticed you put this in the trash, it’s actually recyclable, I thought I’d mention it.” “Hey, I realised you tend to throw everything in the trash, but I read this thing about recycling the other day and have got a bit passionate about it. Any chance you could give it a try as well?” “Hey, I noticed you’re not the biggest recycling fan – please don’t be weirded out or offended, but since I’d feel so much better if they got sorted into the right bin, I’ve taken to putting stuff in the right bin when I notice.”

    Leaving the recyclables on top of the bin is super passive aggressive, and doesn’t come across like adult, assertive behaviour.

    Instead of a frank bit of feedback to the colleague, there’s been a prolonged passive aggressive battle that has come to this HR call. The biggest learning for the OP, I think, will need to be about addressing things head on, and then moving on mentally if that doesn’t work/the company doesn’t support further action.

  68. JustRecycle*

    Listen, I get that in terms of supporting the environment there are a lot bigger vectors than individual humans’ choices about recycling. But if I were in HR, and someone came to me complaining that they feel threatened and afraid to not recycle, I don’t see how my answer would be anything other than “Grow the fuck up and put your fucking recycling in the proper fucking bin, and this problem will stop!”

    I guess that’s why I don’t work in HR

    1. fposte*

      But we don’t know that the complaint was from somebody who had anything to do with the recycling issue; it could have been more like “When I go into the kitchen there’s a co-worker growling, sorting through the trash, and leaving stuff on top of the trash can, and I’m scared to use the kitchen now.”

      1. Rainy*

        Or “someone I rely on to be on top of things and hand over info/files/work so I can be on top of my job is spending all their time ranting about recycling, and the last three times I’ve gone to check in about something, they’ve been in the kitchen throwing shit around and scowling, and snapped at me when I asked about the TPS report, and now I’m behind and afraid to approach them again”.

        1. Rainy*

          I can definitely see the latter part of that being elided in order to preserve the anonymity of the complainer, especially if they’ve become frightened of the coworker.

    2. Not Me*

      “He had our HR person on the phone, and she told me that she’d been getting complaints every day for a while now that I’d been taking recyclables and compostables out of the trash. She told me that the anonymous complainant claimed that they felt “offended” by my actions, and that they were now “scared” to use the kitchen because of me. ”

      HR had been getting anonymous complaints *every day for a while now*. So HR couldn’t tell the complainer(s) to “grow the fuck up”, they were anonymous. If someone were complaining to me every day about someone making them uncomfortable at work and they were scared of them I’d be on that immediately. (You can tune into the latest news about a workplace shooting if you want to know why that kind of thing is taken seriously.) The OP is clearly not functioning according to societal norms and people are raising the red flag for help. “Grow the fuck up” is probably the worst possible answer to this situation, aside from ignoring it completely.

    3. BethRA*

      If someone on our staff spent time EVERY DAY digging through the trash and then began leaving recycling and compost sitting on top of the bins, I wouldn’t have waited for a bunch of anonymous complaints before talking to the OP.

      But if someone did complain? I could absolutely understand someone being freaked out by a coworker being that obsessive and passive-aggressive, so no, it’s not the person/s complaining that I’d want to have “grow up.”

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      As HR, we often pick and choose what we escalate to “Talk to the person” level like they did here. I’ve told plenty of people that it’s not something that we can intervene on. However if someone is complaining about hostility and discomfort, that’s a huge issue that will bury you legal wise if you just go with your idea.

      Granted my snarky side would be tempted to tell the person to just give it to the OP to dispose of the way they see fit, to save the hassle of the OP digging it out of the trash and displaying it.

  69. OhBehave*

    Wow! Two years of passive aggressive behavior on both sides of this issue! I’m sure you were hoping we would rail against HR with you, but no. HR was right. This behavior needs to stop. It’s not just the time you take to dig through trash to save the world, but I imagine the time you devote to griping about this to your allies is enough to question your behavior. Are you digging through desk cans too?
    The offender in this will never change! He/she is gross in never cleaning their dishes. I personally would find it gross to see garbage sitting on top of a can. I recycle everything I can BTW.
    Please focus your energies elsewhere. Your co-workers will thank you.

  70. Moocowcat*

    I’m picturing the OP as a very poofy-upset kitten who needs to settle their fluff.
    Yes, people should be placing things in the appropriate bins. Its irritating that coworkers arent doing that. But management has stated that the OP needs to back down. So, they really need to follow that instruction.

  71. Spooooon!!*

    I also am very into composting and recycling, and I also took it too far once. My roommate and good friend was throwing old food into the landfill, and I said, “That can actually go in the compost.” She replied, “I’m an adult, you can’t tell me where to throw trash away!” It was not the first time I had told her. I let it go after that.

    This comes down to how you cannot control what other people do, you can only control what you do. So if other people won’t use the bins correctly, the only thing you can do is use them correctly yourself. And it sounds like finding another job would help. Good luck.

    1. Jin*

      This is an aside but I recently learned that you actually can’t (shouldn’t) compost a lot of food…. if it’s been cooked with any kind of oil or grease, at least. That was a sad surprise for me to hear!

      OP, I’m a hard agree on folks like prufrock above saying you should find a better job and donate your extra income. Directly or not, and for better or for worse, money is the most effective means of meaningful environmental change. Vote against big oil, give ($ or volunteering time) to conservation organizations, donate to politicians (incumbents or challengers) who pledge to green policies and aim to defund the military (assuming you’re American–did you know the US dept of defense is the world’s biggest polluter?).

      There’s all sorts of ways to influence change without hurting yourself (and others) to this degree. Best of luck to you.

      1. Natalie*

        Much like recycling, what you can and can’t compost depends heavily on how and where you’re composting. Someone who composts at home can pick between all kinds of different systems and each does best with different kinds of inputs. Municipal compost systems are usually willing to take an even broader range of organic matter, and they hopefully publish some kind of list of acceptable items.

  72. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Dude. Dude. You got in trouble because you put it on top of the bins and tried to make an aggressive point! If you are doing it just to save the planet, just dig it out and put it in the right bins. Don’t stuff it in this person’s face. I don’t blame them for complaining.

    You need a job that appreciates you more than anything and one that has the same values as you do. I hope you can find one with your skills and experience that will actually pay you what your work is worth!

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      While I agree with you, that leaving it on top of the bins was the point where OP went wrong, now that OP’s been told to stop, they need to stop. They can’t dig it out anymore.

      I also agree that OP needs a new job!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Then she’d have to get caught though, which seems unlikely to happen. *shrugs*

        She views herself as an environmentalist. At least she’s not chaining herself to the bins and sitting in protest to watch where people toss their disposables.

  73. thestik*

    Judging by the comments so far, I’ll be extremely surprised if we get an update on this one.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We’ve gotten some updates from folks who have had the same kind of comments, sometimes people rethink once they’re cooled down or then again, others have doubled down. So we’ll have to wait and see.

      1. Dragoning*

        We got an update from the person who wouldn’t let their leap-year-birthday employee take a day off, after all.

      2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Yeah, my money is on a double-down especially because of the mention of children and future and “while delivering on every requirement flawlessly.” She needs to do her children and her future a favor and focus on working for a company that is compatible with her values and pays a livable wage. Protest with your feet, OP.

      3. thestik*

        Given the overall tone of the responses I’ve seen, I feel that OP’s potential anxiety will override any desire to provide a response. I think this will be more like the colostomy bag letter (where a much requested update has not come because of how the commentariat dug into that LW’s reasoning/reaction).

  74. AKchic*

    Yikes. Talk about misplaced priorities.

    However! I really think you’ve latched onto the trash / recycling problem because it was something you *could* control and do something about. Someone said they were scared. Why? Because you were passive aggressive. You got miffed because they went to HR instead of coming to you, or the manager. Can you not see the irony in this situation? Instead of letting your manager handle the trash / composting complaint, you took it upon yourself to handle it and passive aggressively tried to shame the ne’er do ‘ells. The manager felt that the program wasn’t the biggest issue in the world at the moment and you made more work for them by taking time out of your daily job to dig through the trash (ew) in order to highlight the failures of one or more coworkers rather than just letting the management team handle it.
    On top of that, this wasn’t your job in the first place. They don’t pay you to monitor those bins. And I think that is the underlying frustration here. You are woefully underpaid and undervalued. I am going to go out on a limb and guess you are a woman. So, woman in a typically male-dominated field, being woefully underpaid, taking on the emotional labor that will relegate her to “Office Mom” and going so far as to try to *parent* in a passive aggressive way some of her miscreant coworkers… this isn’t a good look.

    You are going to need to do a 180 on your behavior, STAT. Also, brush up that resume because your company isn’t going to all of the sudden value your work and start paying you what your worth. They would have done that by now if they truly valued you. I am 100% supportive of wanting to save the planet, but self-preservation is key right now.

  75. MuseumChick*

    Passive aggressive behavior is about the worst way to bring someone over to your cause. Humans are weird, and after the first time you dug through the trash and place it on the bins I would bet the person thought something like, “Oh, that’s how you wanna play honey? Ok.” Not, “Oh I see the error of my ways and will change immediately!”

    You were annoyed and handled it immaturely. Just because you have a good cause doesn’t mean you get to break basic decorum and the social contract.

    1. MuseumChick*

      One more thing to add. Regarding this kind of behavior being the worst way to bring someone over to your cause, you likely also alienated other co-workers.

      Here is an example of what I am talking about, I have meet many vegans over the years. Many were pushy, judging, and passive-aggressive. This made me take pleasure in order a hamburger in their presence. At my last job I had a lovely, kind, non-judge-y vegan co-worker. When she brought food in I was excited to try it, she gave me some recipes, and when I would make cookies for the office I would always make a batch of vegans ones for her being very careful about cross contamination etc.

      1. Apostrophina*

        It’s not even just hot-button issues. When my mother was still alive, she often commented on my wearing heels. One day I decided to show her I did in fact own sneakers, and wore my favorite pair—only to have her switch over to “Isn’t that so much better? Why don’t you wear those all the time? Aren’t they sooooo much more comfortable?” (One of my feet can get “tricky” with so-called comfortable shoes, so the answer to that last one was a “no.”)

        I never wore sneakers in front of her again. It wasn’t worth it to me.

  76. Eukomos*

    I commend your dedication, letter writer, but there are way better ways to direct your environmentalist energies. Frankly, recycling is a goddamned disaster. It never worked well, and now that China is refusing to take our disgusting trash-contaminated “recyclables” a lot of stuff is literally not getting recycled because no one will by our contaminated materials. It’s sitting in warehouses, or just getting landfilled or burned with the acknowledged trash. The stuff you try to sort is getting tossed in with everyone else’s badly sorted materials, then sitting around waiting for a buyer that will never come.

    Find another outlet. Volunteer for an environmental activism group, call up your state and local representatives and demand they pass environmentally friendly legislation (maybe some multi-stream recycling so we can get some non-contaminated stuff that will genuinely be reused), go to a litter pickup day so you can take concrete, visible action to improve your local environment. Fighting with your coworkers over an ineffective approach is a waste of your good intentions.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, that’s why I’m thinking that this is likely more about the OP’s anxiety and anger than environmental concerns. Unfortunately, recycling is more about hopefully waving the flag of ecology than making significant changes.

  77. MyDogIsCalledBradleyPooper*

    Wow there is a lot going on here:

    1) For two years this person has been sorting the garbage and their manager has not said anything. They are not managing very well. This person’s job is a software engineer that’s what they are paid to do.

    2) OP is trying to solve problems he cannot control. Clearly after two years they should have figured out that this is not working. Yes saving the environment is a good cause and we should all do our part but not everyone does. You cannot change that. Yes everyone should clean-up their mess in the kitchen too but it doesn’t happen humans are flawed.

    I have to wonder about the OP’s personality/ego. Not trying to attack them but there is something off with them. It struck me as over the top about their comments about the amount of work they’ve accomplished and at great speed, no one else could have achieved this and everything was flawless. Really everything was flawless not one minor bug was missed. The OP has god like software development skills yet for two years was grossly underpaid and they are focused on the office recycling. It doesn’t seem right.

    I actually feel sorry for the OP’s manager. How embarrassing to be called into a meeting with HR to discuss an employee who digs through the garbage at work and causes all this drama.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I have to agree with you. There’s so very many red flags in this post.

      First off, from the OPs own description, I think OP is a software developer, not a software engineer. They are not the same and they are not paid the same. A developer gets significantly less than an engineer. Now the company may call the position a “software engineer” position, but it’s not unless you are doing the entire life cycle. Coding is not engineering.

      And second, the description of their behavior is so perfect it isn’t believable. No one puts out an error free product on schedule all the time. NO ONE. It’s especially true for innovative and first time products. You must make mistakes when you are developing “first ever in the entire world” products and developing new technologies.

      What really bothers me is are statements like “They just don’t care“ and “I was enraged”. This, coupled with black and white thinking (not separating the trash is equated with losing the planet) tells me that they are unable to see the viewpoints of others. On top of that, they are telling themselves fairy tales about the motives of others.

      They also have the complete martyr complex going, complete with violating the boundaries of others. This especially shows up when you decide to punish others for perceived infractions.

      OP, you are on thin ice and it is making cracking and popping noises. It’s time for some deep self reflection. I’d suggest taking some time for some therapy to work through this issue. Otherwise you will find yourself unemployed.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        “First off, from the OPs own description, I think OP is a software developer, not a software engineer.”

        I’m a bit curious about this myself. It sounds like the LW is almost *comically* underpaid for their position. And on the one hand, it feels really presumptuous to think they don’t know their own job/title/credentials, on the other hand I’m wondering if there’s a misunderstanding somewhere and they’re… not working as a software engineer at this time, but in an adjacent sort of position?

        Of course, it could also be that they really are that badly paid – right off the bat, I’ve known of some broke non-profits that do that kind of thing, hire recent grads/inexperienced people and grossly underpay them for their skills.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          I can’t tell you the sheer number of times software developers call themselves engineers. It’s extremely common. And coding isn’t engineering either. In fact, coding is only around 5-10% of a software engineers job.

          I suspect that people don’t understand engineering and are applying the label when they shouldn’t. It’s a form of Dunning Kruger.

          You are not an engineer just because you are in tech.

          1. Ralph Wiggum*

            I agree with the assessment that OP likely is miscategorizing her role, for all the reasons you mention.

            For software developer vs software engineer specifically, I don’t find these terms to have a meaningful distinction. There’s too much variation by region, industry, and individuals. Some see them as vastly different, but others as equivalent.

            1. Nicki Name*

              Agreed. In all my workplaces, “engineer”, “developer”, and “programmer” have been thrown around as equivalent terms.

            2. Engineer Girl*

              Software development is a sub task of software engineering. People who don’t truly understand software engineering often miscategorize the two.

          2. nonegiven*

            When my son worked for a company in a nearby state, he was called a software developer. When he worked for a company in CA, he was called a software engineer. When he returned to the other state and worked for another company there, he was called a software developer, again. At the first and third jobs, he worked with other people called software engineers but that was a different job.

      2. goducks*

        This absolutely jumped out at me when reading the OP. While it’s true that a job change may fix the underpayment, the LW has thoughts and behaviors that are not conducive to a successful career. It’s almost certain that the LW will again face non-composters and non-recyclers in any future workplace. The kitchen sink wars are almost universal. But the black and white thinking about her own work and the behavior of others coupled with defaulting to passive aggressive solutions are going to be detrimental to her no matter where she works.

      3. Kiki*

        Regardless of the distinction between software developers and software engineer, minimum wage is way too low. Yes, software engineers generally make more than developers, but both are worth well above minimum wage.

    2. Not Me*

      Considering how out of touch the LW is on everything else in this situation, it wouldn’t surprise me if they aren’t giving us the full or best info on their salary either.

  78. Cass*

    Assuming you’re in the U.S. it’s also possible that you’re misclassified. If your employer has classified you as exempt from overtime based on your title/duties you may want to take a look at the FLSA exemption for employees in computer-related jobs. It’s unlikely you’re salary meets the minimum threshold to be exempt; it’s even more unlikely that if you’re paid on an hourly basis that you meet the current threshold of $27.63.

  79. Oxford Comma*

    OP: It sounds like Alison hit the nail on the head when she mentioned control, because that sounds very much like what’s really going on here.

    It’s not your job to control this. You shouldn’t be controlling this. You can’t control this.

    If you want to effect positive change, there are ways to do it, much more acceptable ones. For instance, my organization has a semi-annual home electronics recycling drive. A colleague coordinates a battery disposal program. All of these would go over much better and would probably go a lot further saving the planet than fishing out a colleague’s used yogurt containers from the recycling bin. And if you do this, you need to be willing to accept that your colleagues may still not want to participate in those activities. And if they won’t, then you need to stop.

    If I worked with you, your behavior would be making me both offended and very anxious and yes, I would have been on the phone to HR in a hot minute.

  80. Spooooon!!*

    Another point is, are you sure it isn’t being sorted later? We did composting and recycling at my former job, a large organization. We had separate bins, but I once saw the custodial staff going through the compost bags and putting non-compostables in the right bins. Again, it’s still something the OP needs to let go, but you never know, it could be being taken care of out of your sight.

  81. Silver Fig*

    The fact that HR has let LW carry on like this for so long (anywhere I worked would have come down on her HARD for this) makes me wonder if they’re just glad she’s found something other than her crappy paycheck to focus on.

  82. Episkey*

    Personally, I think the OP is awesome — can you imagine working at this place?? Pop some popcorn and just sit back and watch the draaaaaamaaaaaa!

  83. Keyboard Cowboy*

    Just above minimum wage for a software engineering role??!!?!?!

    OP, mandatory recycling is common in CA and especially the Bay Area, which also happens to be where many tech companies are. CA also doesn’t allow employers to ask your previous salary. If this is your situation, get out. NOW. My wild conjecture is that you wouldn’t have taken that low of a salary if you weren’t fresh out of school, so I’ll tell you that when I took a job in the Bay with 2 years of post-college work experience I got six figures before significant stock and bonus (Big Tech Company). You can do better, so much better!

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      I gotta admit, I first thought Bay Area, but then I was like, ‘no way could they live there on min wage’ and figured it was Austin. 2 years experience, Austin ‘Software engineer’, should be 80K ish, last I checked (glassdoor – yep, confirms).

      You can do a lot of environmental activism with $80K/year.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It all depends. There are still rinky-dink terrible tech companies out there that pay nonsensical lowball prices for people who are so hungry for a job and are just praying for Microsoft to call them back.

        I get that “we’re a startup, it’s all we can afford now but man when we make it to the big league, you’re gonna get that pay off, folks!” smoke screen from these numbers =(

        1. Keyboard Cowboy*

          Definitely have firsthand experience with people getting conned into working at startups in the Bay at 50k for YEARS and then surprised when their acquisition payout is 20k bonus and a raise to 80k salary. It happens here!

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            It stresses me out so much that people go through this. They’re conned into below market rate and slave away, only to then get entry level pay when they’re finally bought out but given all their stress and suffering, they think it’s actually fantastic and a payout.

          2. I Heart JavaScript*

            This is so true. I’m in the Bay Area and you definitely hear about this from time to time — typically using buzz words like “bootstrapped” startup, pre-series A, equity, etc. There’s a reason I actively avoid start ups that aren’t already profitable. And equity isn’t worth sh!t unless you’re the VC, so don’t accept a lower salary for it.

  84. PretzelGirl*

    OP, I would highly encourage to attend some therapy sessions on how to deal with this. Someone close to me, had similar feelings about recycling, composting etc. and would get quite upset when others wouldn’t. They would get emotional seeing litter etc. It was just an anxiety trigger for them. They learned how to cope through therapy. Good Luck

  85. your vegan coworker*

    Wow. Just wow. There’s a person who deliberately threw recyclables into the garbage for years, even going so far as to re-throw recyclables that had been rescued from the garbage back into the garbage, and all everybody here can do is condemn the person who put the recyclables where they belong? We’re doomed.

    For the record, no-one has a right to insist that items they have discarded be put into a landfill rather than recycled. If you throw recyclables into the garbage by mistake, please thank rather than resent the kind person who notices the error and moves them to the recycling. And maybe think twice about rushing to the defense of any entity whose motto is “I have the right to throw trash wherever I want.”

    1. fposte*

      Not a single person here has said “Rock on, co-worker throwing recyclables in the garbage.”

      What they *are* saying is that OP is out of line and is endangering their job. The OP is not being a kind person who’s removing the items to the recycling–the OP is aggressively leaving crap on top of the trash in hopes of teaching somebody a lesson and scaring their co-workers.

      The trash person is wrong, but that doesn’t make the OP right.

      1. MuseumChick*

        This. We are focusing the the LW’s actions because she is the one who wrote in. If the other person had wrote in I would bet most of the comments would be along the lines of “What is wrong with you? Put your recycling in the proper bins. It’s not that hard.”

    2. SenatorMeathooks*

      A.)The person wasn’t putting the recyclables where they belonged, they picked through the trash for two years to send a message by placing the items on top of the bin.
      B.) While I am pro-recycling, I’ll never condemn someone who throws their trash in the trashcan.

    3. Wrong Target*

      I don’t think that person should be trashing things that are recyclable/composting, but lacking the ability to compel them to do what they ought to do via internet, I’m just gonna talk to/about OP.

    4. Oxford Comma*

      But the OP is not putting recyclables where they belong. Per the OP’s own words, “About a year and a half ago, I decided that instead of putting their compost and recyclables into the compost or recycling bins where they probably wouldn’t even see it anyway, I’d leave them sitting on top of the bins so that the next time they step in the kitchen, they’ll be able to recognize their own trash and realize which bins it actually should have gone in.”

      So that means OP has been removing discarded bits of food, containers that probably have food on them, probably unrinsed recyclables sitting out in the open on top of the bins. For a year and a half.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah the OP stopped recycling in favour of schooling a colleague. They literally said that if they put the stuff in recycling “they wouldn’t see it” and decided that making a point > recycling.
        If they wanted to be the friendly office recycler who is correcting the trash, free of expectation, its unlikely they would have caused offence. OP doesn’t want that job, or a thank you, but they are happy to put a similar amount of effort into the job of letting someone know they are bad and wrong.

    5. Arctic*

      She doesn’t put them where they belong. She puts them on top of where they belong to shame people. It’s completely inappropriate.

    6. Natalie*

      There’s a person who deliberately threw recyclables into the garbage for years, even going so far as to re-throw recyclables that had been rescued from the garbage back into the garbage

      The OP isn’t super clear, but it seems like they’ve actually *assumed* that this is one or two people, but they don’t actually *know* much definitively. What they *know* is that they take recyclables out of the trash, and set them on top of the recycling bin. Some other person/people put them back in the trash for some unknown reason. Could be ignorance, could be the items aren’t actually recyclable, could be passive aggressive behavior. Regardless, since that person or people are unknown, no one can really discuss their behavior with them.

      The LW, on the other hand, is known, and can discuss their own behavior, which is why people are focusing on the LW.

      1. Veggiesforlife*

        That’s a good point. Most people wouldn’t touch trash. It could even be the janitor throwing it away and feeling like someone is trying to make their job harder

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah and that kind of “You don’t have the right to throw away recyclables” and “you should be thanking people who fix your errors!” is why people are vindictive and fight back when you start asserting your “right” to tell them how to do things. They threw it in the trash, not on the floor, not under your desk, not in your backyard.

      If you want people to join your fight for saving the planet, you’ll need to rethink how you approach this kind of thing or you will end up in this kind of annoying predicament.

    8. mananana*

      But OP didn’t put the recyclables where they belong — she put them ON TOP OF THE BIN to make a point. Big difference. And no one is rushing to the defense of the non-recycler; they’re simply addressing OP’s behavior.

    9. pentamom*

      Once the recyclables had been in the trash, and pulled out, it’s quite possible that reasonable person other than the original offender decided they were too contaminated to be recycled anyway, and just threw them all in the garbage where they belonged. It happens around here all the time — a family member throws something the garbage, and now the coffee-ground coated cardboard doesn’t belong in the recycling anymore anyway.

  86. PMP*

    Maybe OP should look for a new job in an environmental industry? It would address both the horrible pay and I think they’d feel more fulfilled with a job that could have a more significant impact on the environment than sorting someone else’s rubbish?

  87. guest*

    I get paid four or five times minimum wage as a software engineering *intern* at a (small) tech company in the Bay Area. You should be looking for a new job yesterday.

  88. seejay*

    if you’re this mad about the impact of composting and recycling on the environment, I have some really bad news for you about cars.

      1. AR*

        This was my (likely unpopular) thought too. Recycling is great, but having kids has an exponentially worse impact on the environment.

          1. fposte*

            Should probably clarify that I mean specifically cats and dogs. I don’t know about larger herbivores like horses, and I imagine rodents and lagomorphs have a pretty small environmental footprint.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A lot of environmentalists chose other transportation for that exact reason, so I don’t get the point in provoking the person…

      1. seejay*

        Because other peoples’ cars do a hell of a lot more damage to the environment on a daily basis so what are they going to do? start harassing their coworkers about not using cars next to cut down on the environmental damage?

        I’m probably more environmentally conscious than the average person but going this over-the-top about your coworkers’ recycling habits in the office is bad for the OPs stress levels *and* their relations with their fellow coworkers as well as being a minuscule drop in the bucket in regards to the effects of the environment. Yes, we all need to do our part, but obsessing to this level in one office to the point of bullying and harassing coworkers when there’s mass amounts of pollution and large-scale waste going on isn’t going to turn the tide to warrant this level of anger and frustration.

        It’s like the plastic straw ban… companies put the onus on consumers and make us feel responsible for tiny little bits that represent small percentages that overall aren’t going to change the direction the world is heading in when companies are dumping mass amounts of garbage and plastics willy nilly without paying for it, as well as cars and factories contributing to pollution, etc. My point being, there are way larger things to be angry and upset about regarding environmentalism than a handful of coworkers not recycling/composting and the impact it has on the environment and the OP has grossly overblown this single tiny issue.

    2. goducks*

      And office HVAC systems, and the mining of the minerals that goes into computers, and the ewaste of the computers, and all the electricity that powers the computers/software the OP is engineering, and the deforested land for the office park, and the manufacturing of the plastic packaging that he’s trying to recycle, and on and on and on.
      He’s not wrong for wanting to recycle and compost, but he’s really losing sight of things.

  89. Gymmie*

    When this really crossed the line is when the OP started putting the stuff ON TOP of the bin. That gets into really passive aggressive territory, but also makes it gross for other people who use the space. I think the OP completely forgot about the other people in the office as well during this. Also, if this behavior hasn’t changed in two years, it’s not going to change! Move on.

  90. CheeryO*

    OP, noooo. I work for an environmental agency and actually help manage our recycling program, and I can tell you that NOTHING you do or say will get people to recycle if they don’t want to recycle. It’s not worth your effort, period, especially with the recycling markets in their current state. Re-channel your energy into living a more sustainable life for yourself (and/or job-searching), because you simply cannot control other people’s actions.

  91. Another Anon*

    Honestly, I wish you were getting a bit more sympathy here, OP.
    Your work place could not have made it any easier for people to compost and recycle and the people blatantly going against that and your city ordinances are assh*les.
    Find a new job and throw your coworkers in the trash, cause they are human garbage.

    1. fposte*

      Important life lesson: a situation can have more than one asshole. It doesn’t matter if the other person started it, it’s all our individual responsibility to avoid becoming assholes in response. Somebody else’s villainy isn’t enough to make us virtuous.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If the OP had just been picking the stuff out of the garbage and putting them in the correct bin, without the spectacle and “life lessons” attached, this would have probably gone differently. I doubt that there’d even be an HR issue or letter in that case.

      If you’re going over the top with your mission, to the point of acting aggressively about it and making others uncomfortable, most of the people aren’t going to be on your side.

  92. Rockin Takin*

    I worked at a summer camp at a zoo for years and we were very invested in educating children about conservation and how they can help the environment. One of the things we did was “trash free lunches”. Any kind who brought in a lunch that was 100% recyclable/compostable got a sticker.
    But some camp counselors took it a little too far and it always bothered me. There were discussions about writing dates on the sandwich bags to ensure kids were reusing them throughout the week. There were public shamings if a child put something incorrectly in the trash can. Long discussions about how your go-gurt plastic will end up in the ocean and kill the sea turtles.
    It was too much, and it was a little ridiculous considering a 6-12 year old has little to no control over what ends up in their lunch box. I would have kids cry to me saying their mom said they had to bring it, or parents would take the plastic off a snack and just put it in foil to “fool” us. What was supposed to be a message about making a difference through small changes turned into this big ugly thing instead.
    I remember I was struggling one summer with affording food, and I bought small packs of items because that’s what they had at Aldi and Wal-Mart. My boss chastised me and demanded my lunches be trash free. So the rest of the summer I just ate tortillas with peanut butter right out of the jar. I felt awful that I couldn’t afford to have only “trash free” lunch items, and embarrassed that my boss called me out in front of my coworkers.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I think this comment more than any other shows why what the OP is doing is counterproductive. Shame, passive aggressive behavior, and self-important virtue signalling are the WORST ways to bring someone over to your cause. I bet a lot of those kids left those camps with negative feelings about recycling thanks to the shame they when through.

      The co-worker here is in the wrong, but the OP’s over the topic, passive-aggressive action is also wrong.

      1. Rockin Takin*

        I think, luckily, most kids still came away from camp with a positive experience. But there were still some campers who I’m sure ended up with a negative view of conservation because of this. I just never understood why we had to push this agenda like we did. Especially since technically no lunch was trash free. All the lunches generated trash in some way due to supermarket packaging.

        I can definitely see how someone would find OP’s behavior as threatening/concerning because I found my co-workers’ behavior threatening/concerning.
        The reason behind the behavior is good, but the behavior is still not ok.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Your last part hit home. This behavior also hurts low income and other vulnerable children. When you set up a program that shines a light on things they have no control over and make them feel shame for being in their situation, it has a lasting impression and it’s not a good one.

      You don’t want recycling and conservation to be viewed as a privileged concept.

      This kind of nonsense is one of those “intentions are great” but awful, horrible, no good, very bad execution. It’s power tripping and power tripping gets a lot of push back and negativity attached to it. Which is probably how you grow up to be a person who doesn’t recycle in the office bins!

  93. envirodale*

    I think hinging advice on the idea that this is actually about another problem isn’t totally fair. I think it is more useful to acknowledge *why* this doesn’t matter. In the grand scheme of things, this coworker’s trash is a fraction of a drop in the bucket. Whether or not she recycled her aluminum can that day is not the different between a healthy and unhealthy planet. I would encourage the poster to focus environmental energy on bigger projects that have much larger impacts for our planet

  94. Wrong Target*

    OP, some things to think about:

    – You don’t know if what you’ve done is helpful or inconvenient for whomever picks up the trash. (Leaving things on top of bins: probably not on the helpful side.)
    – Are you sure that everything you move is not just recyclable/compostable in theory, but recyclable/compostable by the specific facility it’ll be taken to? For example, I had a manager who kept trying to recycle pizza boxes.
    – Going through other people’s trash is generally considered frightening behavior.
    – Trying to control other people’s actions is also somewhat alarming. Even when you think you’re doing the right thing/doing it for their own good.
    – You characterize this behavior as something you’re forced to do, but you… took it upon yourself. You 100% came up with every piece of it by yourself, without being told to, without being asked to. You can just stop.
    – Is the garbage really what you want to prioritize at work? What should you be spending your time on? Think about how you want to prioritize.
    – There are far bigger fish to fry re: environmentalism than a little bit of confusion in one building’s bins. Get your priorities straight.

    1. neeko*

      “Are you sure that everything you move is not just recyclable/compostable in theory, but recyclable/compostable by the specific facility it’ll be taken to?” This was also my thought. And the pizza box is a good example as this happens at my office as well. So many people will try to recycle pizza boxes, juice containers, etc which seem like they should be recyclable but actually aren’t due to food, weird coatings, what have you. It’s confusing!

  95. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    I get you OP. It sucks when people don’t care. I’ll ask–do you dislike this particular coworker for other reasons, too? This seems at “person eating crackers” level of irritation. (Person eating crackers–they could be sitting there doing nothing and you’d still be pissed that they existed there.)

    Honestly, find a new job and be rid of all of them.

    For the HR call–from the other side. Assume the person does not care, doesn’t read the helpful charts (or doesn’t care, again), and does what they do at home–throw everything in the garbage. There are people like this, even now. I know a few. Now imagine every time they go in the kitchen they see someone’s picked what they put in the garbage out and put it on the shelf. Every time. For a year. That’s objectively creepy. I think you’d feel the same way if someone did something similar to you. That’s why they brought it up to you. It’s risen to the level of “don’t touch the trash can” because of the creepy factor above. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t care.

    Really, especially since they are paying you pennies, get out. Turn on your LinkedIn “looking for jobs” and go. Software is a hot area right now, especially if you are willing to relocate. You’ll have a job in 2 weeks or less.

    I’ll give you the advice I found when going through my own work issues–“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. – Sun Tzu”. Take a step back–do you even want this job? If not, then stop engaging in tactics around it (recycling, dealing with nonsense, etc.). Decide your strategy and go.

    1. blink14*

      Your comment points out the feeling got from reading this – there is a major creep factor to someone going through the garbage, regardless of the reason. Doing this every day for that long? It comes off in a very weird, creepy way. Factor in piling the offending items on top of the correct bins, and it does come across as a personal attack.

  96. Michaela Westen*

    I second looking for another job. They’re showing you they don’t appreciate you both by not paying you, and not supporting your efforts with the trash. Find an employer who does appreciate you.

  97. Coverage Associate*

    Ugh. Office waste disposal. My city also has such a law, but:

    No size sign or number of meetings can handle every example. My first exposure to this was putting a paper takeout bag into the compost bin. Well, the office manager decided it was sufficiently clean for the recycle bin.

    There are 3 bins, but the janitors only ever have 2 big ones they empty them into.

    Advice: There are companies that sort waste for businesses in cities with these laws. (Eg businesses with lots of visitors or limited space for multiple bins). I don’t know if they need programmers, but OP has no where to go but up in terms of pay.

  98. Welp!*

    Just let it go dude, it’s creating unnecessary drama and tension which believe it or not affects your peers more than you know. I had a programmer like this and really he just wanted to run the company with his ideas. They were interesting ideas but it over stepped many lines including arranging a plumber to come to the office, taking over housing negotiations for travel, tracking the moves of admin. A headache. He thought his actions were noble and right but it damaged company morale, wasted time, cost money, and the entitlement alone was a lot. And outside of it all he was okay guy. It’s time to look for a new job that meets your environmental standards and also doesn’t give you enough free time to sort through your coworkers waste.

  99. Exhausted Trope*

    LW, something stood out to me. You wrote, “I’m also pretty annoyed that someone actually went behind my back to whine to HR about what seems to me completely inoffensive and non-hostile behavior to get me in trouble instead of just confronting me directly like an adult.”
    Did you try to confront the coworker like an adult? I can’t see where you tried that in your letter.
    I realize that now you cannot but it might have helped more than your tactics.

  100. Kaitlyn*

    OP, I feel like you’ve gotten dogpiled here. I don’t necessarily support the way you’ve handled this—indirect, read-my-mind messages conveyed through garbage aren’t the neon signs you want them to be—but I do agree that sometimes, the actions that we can take in the face of insurmountable fear and apprehension (ahem, climate change while parenting young children) can become deep, deep personal values. I think your co-worker was thoughtless. You don’t have to own their garbage or their thoughtlessness or their giant piles of dishes; you get to walk away and file them under “inconsiderate slob” and continue to do your part. Your ability to make a difference is not negated by their refusal to the same.

  101. Clare*


    Is there any point in being the best-looking horse in the glue factory? Apologies if this upsets any vegetarians, vegans and animal lovers reading this, but it cannot be worth it for your mental health alone. Please value yourself and get out to a job with more money, that’s aligned with your values.

    Please update us; thanks

  102. Althea*

    “I mean, really, over some garbage?”

    This is my favorite part of the letter. OP, I hope you can comprehend the irony of this sentence, after ranting about said garbage for QUITE a few paragraphs.

  103. schnauzerfan*

    One bit of, perhaps, helpful information for those of you afflicted with Styrofoam egg cartons. Check around (local farmers market, backyard chicken fanciers etc.,) and see if anyone can reuse those cartons. I know “egg ladies” in my area are thrilled to get them. They never have enough for their customers. I realize that not every neighborhood has such folks, but it’s a thing. One egg producer I know used to give a free dozen eggs to everyone who provided her with a dozen empty cartons. Or if you returned an empty when you bought a new dozen she’d give you a small discount.

    And yeah OP find a different job. You’ll always have compost hanging over your head where you’re at and the pay is poor…

    1. Elizabeth*

      And for those who don’t have recycling options for glass, check with local college art departments to see if they need glass for glass blowing and mosaics. Our local university is where all of the glass collected in the area goes, as otherwise they have to buy glass, and students can rarely afford it.

  104. Wherehouse Politics*

    Channel the outrage to the bigger that most plastic isn’t being recycled. Those recycling bins are a moral placating comfort – but they’re being buried, dumped, and burned.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, this is a little bit like rage about somebody not respecting your MBTI type–it’s about something that seems like it should be viable but really isn’t.

    2. smoke tree*

      A lot of the home remedies for environmental destruction tend to be capitalism’s way of absorbing potential dissent and turning it into more profit. As long as you can channel your unease into consuming some environmentally friendly products, you may be placated enough not to protest the systemic issues. While recycling isn’t a consumer activity, it’s related because it enables people to feel better about their purchasing choices.

      1. LCL*

        Yes! Buy our stuff and you will save the planet. Buy our competitors’ and you are helping destroy it. It makes my head hurt with the hypocrisy of it all. I still believe my low mpg, old, SUV in good repair is a better choice environmentally than buying a new car with better mileage.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      Yeah I’m all for encouraging folks to recycle but these trees are part of a forest — stopping one specific tree from getting bulldozed isn’t going to contain the carelessly-ignited uncontrolled forest fire behind it.

      Instead of shaming people for their specific actions that they take to function within a terrible system, I wish more people would focus on fixing the system.

  105. Game of Drones*

    OP, you have the best of intentions, I am sure, but you are taking it over the top. Please put all that energy and time into finding a more satisfying and financially rewarding job.

    I can’t help thinking your frustration over recycling is a sign of a larger issue relating to compensation and control.

  106. Veggiesforlife*

    I want to point out why it looks bad and why someone may be offended/scared. Assume they are from a city with different recycling rules. Person shows up and sees their trash out. Throws it away. Person starts seeing it all the time. Person starts thinking someone has a weird fetish or is stalking them by someone digging out their trash. Person will wonder what other stalking behaviors are there. Person doesn’t want to be around you and hopes it goes away because person is freaked out. Are they eating person’s leftovers? What is going on. Your little message can easily be construed to far worse things.

  107. Donkey Hotey*

    If you think “passive-aggressive garbage sorting” will encourage people to sort their garbage, you should see how well “obviously and blatantly under-paying a tech professional to encourage them to change jobs” is working out for your boss.

  108. Rainbow Roses*

    They are scared because they can’t use the lunchroom without feeling like eyes are watching them. It *is* creepy and scary thinking you are being so over-the-top scrutinized and judged.

    Either leave the trash alone or sort it correctly if you want to. Leaving it on top of the bins is….not normal. Sorry, but I’m afraid *you* are the one with the poor reputation and not the employees who don’t follow the trash sorting rules.

  109. Arjay*

    I may be in the minority on this, in fact it feels a little strange just writing it down, but I think we have a certain expectation of privacy when it comes to what we put in the trash. Things go in the trash; they don’t come back out! It would seem very aggressive and would freak me out to see a co-worker sorting through my used Kleenex and empty Snickers wrappers. We have recycling, but not composting, and I follow the rules, but if I didn’t, it wouldn’t be my random co-worker’s issue to address.

    1. Delta Delta*

      We do and we don’t. There’s a US Supreme Court case on this – California v. Greenwood, 486 US 35 (1988) which says under the 4th amendment, the government is not required to get a warrant to search your trash. Many states also follow this rule, but some states have gone beyond that and have used their own state constitutions to extend a person’s right to be free from a warrantless search to their household trash.

      Of course, this is a) protection from governmental intrusion into household trash and b) likely doesn’t apply to workplaces and c) has become far too law-dorky even for me, so I’ll stop here (I love the 4th amendment trash cases and their strange interplay with state constitutions).

      But your thought is a good one; as ordinary people living our ordinary lives, we don’t anticipate that a co-worker is going to go rooting around through our trash. Especially at work – it feels like it crosses a boundary.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I get why people feel that way but at the same time, this isn’t your household garbage even. Why would you expect it to be private when you tossed it in a shared container?

      It’s why we shred paperwork that is sensitive and don’t just throw it fully into the recycling. Think about it that way.

    3. KayEss*

      I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve read all the comments calling OP’s behavior “creepy”… is it? Really? For office kitchen trash? It’s not like you’re discarding prescription bottles or personal financial paperwork in there. Someone going through your personal trash on a targeted basis is creepy, but communal trash is pretty much public. (I could see it crossing into creepy if they then connected it to you on a personal level, like if OP was tracking down the perpetrator of individual pieces of mid-sorted trash and leaving them on their on their desk.)

      I kind of feel like our revulsion at the concept is revealing some classist bias about the sort of people we EXPECT to handle our waste—invisible, silent, and not interacting with us ever because they are of a lower order and doing a dirty job.

      1. fposte*

        Most of the comments aren’t being aimed at the sorting of the garbage, though; it’s the personal animus of pulling food waste and recyclables out to put them on top of the bin as a statement.

        1. KayEss*

          See, I would interpret that as “overinvested” and possibly “annoying” (depending on how much it interfered with me disposing of my own sorted trash) but not creepy. It’s not targeted like “I’m going to fish out and save every single one of Bob’s discarded sandwich bags for my ~collection~,” or whatever–it’s about the misplaced trash, not the person. (And yes, everyone’s saying “if it were REALLY about the trash, you’d silently sort it without making a fuss”… how many letters have we had here along the lines of “there’s one guy who always leaves his dirty dishes in the sink and gets mad when I move them to the counter so I can use the sink for my own dish cleaning”? If it were REALLY just about using the sink, should they do his dishes, too? It’s pretty normal to be annoyed that a social contract is being violated at your expense.) Leaving mis-sorted trash on top of the trash receptacle is absolutely petty, but it’s not in any way THREATENING. This isn’t a horse head showing up in your bed.

          Overall I’m just seeing a lot of weird overreaction here–in the OP, their workplace, and the comments. If this wasn’t such an unusual (and apparently hot-button) situation, I think we’d be much more focused on the fact that apparently this went on for two years before suddenly escalating all the way from zero to “HR thinks you’re dangerous,” which is indicative of some pretty bad management. I can sympathize with “I can’t use the office kitchen because there’s a weird cold war going on between your coworkers over recyclables” as being an issue that needs to be addressed, but either something is being lost in the translation of the HR report or this is just a workplace with weird, petty, hands-off management (seriously, two years? without anyone being talked to on either end beyond lukewarm all-staff meetings?) where OP is also being grossly underpaid.

  110. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Oh LW, we get it, you really care about the environment, and that is seriously great. It does not, however, give you a pass to be this over top passive aggressive. All of this may be very well intentioned, but no one designated you as the Company Recycling Ambassador, and you have to let this go. Your HR department was right to tell you to move on, you should listen to them.

  111. Blisskrieg*

    OP, I just wanted to say it’s refreshing that there are people who care enough about the environment and the small steps people need to take to make a difference. It’s nice to see someone who cares about this. I think ethically and in several other ways you are in the right –but you are not workplace or conflict resolution “right” because you are at risk of being severely disciplined and you are also not succeeding in changing behaviors. However, again, it is reassuring to me when people do care about these issues on a personal level.

  112. Formerly Known As*

    Not trying to pile on the OP, but if the OP is spending their time sorting through trash, it could partially explain why they’re underpaid. I mean, is OP taking on extra projects, taking classes/professional development, etc.? I know the OP said they’ve done some projects and finished on time and whatnot, but if management doesn’t see it and instead hears an employee has the time to sort trash, I can see where the OP would be undervalued. Go above and beyond. I have specifically asked my manager if I could take on stretch projects/assignments. It gets noticed come annual review time.

    Food for thought, OP. Please consider focusing more of your energy on yourself and advocating for the salary you deserve (hopefully by getting a job somewhere that pays a decent salary).

  113. Delta Delta*

    I have a slightly different take. Before this went a little off the rails (which it did, and I’m not going to pile on), what seemed loud and clear was that OP’s workplace has rules and that the rules feel optional for some people. Swap out “didn’t recycle their soda can” for “left bond paper in the printer tray” or “didn’t put a cover sheet on a TPS report” and it’s all going to have the same result – OP follows the rules, others don’t, and OP feels the short end of that stick.

    I can’t help but wonder if there’s a larger overall pattern in this office of policies not being followed. It’s frustrating to feel like you’re the only one following rules, and also to feel like there are no consequences for people who don’t follow the rules.

    Seems like maybe this job isn’t the right fit for OP.

    1. Natalie*

      People that don’t follow The Rules are sort of universal in life, though, aren’t they? I’ve both been and known a few obsessive-rule-follower types before, and getting into an environment that reinforces that tendency hasn’t been a positive thing. You still have to live in the rest of the world where people cut in line and go straight through the turn lane and talk on their cell phone in the quiet car. I find myself happier in the long run when I know I can let that stuff go.

      1. fposte*

        I agree with you, but I do find it an ongoing struggle to get there. I can see if I were in a workplace where I felt drastically underpaid and underappreciated that it would be hard for me to fight the impulse.

        1. Natalie*

          Definitely! But Delta Delta seems to be suggesting an office that’s very into following rules and policies as a solution, not the pay and appreciation issues. I think that’s going to end up backfiring, akin to the anxiety-reassurance trap.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, I agree–I was just musing on the “letting things go” challenge. It’s so hard to remember that’s a possibility sometimes.

          2. Delta Delta*

            It wasn’t that, exactly. I think it was more like what The Man, Becky Lynch said below. The job isn’t optimal for a lot of reasons, and coupled with that is this problem that there’s a rule and OP wants to follow it but others don’t and this is the weird way OP is dealing with it. long story short – this probably isn’t the right job for OP anymore.

      2. Jennifer*


        I have also noticed that people who get REALLY angry about minor things like this shrug their shoulders indifferently about more serious issues.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I really think it’s the boiling point for sure. It’s evident since the OP even threw in the “They pay me in crumbs and I do all this work for them and this is how they treat me!”.

      It reminds me of Carol and the tattoos yesterday or the one letter about the co-worker who hated swearing, yet it was an office that was a-okay with casual swearing. Instead of doing it in the name of professionalism, it’s in the name of saving the planet.

    3. MyDogIsCalledBradleyPooper*

      I like your statement “OP follows the rules, others don’t, and OP feels the short end of that stick” because it sums things up pretty good. I would add, OP can only control what he does and yes he is doing what is expected of them. OP cannot control what the others are doing and now has to let it go. They have fought the battle for two years and it is just getting worse for them. OP accept that you cannot change others, know you are doing the right thing and move on. You are wasting too many calories on this. Plus you do not want your career to be defined as the garbage sorter, which is where this is going. Who does your manager want to promote or give a raise to 1) the person who gets the work done and doesn’t rock the boat or 2) the person who gets the work done but comes with all this drama. The person the manager and other managers don’t want to deal with.

      It’s your choice now.

    4. writelhd*

      Yes, if you take the “recycling: useful or useless?” and the “sorting into other people’s trash: Ok or not?” out of it, this boils down to a “basic office rules: how to just get people to follow them, how it can really affect morale when people don’t and also what crazy lengths people go to when they’re frustrated about it” situation. I mean, yes, for some people and some things, paying attention to the small things is just going to be a struggle…you’re not going to get 100% compliance whether it’s dishes in the sink or TPS report covers or recycling. (I love recycling, and I respect that TPS reports should have proper covers, and I’m reaaaall embarrassed for anybody to see the dish I forgot to take to the sink a couple days ago that’s now spawning fruit flies all over my office. I’m plotting even now how I can get it back to the kitchen when most others are gone so I can clean it and put it away, without anybody seeing the fruit fly cloud. I’m sorry, guys.) I’m sure every office has had it’s “friendly reminder!” all staff dishes email, and maybe even it’s “more pointed reminder” all staff meeting like this one apparently had about recycling (do those work? I wonder? Or do they just make it worse?) But I wonder if it’s especially bad there, on top of, or because of, other systemic things, and that’s part of what’s feeding the pretty dialed-up level of frustration and lack self-awareness demonstrated by the OP’s writing and behavior in this situation.

  114. Lillian2611*

    I haven’t read all the comments so please excuse me if I repeat something someone else has already said.

    There are several instances of assuming the motivations and thought processes and intentions of the ‘offenders’ in this letter. I’ve made that mistake many times and I understand how it happens, but I’ve also learned that we can never know why another person does what she does until we talk to her. It’s natural to assume callousness but it’s not fair, necessarily. I would just like to caution against assuming we know what’s in another person’s mind or heart in this regard. There really could be reasons for this behaviour that we have not begun to imagine.

    1. JessB*

      I think this is really good advice. Changing my thinking to not presume the worst motivators in people’s behaviour has really helped me let go of my stress about how other people behave.

  115. Anon.*

    I used to work with a woman who would clean the office bathroom on her breaks with her own cleaning supplies from home. Someone complained and she was asked to stop. I believe the person complained that the smell of the woman’s cleaning supplies bothered her. The woman did not stop. The woman was fired. They did not specify a reason because she was at will but we all knew it was because she was insurbordinate and would not stop cleaning the bathroom.

    OP let it go. Do not continue to sort the trash after you’ve been directed to stop or you may find yourself unemployed.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Was there no janitorial services or did she just not think they were done satisfactorily?! I need more details here O_o

      1. Anon.*

        No the bathrooms were cleaned every night. I guess they were not cleaned up to her standards. It was very bizarre.

    2. Chips and Dip*

      I used to clean the break room microwaves after work and and clean the left over dishes. It was with the intention that the microwaves were gross and we had roaches. My boss saw me one day and she threatened to write me up if she saw me cleaning the break room again like the office mom. She sent an email out that every day 15 minutes before the interns left they would be in the kitchen tossing out any dishes in the kitchen (counters and sink) and any food on the counters.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This delightful amount of wastefulness within this post about recycling being the utmost importance is making me laugh way too hard right now.

        At least the boss fixed the problem but I’d quit any job that someone threatened to discipline me over something as ridiculous as cleaning the microwave and dishes. That’s so outrageous but she also allowed a problem to fester to the point of roaches, so that’s another story there.

  116. Newbean*

    I think you should find out what the penalties/fees would be from your city if a company doesn’t follow the recycling laws, ask them to send you some information and give this info over to your boss/HR or whoever has some power to do something about this. If the fees are hefty they might see the “importance” of recycling even if just for monetary reasons. Maybe they can do a brief “clinic” on recycling… some people just don’t understand where things go. Honestly it can be confusing at times even with signs that say “Compost Here” when you don’t understand what compost is.

    But its good to remember that even after a “Recycling Training” some might try and others still won’t bother. So you can’t expect things to definitely change, but you can try. Also try not to be so passive aggressive, instead be openly passionate about it. Tell others why it’s so important to you, chances are even if they haven’t really thought about it they might start to incorporate small changes (or not). The idea is if you’re passive aggressive, you still come off as aggressive and honestly with the amount of violence in the workplace nowadays it CAN be scary.

    Last thought, you hold this in very high moral value but we can’t expect others to see things the same way we do. And definitely look for a better paying job, but if you go to a new office make sure you don’t take your bad habits with you, start fresh.

    1. JessB*

      Seeing as the OP has specifically been told to let this go, I think sharing information about company penalties from their city would be a bad idea. It would be ignoring that directive. I think being openly passionate about it would also be ignoring that directive.
      And from the letter, it sounds like the company has already tried sharing information about what to put in which bin at all staff meetings, and has signs above each bin explaining the same thing.

  117. Jaybeetee*

    OP, I encourage you to go over to Captain Awkward’s website and check her archives – there is a letter from someone dealing with the other side of this issue, except the environmentalist wasn’t their colleague, but their significant other. The letter and comments had a lot of insight into how and why a person can take a legitimate concern (we really should all be thinking about the environment), and turn it into a personal preoccupation, and then a club to beat people with. One observation was that the person being discussed in the letter also suffered from depression, and that “the environment” became a “load-bearing receptacle” for all the other crappy feelings this person had. If there was nothing immediately going on in their lives over which to brood, “the environment” was always there.

    It may also be helpful for you to look at that letter-writer’s POV, as she described a lot of personal stress and anxiety, as well as serious relationship problems, over her SO’s micromanaging her actions “for the environment”. She was walking on eggshells trying to avoid doing things that would set him off, and her quality of life was suffering. The cause is good, but if it leads to distress and anxiety for people around you (and it sounds like in your own case, multiple people are now in agreement that your actions are doing just that), it’s time to rethink your strategies.

    Climate change is a big deal, that we should all be thinking about – but for some people, perhaps already prone to a certain amount of depression, anxiety, or overthinking in general, it can be easy to catastrophize and fixate on the issue. As with many things in life, every individual can help, but there’s only so much one individual can do. LW, I encourage you to channel this concern into more productive channels, both in terms of your environmentalism (really, there are things you can do other than what you’re doing now that will create a greater impact), and with your career/life in general (i.e. being underpaid, no raise, etc.) You sound like a smart, passionate, energetic person, and if you can turn your focus to the right channels, I think you might be able to do some pretty cool things.

  118. Mujj*

    I’m also someone that gets very frustrated by people not recycling properly. Not because recycling is going to save the planet (it’s actually a not-great, last resort option), but because it’s the simplest, most low-effort thing someone can do for the environment. But TWO YEARS? Picking compostables (banana peels, food items!?) out of the trash and leaving it on top of the bin? Definitely a strategy that will be perceived as creepy, over-the-top, and will likely make people dig in their heels even further. I truly sympathize with your passion for the environment, but this is a workplace where you have to relinquish control over your coworkers. I agree that it sounds like there are larger issues at play here.

    1. whatever works*

      I would disagree with recycling being low-effort. There’s all these rules about what is/isn’t allowed to be recycled and all these different bins. And then you have to remember not to throw X along with Y. Too much mental energy spent on something that doesn’t really benefit the planet.

      Yesterday, I finished a bottle of water from a plastic water bottle while I was out. There was a plain black garbage can nearby but no recycling bin. Of course I threw it in there – was I supposed to hold on to this water bottle to then hopefully see if I can find a blue recycling bin?

      1. Mujj*

        I’m totally the person who carries around the water bottle all day until I can recycle it haha.

      2. Anoncorporate*

        In most offices there are very clear I idiot-proof signs saying what can and cannot be recycled.

        But I will say that in the grand scheme of things, it shouldn’t be totally on individual end users to take on this burden. Manufacturers and suppliers should also be reducing waste on a greater scale.

        1. whatever works*

          I just looked at the blue bin by my desk at work. All it has on there is the giant triangle recycling symbol. The other side is just blue with nothing written on there. *shrugs*

          I am almost positive the larger ones in our kitchen just say something like “Llamaville County Recycling” with nothing written on it. I’ve thrown both paper and plastic into it because I just assumed it was for both.

          1. fposte*

            In mine, our bins are older than various recycling policies, so while there are clear statements on some bins they’re often not true.

            1. Psyche*

              Ours is extremely bad. You actually have to look to see what color of bag is used. If it is blue, it is recycling. If it is clear then it is trash EVEN IF IT IS IN A RECYCLING CONTAINER. People throw things out incorrectly all the time because they think (as most people would) that trash cans are for trash and the blue ones with a recycling symbol are recycling.

        2. Natalie*

          You’d hate my office kitchen. We have two containers that are basically identical, each has a triangular recycling symbol on it, except one also says “waste”. There is no additional information about what to recycle.

          Judging from what I see when I throw my own garbage away, nobody I work with knows which one is which, either.

      3. Koala dreams*

        I see a lot of people reusing water bottles, especially in places like gym classes, so that example is not very good. I see you point about all the rules, though. To make things more complicated, there are often different rules for houshold recycling and company recycling depending on the city and the different trash pick-up companies.

    2. Anoncorporate*

      Yeah – I understand resorting the components to the right bins, but Op is intentionally shaming people. Definitely don’t shame people – it will have the opposite effect you want.

  119. Kms1025*

    wow…for everyone who feels OP is getting piled on, they have literally been piling on trash for more than a year…if motives were completely altruistic, and OP was so motivated to “save the planet” the garbage would have gone into the appropriate bins after being sorted out…NOT left out as an “in your face” message to perpetrators unknown…I reread this letter several times and am not sure which parts of it I find the most astounding…one thing stuck with me though, you are sorting trash, maybe your pay is reflecting that???

  120. Not Enough Wine*

    Wow! So, the OP got upset that the target of their passive-aggressive hostility was offended and they didn’t address it directly with the OP?! That’s rich considering the OP never bothered to be direct and discuss it with said target. Unbelievable. You get what you give.

  121. Non-recycling environmentalist*

    OP, I hope you read this, because you have so misunderstood the reason why we recycle: I’m an environmentalist and I don’t recycle – that is, it course I care about the amount of waste I create, use my own body as my main means of transportation whenever practical, reuse wherever I can, repair what can be repaired etc. The reason for not recycling is based on information gathered from having lived in a number of countries, realising that recycling schemes vary even locally and are confusing to many people. 1) I can only vouch for a parent with dementia. There is no way certain parts of the population are ever going to understand and comply. That does not make them less valuable citizens. 2) Having visited a recycling facility in a professional capacity I learnt that all garbage had to be re-sorted manually and by lasers. This was due to contamination and misplacement of garbage, again, globally one cannot trace this back to anyone’s bad intention. 3) Recycling schemes, especially those where it is required to clean packaging and containers before putting them in the bin, may in fact in the end leave a larger footprint than no recycling at all. Just imagine the amount of hot water and detergents used for cleaning one cup of yoghurt and the foil covering it. 4) Roaming through other people’s trash is an invasion of privacy imo, reserved forensic investigators.

    Excess and obsession do our planet no good.
    Plant a tree instead or adopt a part of the rainforest. That will only make you friends, whereas nobody will applaud you for your efforts thus far. Peace out.

    1. Steggy Saurus*

      Thank you for this detailed comment. I appreciate the rational approach to being against recycling! I’ve been reading stories about small towns going into debt because of the cost of recycling with China et al getting pickier about what they take and it’s interesting to see this behind-the-scenes info.

  122. Jennifer*

    Recyclops is real!

    In all seriousness, you have to let this go. You aren’t going to single-handedly save the planet by sorting this person’s trash. As others have pointed out, trying to create less waste in general is better because many items sent to recycling centers aren’t even recycled. I actually understand why the person was afraid because you became obsessed and sound nearly on the verge of snapping. That’s a scary thing in this climate, at least in the US. I’m not accusing you of being violent, just trying to point out how this can look to outsiders.

    The only thing you can control are your own actions, not anyone else’s. I also think therapy might be a good idea so you can figure out what is driving your anxiety. Best wishes.

  123. Jennifer*

    Also, the fact that the HR person took this seriously tells me that maybe you don’t realize how your actions are being perceived by others.

    1. Middle School Teacher*

      And is there something else going on as well? I mean, for HR this could be the last straw in a long line of straws. (Not plastic straws, obvs)

  124. Anoncorporate*

    Omg I’ve been that dork that resorted bins in the kitchen, but sorting through people’s personal bins is an absolute no no. You just have to accept that some people are stupid and can’t sort their own trash.

    1. Jennifer*

      I wouldn’t say they are stupid. They just aren’t as passionate as you and the OP are about this.

  125. LQ*

    I’m sure that this is going to feel absurdly obvious but I think it’s the most important thing.

    You don’t have to work at that company. You are a software engineer who has done novel work and delivered on requirements perfectly? You don’t have to work there. There are nearly (but not 100%) always other options. And for you with your profession and if you have a teeny tiny bit the skill set you say you are so undervalued it’s absurd. You can find another job.

    Even if you want to stay, stopping to recognize that there are other options out there for you can be really healthy for your attitude toward your employer, your work, your coworkers, and your life. It can seem fine but eat away at what you love and value and can start to skew your values. You end up focused on these things that get sent through a lens of all that trash (pun only a little intended) and miss out on things that are critical to you. Working somewhere else that let you contribute money to your favorite environmental charity, or let you have time to volunteer, or let you work from home, or you know…PAID YOU A FAIR WAGE. Sorry. It’s really outrageous that they are barely paying you minimum wage, I desperately hope that this is a $15/hour city minimum not something really heartbreakingly absurd like federal minimum.

    You can leave. You can find a new job.

    1. Anoncorporate*

      I wonder why OP doesn’t work in environmental engineering – it’s a good field for jobs.

  126. Anon25*

    LW : is this worth losing your job over? You, like a lot of folks in your field, sometimes need things very straight forward and I’m not sure Alison made it clear enough for you. You will lose your job if you don’t stop. The HR conversation was your warning.

  127. PJM*

    I’m a little perplexed because I was really surprised by Allison’s answer and I seem to have the opposite reaction than most people here. I guess I see the person who is purposefully throwing out recycling materials as not following the company’s rules. I think recycling is important and don’t understand why the person not following the rules isn’t being reprimanded? Seems like they are purposely acting like a jerk and ignoring something the company requested of them. If it was me, I would have quietly thrown stuff in the garbage in the appropriate bin. It was wrong to leave it on top to make some sort of statement and escalate it, I would have instead reported it and let the higher ups in the company say something to the offender, it’s not the OPs place to do it. I agree with Allison that the bigger problem is the OPs salary and they should look elsewhere for employment.

    1. neeko*

      Whoever is throwing out the stuff isn’t following the rules but it really has nothing to do with the LW. It’s not her job to enforce these rules and her attempts of enforcing them are unhelpful and unhealthy. We have no idea if the people not recycling aren’t getting reprimanded. For all we know, someone who is completely following the rules reported the LW for leaving the garbage on the cans and for making people uncomfortable.

    2. Natalie*

      The OP says “that person” a bunch, but they don’t actually seem to know who it is. There’s no especial reason to think the company knows who it is, either, or that it’s just one person rather than a bunch of people making individual errors.

    3. Kwebbel*

      I guess it’s possible that, if HR knew who made the anonymous complaint, they could tell that employee to start sorting their recycling as well as telling LW not to go through the bins. If HR did approach the complainant, there’s no particular reason to tell the LW “the complainant has been reprimanded for not sorting the recycling”, as that’s not something LW needs to know.

      1. JessB*

        It’s not clear that the person who complained to HR is also the person who isn’t properly sorting their waste. It could have been someone else at the company who was frustrated that there was often stuff on top of the bins!

    4. JessB*

      From the letter, it seems clear that the office is taking steps to try and educate all the staff about appropriate behaviour in their office (using the correct bins and washing your own dishes), but perhaps isn’t investing time and effort in identifying the particular perpetrator/s. That’s their prerogative, because it’s not the OP’s job to make sure these rules are followed, that’s something that she chose to take on and now she’s being specifically told to stop doing that.
      So the office is acknowledging that it’s kind of jerk behaviour to act like this in the kitchen, but the OP’s behaviour has unfortunately surpassed that.

  128. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

    For the sake and sanity of both you and your coworkers, you need to get out of that job.

    I know from my experience that if strangers keep going through my garbage and resorting it for public display, I will find other places to dispose of it, some of which are less environmentally conscious than what your office is doing. Let that go. Focus on the not-getting-paid part and go get paid somewhere else.

  129. FortyTwo*

    With all the talk of “our planet,” I think LW is vastly overestimating the impact of their office’s refuse in the grand scheme of things. I know, if every office ignored it, we’d be…well, pretty much in the mess we’re in now. But the LW’s emotions are so out-of-proportion to the office’s impact, it’s ridiculous!

  130. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    You work with jerks and for jerks. Stop resorting your jerky coworker’s refuse and use that energy to look for a better job.

  131. Kelly*

    OP; there are several words and/or phrases you’ve used that indicate an unhealthy attachment to this cause and a serious lack of awareness:
    staunch environmentalist
    I don’t enjoy doing it, but since no one else will do it, I do — for the sake of our planet.
    I have no doubt that the person doing this is well aware of the nuisance they’re causing me and the other staff who actually care about this issue. They just don’t care.
    as if to say “F you.” Well, I kept doing it anyway.
    she’d been getting complaints every day for a while now that I’d been taking recyclables and compostables out of the trash.
    I don’t see anything offensive or scary about what I did.
    If anyone should be offended, I think it should be me
    I’ve powered through an insane amount of projects that I don’t think any other developer here could have powered through at the speed that I did, while delivering on every requirement flawlessly.

    Take a step back, stop being the trash police, and best of luck.

  132. theletter*

    I feel pretty confident that you can find a new job with a lot more money and more conscientious people, and then you get to look smug in the HR office when you tell them you’re leaving.

  133. mcr-red*

    OP, for some reason, your letter reminded me of my ongoing trouble with Fergus. In my department, we collect all of our TPS reports in one space in the server for our manager to then go through and send on to the next department. Before the manager gets them, Fergus goes through and subtly changes mine how he sees fit – like changing a font, moving a graphic illustration around, changing the color of something. I have complained about it to our manager, who confronted Fergus who just said, “I’m just trying to help.” There’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing. I’ve been working here longer than Fergus. It’s not like he’s looking for typos/errors, as I’ve had some slip through. He’s just changing things to how HE thinks it should be done. Its a weird compulsion and he’s been told not to do it, and yet, I’ve seen him do it still. It’s nitpicking and I take it as a demeaning act.

    So I can see how if your coworker saw you go through and sort his trash, he got offended. If you’re only doing it to him, you are singling him out. You’re going through it and sitting it back out again and without words telling him to throw it away YOUR way. And just from the way it’s written here, I feel like you’re going to be just like Fergus, and do it anyway after you’ve been told to stop.

    1. whatever works*

      Personally, I wouldn’t care if Fergus moved little things here and there. Hey, he wants to spend his time nitpicking *shrugs* Like you mentioned, there is nothing wrong with what you are doing. Some people are OCD like Fergus and nothing will stop their OCD.

      I lump Fergus into the category of “doing too much.” Just know that you are doing good work and leave Fergus to be.

      1. mcr-red*

        Oh it’s never going to stop and I know that. It’s just weird when you see the TPS report you worked on in presentation, and suddenly the font is blue when it was originally green or the photo is on slide 3 instead of slide 2.

        However, and OP, take note of this, I have NOT changed a single thing I do. I do not make all my TPS reports in blue instead of green because that’s what Fergus likes. I don’t put the graphic illustration on the left hand side at the bottom because that’s how Fergus likes it, I put it wherever I feel like putting it, EXCEPT the left hand side at the bottom. So chances are, your trash person may be not recycling now because you’ve started this.

  134. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    LW, are you my college roommate? She also would dig through the trash and leave recyclables sitting out on the kitchen counter in hopes of shaming the person who threw it away. It didn’t work and actually made the culprit even less likely to take the time to recycle anything.

    People don’t respond to public shaming like this. I think Alison is spot on when she asks if this is a manifestation of feeling like you lack control in other areas of your life. In my last four workplaces I’ve noticed the only people who get up in arms about minor kitchen issues are those who are generally unhappy with the workplace itself and feel like they don’t have a way to make it better.

    I think it would behoove you to look for a new place of work. Not because your coworkers are jerks who hate the environment, but because this behavior is a sign something is so far out of whack that there’s no coming back from it.

  135. Bagpuss*

    LW, you say that you were ” astounded that anyone could be “offended” by someone trying to reduce unnecessary waste or feel “scared” because of some recyclables sitting on top of a bin.”

    I don’t think they were scared because of some recycling on a bin. They may well have been scared because they were the target of a sustained campaign of passive aggressive harassment for 18 months. I can see how the people on the receiving end could find it very worrying, not least because once someone starts to behave in ways which are, objectively, a long way outside the norm, it isn’t unreasonable to start to worry how far that may go. I think your behaviour could feel like stalking to the people on the other side.

  136. CheerfulPM*

    Weighing in on the recommendation to look for work elsewhere. Possibly specifically looking at eco-friendly companies where you’d find not only like-minded people, but you’d be working towards a mission that is clearly valuable to you! There’s a directory of “B corp” companies and job boards for them. I work for a company that recently became a B corp and as part of it we had to change the bylaws of our company that we are committed to not just making a profit, but working to make lives better for people and the planet. This means that our employees aren’t just paid minimum wage, but livable wages and competitive for the market place. We operate zero waste offices and warehouses, and even allow employees to bring in hard to recycle electronics/plastics, and we have it ethically recycled for them. Anyway, it would be a great starting point to look at job boards for these type of companies. (P.S. – A lot of them support remote work opportunities.) Good luck!

  137. ...*

    Can’t agree with the way you went about it at all but it is infuriating when people toss their literally plain plastic water bottle in the trash (which of course they buy one everyday plus their non recyclable Starbucks hot cups….. everyday) it sucks because you really can’t do anything or it’ll be seen as unprofessional and crazy…. but I get how angering it is. Like the recycling can is literally CLOSER than the trash and it’s an empty la croix or something. People are just lazy and dgaf. Truly and it sucks.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, that’s my point of sympathy with the OP. I can simultaneously understand that it doesn’t, in practical terms, ultimately make much difference which bin the bottle gets thrown into and still think that people should take the trouble to throw it in the right one.

  138. Hiring Mgr*

    Software engineer making barely above min wage? No wonder the OP is so frustrated… Agree that you need to start job searching!

  139. My Alter-Ego is Taller*

    This reminds me of a passive-aggressive battle that was going on in my office, started by the self-appointed, self-righteous “green police”. They bought a bunch of cutters for k-cups (that let you separate the plastic cup from the foil lid, and dump out the grounds) and distributed those to all the coffee areas. Then they put up signs and sent mass emails directing us all to spend the time to cut and separate all the components of every k-cup. Then they started scolding, fishing whole k-cups out of the trash, etc. – basically the same tactics this letter writer is inflicting on his coworkers.
    But they didn’t do their research on the fine points of the city ordinance: our local recycling facilities don’t accept those plastic cups or their tops, because they’re too small for the sorting machinery – in fact we can get sanctioned by the city if we continue to put those things in our recycling. So basically they were passive-aggressing the hell out of their coworkers all because of a mistake on their part, when we were all following the ordinance.
    I’m wondering if there’s something similar going on here. Like maybe everybody else in this company knows that their cleaning crew just dumps all the bins together into the trash anyway, and this guy just never works late enough to have witnessed that.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I started reading and was like “this sounds reasonable” until you got to the point where they were badgering people about it! Yuck, I would be just as annoyed as you are about that.

      I’m the sort of person that makes it “easy” for things to happen. Happily hangup posters about “This is recyclable” “This is not” and would be fine with composting the grounds if we were in a place that composted. However that’s where it stops, you say “Hey this is available everyone!” and then you engage in doing things the environmentally friendly way yourself. You give them tools, you give them encouragement but you don’t badger and you never demand people “change their evil Earth killing ways *fist pounding motions*”

      I taught my mother how to recycle back in the 90s. I was part of the recycling club in high school [how’s that for nerdy]. Yet still, I cannot ever deal with being passive aggressive about it. I learned you “educate” and then you let others choose to find meaning in that education or you just let people live, since people who want to spite you can do a heck of a lot of emotional damage when you get as caught up as our OP.

  140. Luna*

    I wonder why anyone would even wash the dishes of those leaving them behind. Call this malicious compliant, but if they won’t clean the dishes after themselves, leave them there. They may get moldy, it may smell bad, buf it’s not your monkey, it’s not your business. And once they run out of dishes, *something* will happen that will make them do something about the (lack of) dishes.

    Same with the garbage. Don’t touch the garbage anymore. If anyone ends up complaining how often the trash has to be changed because people throw everything into one place, well, that will be a complaint coming up. And it will be up to everyone in the office to figure something out, especially the higher ups.

    1. Dishwasher at the office*

      I am so happy my office has a dishwasher (that we use frequently!)

  141. justcourt*

    I had a similar trash issue (not with recycling, but related to which trash can to use), and my coworker started leaving trash directly on my desk. I was offended and disturbed because that is the behavior of a disturbed individual. You might think your behavior is reasonable and you might think your coworker’s reaction is unreasonable, but you’re wrong.

    If this is more a manifestation of how you feel about your job, please start looking for an employer who will properly compensate you. But whatever happens, don’t be a person who weaponizes trash.

  142. Louise*

    this may be considered off topic, but I think OP is also overly fixated on individual choice irt environmentalism. getting one coworker to recycle properly won’t save the planet, stronger environmental regulations that target corporations will. maybe OP can redirect some energy there.

  143. LadyCop*

    While people who leave out dirty dishes and people who don’t put recyclables in the recycling are annoying, and likely can be described as people who don’t care….do not assume they are the same person/people.

    Let it go Elsa.

    Leaving the items out on display on a daily basis for 2 years is so definitively passive-aggressive I’m surprised this didn’t become a -thing- sooner.
    I sympathize with your zeal, but the reality is no one action is going to solve the every evolving issues with the environment. And it won’t be solved today unless we suddenly revert civilization to the stone age tomorrow.

  144. Fan of AAM blog*

    Thank you for calling out that this OP at least cares about something important. I agree that they not behaving in a way that will accomplish the intended outcomes, but I do find it refreshing that the issue is something bigger than their own personal concerns. Polls right now show the voters view “protecting our borders” as exponentially more important than “addressing climate change.” Wow. I also wish commenters would stop piling on. Alison made the point succinctly and helpfully – your focus is misplaced, you’re too personally invested, it’s time to step back and identify the bigger issue, which is your terrible pay. Why say the same exact thing over and over? Is it just to make the OP feel even worse about themselves? No wonder so many OPs never read the comments!

  145. Rectilinear Propagation*

    LW, in case nothing else anyone has said has resonated:

    You want your manager and HR and your employer to care about this but you also keep cleaning up this mess.

    The easiest way to get them to care is to let them get in trouble for not following the ordinance. I guarantee you that if they get fined they will suddenly care enough to do something about this.

    Side note: Everyone’s shocked at the minimum wage pay for a software engineer. But “software engineer” is a catch all title for all kinds of programming jobs from writing an operating system to changing the text displayed to the user. I’m not saying that paying minimum wage for the latter is actually justified but maybe it’s a little less shocking. (Or maybe it is anyway since it’s in the Bay Area.) LW should absolutely still find a better job.

  146. naha*

    we actually do have a person in my office (a very busy person of high standing) who does this. She will look into the compost, see some piece of plastic, and move into the recycling. She is aware that it is a little ridiculous if the LW could back themself to “ha ha, i know this is ridiculous but the plastic in compost makes me crazy, and i just can’t help myself” it would be better.

  147. Vanilla Nice*

    I’m a bit late to the discussion, but I have some empathy for the LW. Not “empathy” in the sense that I think what they did was okay, but rather, empathy in the sense that I’ve been in unhappy/dysfunctional jobs where I did strange things in desperate attempts to make up for a lack of control.

    I hope the LW is able to find the support they need to deal with whatever the underlying issues are.

  148. Kerry from Oz*

    This is my first time commenting, and LW while the way you handled this was not OK, I so feel you on the rage. You’re a staunch environmentalist with kids living in (I assume) America in the current political climate? Of course you’re filled with ‘angst and agitation’. (I am in Australia where from an environmental perspective things are not that much better). The thing is that this is not a productive way to channel your energy. Other people have covered that this won’t make a huge difference and that it will get people offside. But more than that, we’ve all been oversold on personal responsibility. Whether we all recycle every last plastic bottle has much less impact than the actions of governments and large corporations. I suggest channeling your energy into joining groups who advocate for more large scale change. Also, Google “climate grief” if you don’t know about it already. It’s real and there are ways of managing it so you don’t get bogged down in minutiae plus get people around you offside and can instead act more effectively.

  149. RVA Cat*

    Hate to say but with the salary situation and the environmental passion, the OP might actually find better pay and life satisfaction working on the recycling truck. They’re already making manual labor wages – or less.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Since most are city ran, you’d get to be a city worker with benefits as well =(

    2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

      I knew someone that worked on a garbage truck, they made much better than minimum wage.

  150. Jess*

    Two comments:

    – In a previous office we had a rubbish-sorter and it was THE WORST. We had a recycling bin in the kitchen but she would go through the rubbish and pull out mis-sorted items from the rubbish bin (came across as judgmental and condescending, but almost understandable – she didn’t bug people about it, she just DID it), and would also pull out compostables to take home to her own compost bin (ew ew ew ew ewwwwww).

    There’s just something really off-putting about seeing a co-worker who you share a space (and door-handles and computer keyboards etc) with rooting up to their elbows in a rubbish bin.

    – In my current office we had an issue with rubbish being thrown into the recycling bin. We figured out that it was because – despite SO MANY SIGNS – the recycling bin didn’t have a lid but the rubbish bin did, when people weren’t really looking and wanted to toss away a teabag or tissue they just went for the nearest open receptacle. We replaced the recycling bin with a mini-wheelie bin with a lid you have to look at to open and the problem is 100% solved.

  151. Kendra*

    So, kind of off-topic anecdote: I work for a small town local government. Every one of our buildings has multiple recycle bins in it, usually paired with a standard trash can. The thing is, our local waste transfer station has stopped accepting recyclables because what they were getting was almost always too contaminated to actually recycle, and took horrendous amounts of time to sort. So, rather than educating people on rinsing their cans out and separating paper from metal, they just said nope, not doing it anymore.

    So, every time one of those nice recycle bins gets emptied by the custodial staff, it goes into the exact same dumpster as the regular trash. We’re working on setting up our own recycling program, but it’s a pretty major ordeal (the nearest places that will accept most recyclables are at least 150 miles away), and is going to take a few more months. They don’t want to take the recycle bins away, because they finally have us all trained to use them, but…they aren’t actually accomplishing anything right now. I can’t help but wonder how the OP would react if they worked here and found all of that out…

  152. Other People's Shoes*

    Over 600 comments on here calling the OP immature, passive-aggressive, and worse. The OP made some bad choices, but Allison responded appropriately. These comments feel excessive. How will this person be helped by all this?

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Op is drastically lying to themselves about the severity of the situation. Maybe with this many comments they’ll get a reality check? Or not…

      1. London Calling*

        It appears not, from OP’s response. He/she is still right and everyone else is wrong.

  153. Sally Forth*

    “You’ve gotten overly invested.” I wish this little thought bubble had popped up in my brain every time I’ve gotten worked up about something that was really outside my parameters.

  154. OhNotAgain*

    OP, Step back and let the business rack up some fines. Unfortunately, in my experience, this is the only route that may work. Even then, if those responsible are disgruntled, they will continue or even ratchet up hoping to see the business fined.

    1. Me*

      Yup. The business SHOULD care because of the ordinance. If they don’t that’s on them. OP is out of line.

  155. I heart Paul Buchman*

    Hi OP, there have been a lot of responses and you are probably overloaded at this point but I wanted to point something out from my own experience that I haven’t seen mentioned. I read about this on a captain awkward thread a few years ago and it completely changed my perspective on lots of things.
    I grew up in a very rigid home with a super strict parent. I learnt through that environment that things Have To Be Done The Right Way. I also learnt that a reasonable response to things being done ‘wrong’ was righteous anger. I actually never examined this as an adult and hadn’t noticed the dynamic. Once I became aware that this is a thing that happens to people I saw lots of ways in my own life that I was trying to control other people and force them to adhere to my own self-imposed ‘rules’ (eg clothes are always put away in this order/ you have to wash the pans before you sit down to eat/ you put groceries in the cart in a specific way). When I examined this more I realized that these are all *preferences* not divinely instituted regulations (and most of them are in fact my mother’s preferences not even my own).
    I don’t know if this is your situation but I wanted to put it out there just in case. If it is your situation then I offer solidarity and would like you to know that working on this dynamic is incredibly freeing. Please be kind to yourself.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      This is a great comment and resonates with me a lot. I hope it helps the OP, too.

  156. Bowserkitty*

    Hah, this would not go over well in Japan! I used to have nightmares during study abroad that I had thrown everything in one bin.

    OP I respect what you’re doing but I agree with Alison. You will have to let it go. Is there any extra eco volunteering you could do in your community to maybe offset your anger?

  157. Cynthia*

    Please let this go. Recycling is much less important than we believed it was in the 80s when the push to recycle began. It’s not worth the time and trouble you’re taking, not to mention the emotional expenditure.

  158. London Calling*

    OP – you don’t want your children living in a garbage filled wasteland but you’re happy in inflict a garbage filled kitchen on your colleagues, and you’ve been doing this for two years, which is inconsistent, to put it mildly.

  159. Original Poster*

    Hi everyone, I’m the original poster of this question. I see judging by the comments here that most people who visit this site have a serious lack of empathy for other people and are in all likelihood the exact same type of person as the inconsiderate jerk at my office that I’ve spent the last 2 years cleaning up after. I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to know that I’ve been fully compliant with HR’s request not to continue cleaning up after this jerk, and that since then, I estimate probably around 50 pounds of recycling and compost has been dumped in our ever-growing landfills. I hope that all the negative commenters here can rest easy now knowing that our landfills are growing even more now.

    That being said, I’ve taken some of the feedback some of the commenters here have posted and begun looking for a new job. It’s clear that the company I work for doesn’t give a rodent’s behind about me and I’m basically just an expendable asset to them – a tool to be used and then thrown away. Since I’m actually a human being and not just some worthless disposable tool, I’m hoping I’ll find a company that actually treats me like what I actually am.

    I’m also in the process of researching the necessary steps to report my company’s non-compliance with our local recycling/compost code. I am hoping that Ill be able to get them fined for the amount of unnecessary waste they’re producing.

    Thanks for all the negative comments attacking me, implying I’m a violent psycho for cleaning after others and other assorted nastiness. I appreciate your help in further eroding my already nearly non-existent faith in humanity.

    Thanks everyone!

    1. Booklette*

      I understand that comment sections can be tough to read, even on this well-moderated blog. And I’m glad you’re looking for a new job. But you wrote into an advice blog; Alison as well as myriad commenters were respectful and compassionate; and I saw no one at all implying you were a “violent psycho” (plus, had they done so, they would have gotten pushback from other commenters for many reasons including the fact that stigmatizing mental-health language is discouraged here).

      In its lack of acknowledgement of the full range and nuance of the comments and your extreme interpretation of the criticism, your response again suggests the same thing many have (again, respectfully and compassionately) tried to say: the bitterness isn’t serving you well, and you seem to be letting this issue and/or a need to be right about it erode your better instincts and respect for others.

      Far from assuming the worst of you, I say that assuming the best: that you’re much more positive a person than your current self-presentation demonstrates. I’ve read all the comments, and I truly think the majority of people here are just urging you to find a more constructive strategy and mindset—ones that better showcase your gifts and make change consistent with your values—rather than questioning your sanity or soul!

    2. I heart Paul Buchman*

      Hi OP,
      I’m sorry that you feel attacked. I know that is a horrible feeling. It must be very difficult to find that so many people don’t agree with you when you feel so strongly about a situation. I think many of us have had the experience at some point of realizing that a strongly held belief/opinion isn’t shared by others and it can feel like a rejection of you rather than the belief or opinion. Please don’t feel that this is the case here. The commenters on the most part are telling you that they don’t agree with your perspective/and or your actions but this doesn’t mean that they reject your very humanity.

      I hope that you are able to find a position that supports you and your goals. Is a position in an environmental activitist organization worth striving for? It feels like that would be a great fit for you based on your passion. Maybe with time and distance from this situation, when you are in a better place career-wise you will be able to review these comments from a different perspective. Best of luck.

    3. nonegiven*

      You don’t have to be a violent psycho to be read as creepy or scary. Work at not being seen that way by coworkers.

      Most companies will see you as a resource, even if not a tool to be used. That’s what you are to them, so don’t be too much trouble by being seen as creepy or scary by coworkers.

      You can vote and write letters about recycling, once you are sure your jurisdiction recycles the things you think. Piling things on the bin lids doesn’t do anything but make the room nasty.

    4. Princess PIP*

      That trash would have been saved had you continued your mission WITHOUT the ridiculous behavior that was hell-bent on shaming instead of teaching.

      Your behavior made plain you cared more about shaming than the planet — that’s the most distressing part. If you REALLY cared about the place, you wouldn’t let something as petty as teaching someone a lesson distract you.

      Do better and drop the victim mentality.

    5. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I don’t think you’re a violent psycho at all. I think you’re a caring person who’s in a workplace that doesn’t share your values, and it’s making you unhappy. And I agree about your company – that seems to be the majority of workplaces, unfortunately. You deserve better and yes, our world deserves better. I think you can make a bigger difference to the world in another position. It’s clear you have a lot to offer. There are many people who feel the same way as you about the state of the world, and they could use your passion and skills. The world needs more people like you. Good luck and I hope things work out for you. I can understand if you’d rather not update us, but if you do, I’d definitely love to hear how you’re getting on.

    6. tootorboot*

      Reread what you yourself wrote:
      “I’m also pretty annoyed that someone actually went behind my back to whine to HR about what seems to me completely inoffensive and non-hostile behavior to get me in trouble instead of just confronting me directly like an adult. I find what they did to be incredibly petty and childish. I mean, really, over some garbage? If anyone should be offended, I think it should be me and all the other employees who have had to clean up after this person.”

      YOU did not follow your own advice and confront the person directly like an adult. You may not know who they were, but you followed the same petty, childish path this person did. Hypocrite.

      YOU should apologize to all the other employees who had to clean up after YOU when YOU made a mess around the bins with your sorting-but-not-refiling actions.

      There were so many more positive, helpful, INFORMATIVE ways you could have gone about getting your message across, and you chose the most self-righteous, condescending path you could think of because that’s the kind of character you choose to invest in within yourself.

      I think the bins aren’t the only containers filled with garbage.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Attacking the OP is against the rules and isn’t productive in the least.

  160. nonegiven*

    That butthole put that stuff in the trash on purpose. They complained about you for the same reason, they’re a butthole.

  161. Newbee*

    OP – Wow, just wow.

    You’re are completely ignoring two pieces of advice here. 1) “I’m also in the process of researching the necessary steps to report my company’s non-compliance with our local recycling/compost code” The key advice here is “LET IT GO”. If you are truly miserable in your current role, focus time and positive energy on finding a new one and don’t look for ways to punish your current employee.
    2) HR and your manager informed you that ” An anonymous complainant claimed that they felt “offended” by my actions, and that they were now “scared” to use the kitchen because of me” Sorry, Dude, your snarky-ness in your comment further drives this point home.

    Get rid of the bitterness now, otherwise you will have a tough time finding a new job!

    1. Non-recycling environmentalist*

      I second that, and may I add
      3) recycling is largely facade; in many municipalities all trash ends up on the landfill anyway for reasons I and another poster gave above.

      If you follow this cause and put more into that than into your actual job and relationship with your colleagues, I’m afraid you will deeply disappointed again. And you may in fact find when, when researching further and tracing the trash, that even your recycling war was in vain from a recycling perspective

  162. NEWBIEMD19*

    I can’t help but wonder, though, why the anonymous coworker(s) is/are so dead set against composting and recycling. It’s really not that big a deal, right?

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I know, right? I really wonder about people like that as well – the bins are right there, the process is made as simple as possible, and yet they just don’t care. It’s really bizarre to me, but some people just don’t care.

    2. London Calling*

      For the same reason people chuck litter on the ground when a bin is four feet away – because they can’t be bothered to make any sort of effort, not even walking four feet.

  163. Hiya*

    I worked in an office where we had recycling. My boss refused to do it. I even offered to put a box next to her desk for recycling and I would take it down to the bin. Nope. She literally couldn’t be bothered to move her hand 6 inches. Said she was “too old to change habits”. She was maybe 45. Sigh I just had to get over it. Though sometimes I’d pick some out when she wasn’t looking lol

  164. Lisa Large*

    OP your anger is being misdirected at this annoying coworker. You have implied the company is using you as ‘slave’ labor and your wage is below what is standard – this is why you are angry! Concern yourself with your own issues and your life feel much less angry. The annoying coworker is a jerk, but you will find that daily in life, it is how YOU respond!

  165. CM*

    FWIW people differ greatly in terms of how much they see cleanliness and rule-following as moral issues. I’m at the end of the spectrum where I don’t see them as moral considerations at all, and I’ve often come into conflict with people on the other side, including ones who have literally gone through my trash and sent it back to me, like this.

    I can unwderstand how, from the coworkers’ POV they might have now lost reasonable enjoyment of the kitchen because the OP is trying to shame them about their garbage. From my perspective, that kind of thing seems needlessly hostile and weird, because putting trash in the wrong container doesn’t hurt anyone.

    However. From the other side’s POV, it can still be wrong to be untidy or to break rules even if it doesn’t hurt anyone. So me saying, “It didn’t hurt anything for me to put my soda can in the wrong bin, but it hurts me for you to harass me about it” won’t convince them, because whether someone gets hurt isn’t the only moral value they’re attending to.

    TL;DR Part of what’s happening is that there’s a difference in the criteria individual people are using to decide if something is wrong, and the OP is outraged bc no one seems to care that the coworkers are doing something wrong from their POV. There isn’t an easy solution because this is a fundamental disagreement about how to make moral evaluations that isn’t going to go away.

  166. Diana*

    So people realize that this is probably something Bigger Than The Recycling and reach for the idea that it’s tied to her salary, which OP barely mentioned. I find it baffling that almost none of the comments here are connecting her irrational behavior to feeling powerless…about the environment. I think OP should be in therapy to deal with her climate grief, which is real and fucking hard. Without endorsing OP’s behavior it’s not hard for me to see someone acting out in unproductive ways and in self-sabotaging behavior becauE they’re going through something. The planet is dying. There’s nothing most individuals can do about it. If OP is under 40 they’re going to live long enough to spend their final years in an incomprehensible chaos. Of course they’re latching on to the recycling bin as though their life depended on it. It may feel like it DOES. Get thee to a therapist who has dealt with climate grief before, and start trying to channel these feelings into a meaningful way to survive and thrive. Good luck, OP.

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