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Student-Run Recycling Program How-to Guide

American High Students Crush Recyclables at the "Sort Station"American High Students Crush Recyclables at the "Sort Station"

American High School has a program that collects all classrooms’ recycling once a week. Water bottles, glass bottles, #2 plastics, and aluminum cans are separated and cashed in at a recycling center to gain funds for the program. Here's a description of their program written as a replicable "how-to" guide to help other schools set up simial programs. Thanks to Kathryn Tarver, a junior at American, for writing and sharing this resource!

Required and Recommended Supplies:

  • At least 2 types of recycling bins
  • Large plastic bags (ideally clear)
  • Thin plastic gloves
  • Labels for bins
  • Paper for sign-in sheets

How American’s system works:

Before the school year begins, recycling captains ask teachers what type(s) of recycling bins they want for their classrooms. Each bin is labeled by room number and the type of recyclable material it will hold (such as paper or bottles and cans); these bins are delivered to teachers a few days before school starts.

Students interested in recycling submit their names and fourth period teachers’ names to a spreadsheet.

Recycling captains compile a list of these students; the list is sent out to teachers so that teachers know which students to excuse.

Recycling captains select reliable, experienced recyclers (usually other club officers) to be Wing Monitors.

On Thursdays during Read Period, all recyclers meet in a central location. One recycling captain makes announcements while Wing Monitors pick up their assignments from the central table.

An assignment is a sheet of cardstock with an area of the school written on it; clipped to the cardstock is a piece of paper with spaces for the names of the Monitor and recyclers who sign up to help them.

Just before the recyclers meet, an announcement is made over the PA system reminding teachers and staff to set their recycling bins outside their classrooms.

Assembled recyclers are split into the pre-assigned A Team and B Team. One team is sent to Sort, and the other remains to Collect. (AHS has people with first names A-K on A Team, and first names L-Z on B Team. This is the easiest system because the Sort sign-in sheet is organized by first name.)

Physically separate A Team and B Team before announcing which will Collect and which will Sort maximizes the number of people at Sort; otherwise, most people want to Collect and choose to ignore the A/B Team system.

At Collect, 8-10 recyclers sign up with each Wing Monitor and follow that Monitor to their assigned area. The Monitor quietly directs their recyclers in consolidating the contents of the recycling bins and then sends recyclers with full bins to Sort or to the recycling dumpster, with orders to check back in with the Monitor afterward.

The contents of many bins are dumped into a single large bin to minimize the number of trips recyclers have to make to Sort and/or the dumpster.

Having recyclers sign back in with their Monitors minimizes the number of off-task students and bins that aren't returned to their classrooms.

After finishing their Collect assignments, students are told to attend Sort or go back to their classrooms.

Bottles and cans are brought to Sort, while other recyclables (primarily paper) are brought to the recycling dumpster at the back of the school, where one officer records how much recycling goes into the dumpster and pre-assigned Dumpers are in charge of emptying the heavy bins into the tall recycling dumpster.

The data taken by the recording officer demonstrates how much waste the school is diverting; this is useful in grant applications.

The Dumpers have the hardest job and therefore are often given gift cards and other thank-you presents by the recycling captains.

Outside, Sort Team has already set up, having arrived early.

Different colored bins have been set up, each labeled with the material that should be deposited in it.

The most effective setup that AHS has devised is modeled in Figure 1.The most effective setup that AHS has devised is modeled in Figure 1.


These bins are stored in the shed, along with most other recycling materials.

At Sort, recyclers sign in with an officer, take ONE glove from the provided box of gloves, and begin crushing and sorting the bottles and cans that officers are tossing onto the ground from delivered bags of bottles and cans.

A sample sign-in sheet is shown in Figure 2.A sample sign-in sheet is shown in Figure 2.

Each recycler only takes one glove to minimize waste; unscrewing caps is practically the only activity requiring two hands, and a recycler can ask a friend to unscrew the bottle they’re holding.

Rather than dumping bags of collected bottles onto the ground, officers pull only the bottles and cans from the bags. Since there will inevitably be trash in the recycling cans around the school, this system prevents the trash from being emptied onto the ground and blowing away.

Each time a Collect recycler brings a Sort officer a bag of bottles and cans, that Sort officer provides the Collect student with a new bag to place in the bin from which the full bag came.

When only five minutes remain until the end of Read Period, Sort officers order a clean-up. All Sort bins are returned to the shed in which they are housed; bags of sorted bottles and cans are also placed in this shed. Bags of unsorted bottles are placed in the smaller shed. Both sheds are padlocked at the end of Read Period.

All recyclers return to their classrooms.

The Service Accountant inputs all data from Monitors’ assignments and the Sort sign-in sheet into an online spreadsheet so that students may receive service learning hours for their participation in the Recycle program. (The Service Accountant is a club officer in charge of organizing information regarding service hours.)

Additional notes:

Since AHS Recycling has been receiving complaints from teachers about the loudness of Collect recyclers, additional monitors will now be placed in all wings to hush recyclers and take note of any off-task students.

Pre-assigning which recyclers will work with each Wing Monitor may improve the organization of Collect sign-ups.

If a Collect officer is absent, their substitute (a reliable recycler whom they have selected and explained the system to) takes their place.

Recycling captains provide their email address(es) to teachers in order to hear about any problems that teachers are having regarding recycling.

Thanking recyclers for coming at the beginning of every Recycling session is always a good move. :)

For further clarification or if you have any questions, feel free to contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..