Take Action: Recycling at School

Setting Up Recycling Programs at School

An effective school recycling program can engage your students, save your school money, and conserve valuable resources. To make reducing, reusing and recycling successful at your school, consider these steps:

1. Get the green light on your green efforts
The first step is to get the administration’s approval and support for your recycling and other green efforts. Any successful program requires support from the top, so getting your principal and administrators involved is important.

2. Go team!
Consider putting together a green team or eco club to oversee your school’s recycling and other green efforts. Team/club members could include students, teachers, staff and parents. Make sure building custodial services are involved when it comes to managing recycling and waste diversion. Designate a coordinator: someone with enthusiasm who will take the lead. And the group doesn't have to just address recycling – it can be tasked with addressing all sorts of green programs and policies.

3. Conduct a waste audit
A waste audit is an inventory of the amount and types of materials being thrown away in your school. Among the questions students can ask during a waste audit:

  • Where is waste being generated?
  • What type of waste is it?
  • What activities or practices produce the waste?
  • How is it dealt with or collected (trash cans, recycling bins, etc.)?
  • Where does it go?
  • What materials make up the largest parts of our school’s waste stream?

By examining where your school waste comes from, you can build a better program that addresses not only recycling but waste reduction, reuse, composting and green purchasing practices.

While anyone can perform a waste audit, sometimes helps to use a model that’s already been developed. Search the Web for “school waste audit” to find a model that works for you.

4. Collection perfection
Now that you know what your school is throwing away, you need to figure out how to haul the materials away. A couple of ways to go about doing this:

  • Discuss collection with your waste hauler. Does your current trash company collect recyclables? If so, ask them how you can make arrangements for your school. If your waste hauler does not handle recycling, search RecycleSpot for local providers. Some questions to ask vendors when setting up collection agreements:
    • What specific items do you accept for recycling?
    • What size and how many dumpsters do you place on-site?
    • What's your pick-up schedule?
    • What types of contracts do you offer and what are the prices?
    • Do you offer rebates? How does that work?
    • We need reports on the amounts recycled, how often do you send those?
    • Do you offer any educational materials?
  • Determine how materials will be collected in your school. Meet with the recycling service provider, custodial crew and office staff to figure out logistics of gathering recyclables. A few possible school setup considerations:
    • Get in with the bins. "Buddy up" your recycling bins with trash cans to make sure all students, teachers, and staff have access to recycling. Provide durable recycling containers to each classroom or ask them to use copy paper boxes. Put large recycling bins in central locations like copy rooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums, break rooms, etc., where a lot of recyclables are generated. Place bins next to printers, fax machines and other equipment that generate paper.
    • Collection responsibility: Create a regular schedule and determine who will pick up recycling from the small and central bins. It may be staff, janitorial crew, students or some combination of the three.

5. Communicate and educate
Ready to roll out your new recycling program? Share information and procedures with your entire school to make sure everyone knows the proper place for the proper waste. Some key ways to spread the word:

  • Make sure bins are clearly labeled with details about what does and doesn't go in them.
  • Promote the program internally using flyers, posters, website, email, social media, announcements, staff/faculty meetings, and all-school events. Provide an introductory overview of services in clear, easy-to-understand terms.
  • Request a speaker to come visit your organization and discuss waste reduction, reuse or recycling.

6. Keep tabs on your program
A healthy recycling program needs attention to make sure things are going according to plan. Checking in on things now and then is a good way to ensure that the system is working and that people are using it. Some follow-up tips:

  • Identify a point person to handle tasks such as answering questions, managing the green team/club, and providing program oversight.
  • Have your green team/club meet regularly to evaluate your recycling program's progress. A successful program will continue to grow in amount of materials recycled. Another waste audit can help show how much waste diversion is taking place, and your waste hauler might be able to provide reports about how much material your school recycles or disposes of.
  • Stay in contact with students, teachers, staff and parents. Update them regularly on the program's progress. Send out periodic waste reduction, reuse and recycling tips and reminders. Train new employees about the recycling program. Acknowledge people for changing their habits. Seek suggestions from students, teachers, staff and parents about ways to improve the program.
  • Promote your successes. Be sure to tout the benefits of the new system — share information such as amount of materials recycled vs. thrown away, money saved on supplies or waste fees, etc.

7. The recycling bin and beyond
Now that your school is a recycling pro, keep an eye out for other opportunities to reduce waste at the source or promote sustainable habits.