Guide to Recycling for Schools– How to Initiate And Implement a Waste Reduction Program

Imagine if we had to carry a trail of all things we have ever thrown away--we would barely be able to take a step. According to, New York City alone “throws away 400,000 tons of recyclable paper, that’s enough to fill the entire Empire State Building.” Moreover, an average American produces about 4.43 pounds of waste every day, of which less than a quarter is recycled. The municipal solid waste generated includes waste produced from households, hotels, offices, stores, schools and other institutions. Of the places that generate waste, schools and offices are the two which communally generate and dispose of and recycle waste.

Schools accrue significant amounts of municipal solid waste. The waste can consist of food waste, plastic, glass, white and mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, magazines and journals, or newspapers. Other forms of hazardous waste from schools include batteries, expired medicines, hardware such as computers, laptops, printers and more.

How can schools initiate a Waste ReductionProgram:

Keeping in mind the motto to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Buy Recycled", any school can initiate and effectively implement a waste reduction program and reduce waste generation significantly. Since waste is generated communally in school, it should be reduced using the collective efforts of the staff and students. School officials have an important role to play here as they have an opportunity to influence many lives around them. Teaching the importance of waste reduction can help students make wise decisions in their personal lives as well.

What constitutes a Waste Reduction Program?

Any waste reduction program fundamentally depends on four rules. School faculty should first learn and then educate their students of these four rules of waste reduction,as specified by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

A Waste Reduction Program depends oneachstate’s recycling policies.

Another important thing to remember before schools begin the program is that no two waste reduction programs are the same and school officials should practice what is best for their respective schools while adhering to relevant policies. These policies will depend on the state your school is in. For instance,public and private schools, and any other educational institutions in the state of New York,are required to recycle materials accumulated in their local recycling program. According to the Solid Waste Management Act of 1988, “Schools must recycle right along with other municipal agencies, residents, and businesses.” It is also a good idea to check the kind of waste your municipality recycles. New York, for instance, has sufficient provisions to recycle paper, but does not recycle all kinds of plastic. “Plastic bottles and jugs (no caps) are the only plastics accepted in NYC’s recycling program” as per

Steps to follow to implement a waste reduction program:

  • Organize Your Team:
    A successful waste reduction program requires organizing a team that can help the school plan and design the program and contribute towards maintaining the program’s standards. A team could include teachers, students, administrators, parents/custodians and other volunteers.Each of the team members can take responsibility for different parts of the program. For example, an administrator or a custodian member should act as a liaison between the schools and local government to ensure compliance with relevant recycling laws.

    The size of the team will also depend on the size of the school. A smaller school can have a small team with fewer members who can take on multiple responsibilities.
  • Identify Waste You Want to Work On:
    Conducting a waste assessment is the next step in a waste reduction program. Assessing waste generated in a school involves identifying the types of waste produced. Schools typically generate waste in the form of white paper, mixed paper, journals and magazines, newspapers and corrugated cardboard among other types of wastes such as plastics (HDPE and PET), food, steel and aluminum cans, furniture, construction and demolition waste. Although the last three productsmay not be sources of chronicwaste, recycling measures should be taken nonetheless. Touring school grounds and conducting walkthrough assessments of a cafeteria or workshopenables facility regulators to examine type and quantity of waste produced.

    Knowing the kind of waste produced and steps taken for its removal will help you plan your recycling program, set up points of collection, and the size of containers required to collect different wastes. Purchase invoices or existing recycling recordswill help you understand waste generation and disposal patterns.
  • Evaluate Options:
    Before you begin reducing and recycling waste that you’ve identified, you need to first set the goals for your program and the capacity within which you can work. The steps to take here would include identifying materials your program should focus on. Understanding local ordinances regarding waste reduction will help you know the dos and don’ts of collecting, storing, and recycling waste. Check in with school administrators, building superintendents and fire marshals to determine the scope within which you need to work. For instance, the amount of waste or the location where it is stored may cause a fire hazard and therefore it is best to consult with fire marshals before beginning the program.

    Consider where materials should be collected and stored. How many and what sized containers should you keep to store waste? Do you need different containers for different materials? Where should you place them? Will you employ resources from within the school to pick up the waste and transport it to local recycling centers? Or will you outsource help? These are important questions to answer during the process.

    Other factors need to be considered. For example, if there is enough space to store collected materials,or if the resources to regularly collect the material and transport it to storage area are available, how and when will this transportation take place? For instance, transporting aluminum tin waste to a school’s storage facility during a lunch break is a bad idea as students might then dump metal with plastic or food, in the absence of containers meant for tins. This would require additional efforts to separate metal from other wastes.
  • Maintain a budget and raise funds for your program:
    Calculate the potential incurred cost to run the program. These costs may arise from within the school or outside. These costs may include supplies and equipment needed to collect and store materials, transportation of materials, storage space (owned, constructed or rented), insurance, or wages/salaries.

    You can raise funds for your program by talking to your school administration to see if the budget for your program can be increased. Alternate measures include a community yard sale selling items made out of waste materials or old electronics, asking third parties to contribute to your program, or advertise it.
  • Participation:
    Any successful program thrives on active participation, and participation involves educating everyone around you about your program. If you expect people to be involved in a waste reduction program, you need to tell them why are you doing this and how will it help everyone, including your audience. Distributing literature through flyers, letters (made out of recyclable paper of course!), or e-mailing parents and group members will educate them about your program and what you intend to achieve.

    Students should be involved here by encouraging them to participate through the means of classroom teaching and/or extra-curricular activities. Active participation of students at a young age will instill in them a sense of responsibility towards the environment. This sense of responsibility will soon become a habit as students advance to higher grades. Forming clubs, holding contests,and giving timely rewards are some ways in which your waste reduction program can have a wider outreach and encourage further participation.

Additional Steps to Take to Recycle in Schools:

Where? What? Sign to be Used
In Classrooms & Admin Offices Keep two bins to separate paper and corrugated cardboard. Use clear bags to line bins and never use black bags for recycling. Label the bins clearly. Text signs or signs or labels with graphics can be used to inform others about proper disposal of trash. For example, the sign below shows how boxes should be discarded.
In Common Areas, Cafeteria, Teacher's Lounge Plastics (milk cartons or jugs), glass, metal & foil can be discarded in separate bins or together when labeled as such.
Near Water Coolers, Restrooms Prevent wastage of water, mixing hazardous chemicals in drains, and detecting leaks.