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DIY Recycling Bins

Effective recycling systems at schools depend on a variety of bins to allow students to separate trash from recyclable and compostable materials. Unfortunately, new recycling bins can be expensive, and the cost really adds up when schools hope to place bins in every classroom, hallway and public space on campus. In the spirit of reuse, schools can meet the challenge of setting up recycling by creating DIY (Do It Yourself) bins.

Take a look at the examples below for inspiration to:



Converted Trash Cans + Colored Duct TapeConverted Trash Cans + Colored Duct TapeNancy Deming worked with schools across Oakland to convert trash cans to recycling and foodscrap bins.  Her secret weapon?  Colored duct tape and laminated signs. "Having a uniform color scheme was really important to us.  We wanted students to immediately recognize bin types," explains Deming. "We're working hard to create bin labels showing what to do with items that students actually encounter on campus."  Deming uses black duct tape to indicate "Landfill" bins, blue to indicate "Recycling" and green to indicate "Food Scraps."  The colors on the bins at school are the same as the colors on the bins at homes, businesses, and apartments across Oakland.


Converted Cardboard Box + Blue PaperConverted Cardboard Box + Blue Paper

When Winton Middle School in Hayward installed a new computer lab, students were very excited about the computers.  Afterschool coordinator, Sean O'Dowd, was excited about the trash.  "We'd been trying to set up a recycling system on campus, but we didn't have bins.  Teachers in different classrooms were patching together a system of mis-matched boxes, buckets and bins.  It was a mess," says O'Dowd.  "When I saw 35 of the same sized computer boxes headed for the trash, I jumped in and snatched them up."  Students covered the boxes in blue craft paper and developed recycling logos for a system having a consistent look across the campus.  "The boxes worked great- we saw an immediate increase in the amount of paper getting diverted," reports O'Dowd. True to his reuse roots, O'Dowd also found a way to use the styrofoam packing materials for an art and sculpture lesson where students learned to "carve" styrofoam blocks into artwork.

Handmade Station Headed to Paint ShopHandmade Station Headed to Paint ShopLivermore High has wall to wall recycling available on campus.  Nearly every indoor and outdoor trash can is paired with a recycling bin or diversion station.  As the campus looks to establish recycling stations in the last corners of the campus - such as the gym - the school is discovering that there simply aren't vendors for the special uses of the last few bins.  "In the gym, we need bins that can roll out of the way depending on how the gym is configured for basketball, volleyball, or dances," explains student athlete Brooke Betts, "So, I helped write a grant to get materials to build bins here on campus."  Betts worked with teachers and students in the school's Green Engineering Academy.  Students in the CAD (Computer Aided Design) class developed blue prints that went over to the Wood Shop Class for construction.  Students are also custom building diversion stations for classrooms that have a thinner profile than those in outdoor spaces.  Teacher Stephen Bailey also regularly engages Eagle Scout candidates for projects on campus.  In one recent project, a scout converted all of the sorting stations near the cafeteria to handle food scrap diversion.

Bins for recycling systems can be created from reused cardboard boxes or repurposed trash cans or five gallon paint buckets. When creating a system from repurposed materials, keep the following points in mind:

  • Create a consistent system. ·Bins across campus should have the same shapes, sizes, placement, colors and signage so that students don't have to learn a new system in every room on campus.
  • Develop a professional appearance. As much as possible, use color coding and clear, easy to read signs. ·Maintain and replace bins as necessary to keep the system looking fresh.
  • Use bins appropriate to the material you are collecting- unlined cardboard boxes won't last long when confronted with juice, water and soda. ·Consider using clear liner bags to extend the life (and ease the maintenance) of your system

There are a variety of grants that support schools in the purchase of bins, toters and other materials to run a recycling system on campus, but the lessons learned from setting up DIY bins will help you select the best bins for purchase should you win a grant.

Do you have a great idea for DIY recycling bins?  Login to add it to the comments below.