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| Updated: September 30, 2020


Education News: Improve your school’s recycling program and increase participation


According to the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO), schools generate a significant amount of waste. What’s most often wasted varies from district to district, but the National Wildlife Federation estimates that paper accounts for upwards of 60 percent of school waste. Food waste is another big culprit; in fact, RCO has found that the average student’s lunch produces 30 kg of waste each year—and the average elementary school produces 8,500 kg of food packaging-related waste each year.

We can all do a little more to reduce, reuse and recycle both at home and at school. This e-newsletter offers simple steps you can take to improve your school’s recycling program and gain buy-in from students, teachers and support staff.

  • Step one—Assemble a team: Create a team of students, teachers and other staff to spearhead your efforts. Your team can get started by researching the types of recycling available in your area, then evaluating your school’s current recycling efforts. Armed with this information, your team can begin conducting a waste audit.
  • Step two—Conduct a waste audit: Ask your team to survey classrooms, school grounds, teachers’ lounges, cafeterias and any other place waste is generated. This may be a great time to enlist those not on your team for help. Waste should be broken down into types (e.g. paper, aluminum cans, bottles, food) so you know which recycling programs are needed most and in which locations.
  • Step three—Implement and kick off your program: The waste audit will help drive your program and its goals. Once everything is in place, kick off the program with a promotion that reveals your plans to the entire school. Posters or banners (made out of recycled or scrap materials) that outline important recycling information, such as what can be recycled and where, should be hung in high-visibility areas. Morning announcements or school radio public-service announcements (PSAs) can help broadcast your new-and-improved efforts. Post important program details online, and then imprint your website’s URL on a recycled magnet to be placed on student lockers and in staff mailboxes.
  • Step four—Hold a contest: Task your green team with holding compliance contests. Rewards can be issued for departments, classrooms, grade levels or even individuals who are meeting or exceeding your new recycling requirements. A school logo’d tote made of recycled felt or a recycled pen/highlighter combo makes a useful, ecologically responsible prize.

You could even hold a contest or challenge to generate new ideas. Sign your school up for the Waste-Free Lunch Challenge, which encourages students to ditch disposable packaging and embrace reusable containers at lunchtime. Or challenge your student body or staff to come up with novel ideas to reduce waste or reuse what you’ve got. You never know what types of ideas may come in. For instance, Artesia, Calif. teacher Fran Delaney Barron, after seeing how much lunch food was going to waste, developed a sharing table where good, untouched food could be placed for others to take. She also later implemented a similar concept for school supplies where, at the end of the year, leftover supplies were collected and distributed for use by students and classrooms the following year.

  • Step five—Live it: There’s nothing worse than not practicing what you preach. In order to gain buy-in, be sure your school is contributing to cutting its own wasteful practices. For instance, provide syllabi or other classroom materials on USB drives or online instead of on paper. And provide staff and students with reusable snack and lunch bags or water bottles in exchange for promises to quit using the throw-away versions.

Remember, every little bit helps. The more we can do to reduce, reuse and recycle, the better. Let’s all do our part to shape our students’ futures by making sure there’s a healthy planet waiting for them when they’re older.

“Waste-Free Lunch Challenge Teacher’s Planning Guide.” Recycling Council of Ontario (n.d.): Web. Retrieved 21 July 2015.

Facts About Consumption and Waste.” Nwf.org. National Wildlife Federation, n.d. Web. Retrieved 30 June 2015.

How to Improve Your School Recycling Program.” (1999): n. pag. Syracusecoe.org. Web. Retrieved 30 June 2015.

Greening at the Grass Roots School Recycling.” (n.d.): n. pag. American Federation of Teachers. Web. Retrieved 30 June 2015.



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