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Healthy Schools - Recycling Program

photo of blue recycling bin demonstration to students

Why is a school recycling program important?

Every school accumulates massive amounts of waste each year that consist of paper, e-waste and organics. Recycle Now estimates that each secondary school student generates 48 pounds of waste each year.  Developing a recycling program at your school will engage students and faculty as well as influence community behavior. Successful recycling programs always have a champion that leads program success and creates a positive atmosphere for environmental change.

Every school recycling program should include the 4 rules for waste reduction:

reduce – be aware of packaging, consume less, and throw away less,

reuse – repair, donate, and sell items no longer needed,

recycle – prevent items that can replace raw materials from being thrown away and

buy recycled – purchase products that are made from recycled materials. 

Following these four rules will lead to a successful recycling program.

Recycling Program Tips

  • Educate teachers and students.  Complete a waste audit to assess recycle needs and design your program to address those needs. Perform training so participants know what can and cannot be recycled.
  • Make it fun. Create recycling teams or an after-school recycling club including faculty and parents. The teams and club can organize events that encourage making recycling fun.
  • Include the recycling program in school newsletters and bulletins. Most schools have a newsletter for faculty and students. Spread the word about recycling there. Track the amount you’re recycling and report it. This will maximize the program’s impact.
  • Make recycling bins visible and easy to use. Proper placement of recycling bins and signage are crucial. Place the recycling bins before the trash cans but make sure a trash container is available to prevent the recyclables from being contaminated. Check out some clean signage you can download here. Co-locate recycling bins with trash cans, which can increase recycling and decrease contaminating recyclables with non-recyclables.
  • Include janitorial/housekeeping services. Work closely with the janitorial staff to maximize the recycling effort. Recycling may already be a part of the janitorial contract and can be enhanced by a student recycling program. The janitorial/housekeeping staff can help with data collection of the recycling program.
  • Grants may be available.  Recycling grants may be available for schools or youth programs.  These grants may help fund items such as recycling bins, signs and literature for educating the students and public about the benefits of recycling.
example of four different recycling containers

What are resources for next steps?

The EPA’s School Recycling Handbook for Educators describes a number of school recycling program options as well as how to set these options up. It focuses on implementing recycling projects as a way of teaching the importance and benefits of recycling.

The EPA also has a webpage that shows how reducing, reusing, and recycling can help you, your community, and the environment by saving money, energy, and natural resources. On this webpage, you can find information on recycling in your community, if you aren’t ready to take the plunge into a school wide program!

Find examples of school recycling programs and education/curricula about recycling here.

Check out Clean River Recycling Solutions’ 5 steps to implementing a successful school recycling program here.  This article discusses how to build support, create Green Team, find appropriate recycling containers, etc.