StopWaste at School


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Setting Up A School Recycling System

Recycling Bin at Muir Middle SchoolRecycling Bin at Muir Middle SchoolA recycling system at school should be viewed as an important and highly visible part of a larger initiative to reduce waste on campus and in the community. Knowledge of the 4Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot) can help schools design an overall waste reduction strategy focused on minimizing materials sent to landfill.

Materials headed to landfill are called "waste" for a reason- they represent lost energy, spent money, and, often, a failure of imagination or will resulting in things being buried underground.  Understanding what is in the waste stream can help schools:

  • identify opportunities to reduce the consumption of disposable, hard to recycle items, 
  • find reusable items that are occasionally discarded such as books, school supplies, and clothing
  • design a recycling system that meets school needs
  • explore composting and food scrap diversion

The tools here will help you plan and implement a recycling system at your school. Use the menu in the side bar to the right to navigate these steps:

  1. Audit Your Waste
  2. Interview Stakeholders
  3. Design Your System
  4. Select Your Bins
  5. Educate Your Community
  6. Expand Beyond the Classroom
  7. Maintain Your Efforts
  8. Share Your Story
  9. Move Beyond Recycling

Why Recycle? (From StopWaste.Org's School Recycling Guide )

School recycling programs benefit the environment, have the potential to save money, and provide a great opportunity for students to learn about the environmental impacts of our waste and the importance of waste reduction. When starting a new recycling program at your school you must work with a variety of stakeholders, and you may have to convince some of them that this program is important. Here are some basic reasons why school recycling programs are important:

School Recycling Programs Help Preserve Our Natural Environment

Our garbage consumes land, depletes natural resources, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, impacts ecosystems and poses threats to our health, water, and climate. School recycling programs help to:

  • Preserve natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals: Recycling 1 ton of paper saves 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 2 barrels of oil, and 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity (WM).
  • Conserve energy: Recycling one aluminum can saves 95% of the energy it takes to make it from raw materials. It saves enough energy to burn a 100-watt light bulb for nearly four hours or run a television for three hours (CalRecycle).
  • Keep valuable resources out of landfills and use them to make new products: Recycling a ton of plastic water bottles can save 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space. Recycled plastic water bottles can be used to make many new products, such as carpet, fabric for T-shirts, shoes, sweaters and coats, luggage, fiberfill for sleeping bags and even toys. Aluminum cans can be recycled into new soda and beverage containers, pie plates, thumbtacks, aluminum foil, bicycles, and license plates (CalRecycle).
  • Reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions: Landfills are poor use of land, have the potential to pollute the air and contaminate groundwater, and produce powerful greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere and change our climate.  For every 10 pounds of aluminum you recycle, you eliminate 37 pounds of carbon emissions from the air (CalRecycle).
  • Protect wildlife habitats: Large landfills displace native wildlife. Recycling aluminum helps protect the environment. Aluminum comes from a mineral called bauxite, a material whose mining is toxic and destroys surrounding environments. Since bauxite forms around the Earth's equatorial regions, most active bauxite mines are in or near rain forests. These natural habitats are destroyed in the mining process.

School Recycling Programs Provide Opportunities for Environmental Education and Student Engagement

  • Students learn science and social studies concepts while practicing environmental stewardship. For example, student-conducted waste audits are a great way to teach practical, hands-on math and science skills.
  • Students learn how they can personally make a difference by taking positive actions for the environment.
  • Activities such as bin monitoring, waste audits, and peer-to-peer trainings all provide opportunities for student engagement and leadership experience.
  • Instituting a recycling program can boost school pride and initiate a sense of community.
  • Students who begin recycling habits early in life carry them into adulthood. They also bring these concepts home to their families.

School Recycling Programs Provide Potential Financial Benefits

  • Depending on your local hauler, franchise agreement, and rate structure, your school may have the opportunity to realize great cost savings. In many places, recycling and green waste collection services are subsidized. When you reduce your trash volume by placing more items in the recycling and/or green waste, you might be able to reduce your garbage bill. We recommend conducting a cost benefit analysis of the new program before it begins.
  • School districts that see significant savings from recycling programs may incentivize individual schools to start recycling.
  • Many school clubs collect CRV containers to raise money. Some do school-wide can drives encouraging students to contribute recyclable materials from home, while others collect recycling from classrooms.