StopWaste at School


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Effective Bin Labels

An important consideration in designing a school recycling system is creating signage to help remind teachers, staff, students and visitors which items on campus are recyclable and which ones are headed to the landfill

Students at Alameda High School received copies of flyers from their waste hauler showing which items were recyclable in the school district, but immediately identified problems. "For one thing, the flyers focused on the types of things you'd find at home," explains Catlin Grey, student president of the school's Sierra Student Coalition Club. "The flyers did not have examples of the things we found on campus, so we created signs showing what to do with pens, pencils, juice pouches, milk cartons and other items."

The standard signage in Alameda was labeled "Recycling" "Trash" and "Compost" which did not accurately represent the system or message that students and teachers hoped to communicate. Teacher Carolyn Griffith explains, "We designed a system that separated paper from the bottles and cans, so we had two types of recycling bins requiring different signs. Also, we noticed that the signs should say where the items in the bin eventually go... Compost goes to the compost, recycling goes to a recycling center and trash goes to a LANDFILL, so students changed the name from "trash" to "landfill"- it has had a big impact on campus, you can see people thinking twice before sending something to the landfill."

Often, schools rush the task of creating bin labels and ask students to create signs using glue, paste, markers and other common materials. While useful for engaging a large number of students in outreach, these posters suffer from a lack of uniformity, accuracy, and legibility.

Students at Alameda High worked hard to produce professional quality signs using digital graphics programs, color printers, and laminators. (Tips for teaching students how to communicate visually through the use of posters are posted in this article by Kate Deming, an Art Teacher from San Leandro) The end result was a high-quality, customized signage system used across the campus waste stream.


  • Create uniform, color coded, professional looking signage for all bins on campus
  • Use visuals to show where items commonly found on campus should be placed
  • Allow students to design and produce the signage- but hold them to high standards for quality, uniformity, and accuracy.
  • Templates showing what is recyclable in different districts in Alameda County are available for download here

Copies of the color coded bin labels featured above are available for download here.