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Helpful Guide to Recycling Waste at School

Schools often produce tremendous amounts of waste with instructional materials, used electronics, and food. One estimate is that 24% of school waste is recyclable paper and 50% is food waste and non-recyclable paper that can be composted. But teachers and students can work collaboratively to reduce the amount of waste produced.

Getting students and teachers involved in recycling at school is good for the environment, educational and can be a lot of fun. Educating our children about the importance of recycling provides the country with a path to a greener future. As children learn about recycling, they will be more likely to carry these habits into their adult years. They also will learn how their personal actions can affect the future.

In this guide, we explore how to establish a recycling program at school and what that program could look like.

#1 Choose What To Recycle

First, administrators, faculty and students need to work together on recycling teams to decide how the school will move forward with its recycling program. Students can get involved with analyzing the types and amounts of refuse the school is producing. Sorting and recording what is being thrown away is an important first step to determine what the school is throwing out.

After seeing what exactly is being thrown away, you can set your school’s goals for recycling. You should identify the materials that can be recycled and determine how to collect them.

There are several types of recycling programs you can establish at your school. Below are the most common types of materials that can be recycled:

Paper Recycling

Paper is the major type of waste that schools create, typically comprising at least 25% of school waste. Most types of paper can be recycled. This includes:

  • Copy paper
  • Computer paper
  • Notebook paper
  • School letterhead
  • Colored paper
  • File folders
  • Paper grocery bags

When schools separate their paper from their other trash, the amount of waste that is sent to landfills can be dramatically reduced.

Metal recycling

Metal recycling is a good choice for schools who have vending machines that sell cans of soda etc.

Electronics recycling

From printer ink cartridges, to computers, to monitors, schools can recycle old electronics that would otherwise be tossed in landfills and pollute the environment. Electronic waste is some of the most toxic out there. Your school can go a long way towards helping the environment with an e-waste recycling program.

The school’s admin staff can get involved with this program by donating old computers, printers and monitors to Goodwill and other organizations that accept them.

Plastic recycling

From cups to plastic forks and spoons to food packaging, you school produces a lot of plastic waste that can be recycled. Much recycling and waste reduction can be done with plastics and other materials in the cafeteria. Schools can set up new policies to reduce trash created in the cafeteria.


Schools can work with their cafeterias to establish a composting program so that food waste is put in composters in the back of the school. Food waste, coffee granules, fruit and vegetable cuttings etc. can be put in the composter and kept away from landfills.

#2 Choose How to Recycle

Once you have determined what your school is going to recycle, you need to establish a program to enact your recycling goals. Below are some ideas for various types of recycling programs.


Establish a program for recycling paper in every classroom. Each room used for student activities should have trash bins for paper waste and regular waste. To work most efficiently, these bins should be different colors so it is easy to tell the difference between them. Both containers should be labeled clearly as trash or paper only.

Paper recycling bins also should be placed throughout the school, including in the hallways, cafeteria and restrooms.

Plastics, Food Waste and Paper in Cafeteria

Setting up recycling containers in the cafeteria can be very effective for recycling many types of materials, paper and plastic being the most significant. Bins can be placed for recycling food containers, plastic bottles, juice boxes, plastics, waste paper, etc.

Also, trash cans can be set out for food waste only that cafeteria staff can place into composters in the rear of the school.


Recycling bins should be placed next to vending machines that sell cans of soda and other drinks in aluminum containers. These bins also should be placed strategically next to trash cans throughout the school. By making the hole in the container the size and shape of an aluminum can, you can ensure that only aluminum cans go in these containers.

16 Ways To Recycle and Cut Waste at School

Now that you have some concrete ideas on how to set up recycling programs at your school, we wanted to give you some other ideas to encourage recycling and waste reduction at your school. Try these ideas with teachers and students:

  1. Route school memos electronically and do not print them out
  2. Reuse office and classroom supplies when possible rather than buying new
  3. Hold recycling contests between classrooms or grades to see who can collect the most recyclable materials in a week
  4. Use the front and back of copy paper for class assignments, then recycle it
  5. Encourage students to use recycled materials in their art projects, from water bottles to paper to beads.
  6. Keep a scrap paper box in every classroom
  7. Put a printer ink recycle bin in each classroom. You can collect these and turn them in for money at various businesses, which can be used to fund school activities
  8. Establish a recycling club that encourages recycling throughout the school.
  9. Post assignments and documents online rather than printing them
  10. Use old magazines for art projects
  11. Minimize the number of handouts used in classes, and recycle any that are used
  12. Encourage the cafeteria to buy food in bulk which reduces paper and plastic waste
  13. Donate any edible food to shelters in your town
  14. Encourage students to bring their lunch from home in reusable containers
  15. Use air dryers in bathrooms rather than paper towels
  16. Encourage students to bring junk mail from home and place in recycle bins

Recycling at School Recap

We hope that you have learned some solid ideas to grow a recycling program at your school. If you think we missed any good recycling ideas, please share them in the comment section.

Learn more about recycling in general and implementing recycling programs in schools by visiting these resources:

Douglas Lober

Author: Douglas Lober

Written and edited by Douglas Lober, Owner at RTB is one of the original U.S grown suppliers of eco-friendly wholesale reusable bags. For any and all questions related to his articles, please contact him online.

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