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Tool Box

Bin Selection Tips


There is an incredibly wide range of bins on the market to support recycling systems. Careful research will help you find bins that meet your needs and fit code requirements for your school.

Custom Built Bins at Livermore HighCustom Built Bins at Livermore HighSelect bins that are:

  • easy to service (not too heavy, easy to clean, durable)
  • uniform in color and/or shape so that students don't have to learn different systems for each room on campus
  • sized appropriately to handle the amount of waste generated in each location (the paper bin in the copy room should probably be larger than the paper bin in the nurse's office)
  • appropriate for the intended location (outdoor stations should have drainage or coverage to deal with rain water, for example)
Bottle & Can RecyclingBottle & Can Recycling

Special bin types:

  • American High in Fremont uses bins shaped like large soda bottles to encourage students to properly recycle bottles and cans
  • Schools in Alameda use recycling boxes in classrooms and rolling toters in each hallway to manage recyclables. Students empty the bins to the toters which custodians roll to the recycling dumpster.
  • Sorting stations- many vendors sell 3 stream sorting stations to handle trash, recyclables and food scraps. These stations present a polished appearance, but have the challenge of maintenance (if one part is damaged or vandalized, the whole station is often taken off-line for repair)

Managing Special Events


Schools host many large events throughout the year that generate large quantities of waste. From prom to football games; multi-cultural week to club rush; back to school night to year end locker clean-out, schools have plenty of opportunities to confront unique waste challenges. For any event, the principles expressed in StopWaste's Special Event's Best Practice Guide, provide a framework for waste reduction. Although the guide is designed for large events typically hosted by cities or promoters, the ideas apply equally well to schools, Event planners are encouraged to try to design as much waste out of the event as possible by using reusable items instead of disposable ones or ensuring that any disposable items are easily recycled.

At Irvington High School in Fremont, the student government has created an elected position for a "Green Commissioner" The green commissioner has the responsibility for reviewing student activities for sustainability, and has the power to approve or deny club purchases or event plans based on environmental impacts.

Diversion StationDiversion Station

Irvington has implemented a poster reuse & recycling system to divert student government and activities posters from trash cans. Anyone who hangs posters promoting an event must collect them after the event is complete. The posters that have paint/markers only on one side are taken back to student government for reuse, posters that have been reused on both sides are diverted to recycling.

At large events held in the courtyard such as club rush and multi-cultural week festivals, students set up waste stations- large rings of recycling toters, green waste bins and some garbage cans. Student volunteers stand in the inside of the ring and help other students place items in the correct bin to maximize diversion.

Thousands of pounds of recyclables are diverted every year by placing recycling toters in the hallway at the end of the year to capture paper for recycling at Irvington. Other schools have designed comprehensive year-end Locker Leftovers systems to capture reusable and recyclable materials alike.

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.

School Recycling Toolkit