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featured-ngweek Recycling is one of the easiest and most traditional ways to have a positive impact on your environmenta and community. The simple act of tossing a can into a recycling bin rather than a trashcan not only diverts needless trash from entering landfills, but also decreases the need to extract and process virgin materials from the earth. In this way, recycling saves natural resources and energy, thus helping the economy by reducing production and energy expenses.

Before you start, reduce the waste you are creating! Research strategies to go paperless, encourage the use of reusable containers for waste-free snacks and lunches, or start a composting program for your cafeteria!

Form a team

The first step to starting a recycling program is to create a recycling and waste-reduction team. Decide on a date to host an introductory meeting for interested students. Post flyers with the basic details and contact the leaders of school groups telling them to notify their members about the meeting. When targeting school groups, you need not focus only on environmental groups; members of organizations that address other social justice issues might also be interested in getting involved.

Obtain management support

It’s important when planning a collection program to gain the support of custodial staff, students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Considering working with a pre-existing student group such as National Honor Society, 4-H Club, or an environmental group. Ideally, the recycling group should appoint a recycling coordinator to communicate with facilities management employees, school officials, and the student body. Contact your school administrator to find out if you can advertise your recycling group in the school newsletter to reach out to students and parents.

Identify a hauler for your recyclables

It is critical to determine how recyclable material will be removed from your school. Assess your school’s current hauling contract: does the waste hauler currently provide a recycling service for the school? If so, what is being recycled? If not, can recycling be provided? If recycling can’t be provided by this hauler, are there others available that can provide this service? If you want to go a step further, you could even try to negotiate better terms by contacting other local collectors. If your community doesn’t have a recycling service, you could consider appointment a designated parent to haul the recyclables to a processor.

Analyze your waste

It is important to know what kind of waste your school generates before determining which recyclables your program shoul collect. Conduct a “waste assessment” to determine baseline data that can be used to establish school recycling goals and monitor progress. A waste assessment can be done by recording the contents of an individual classroom or a number of classrooms. To get the most accurate estimate of your school’s waste output, multiple the sorted and weighed trash of a single classroom by the number of classrooms in your school. Don’t forget to add the waste from the library, offices, cafeteria, and computer labs. Click here for step-by-step Waste Audit instructions.

Set waste-reduction goals

Using the information from the waste audit, set a class or school recycling goal. Note that some of the materials may not be recyclable in your community, so factor that in to your goal to make it attainable.

Organize the recycling collection in your school

Consult with the custodial staff to learn where the trash is discarded and how much space is available for recycling bins. With the help of the custodial staff, map out the collection route and share the map with parents, students, teachers, and school administration for feedback.

Next, determine what kind of collection and storage system you will need
  • What type of collection containers will be needed for the classrooms, halls, cafeteria, etc? 
  • Will the recyclable materials be picked up by a hauler or distributed to a processor by a designated parent?
  • Does your school have indoor space to use as a storage center, or is there a large outdoor container that could be used?
  • How will the recyclable materials be moved from the classrooms, library, cafeteria, etc, to the storage areas? 
  • Who will be responsible for this?
  • How will the storage bins be moved outside for pickup?
  • How will contamination of the recyclable materials (i.e. by food waste, facial tissues, and non-recyclables) be prevented?

Obtain or create collection containers

Classroom collection bins can be as simple as a large, decorated cardboard box, large rolling bins, or donated wheelbarrows.


Appropriate size Leak-proof container Well-marked so that everyone knows it’s a recycling bin A lid that limits contamination, such as a lid designed with circles that limit entry to soda bottles or cans If outdoors, contains drainage holes for rain If outdoors, lid that locks to prevent theft or damage If outdoors, weather-resistant Moving recyclable materials

Assign a student from each classroom the title of “Green-keeper” and have him or her empty the classroom bin as part of a daily routine Or, a student organization/club can assume the responsibility of moving the recyclables If the custodial staff participates, they may be able to move the larger storage bins outside for pickup Safety Tips When storing recyclable materials indoors, make sure they are placed in accordance with State and local fire codes. General guidelines for bin placement include:

Recyclable materials should not be stored in the boiler room or near electrical equipment Indoor recyclable storage containers should be located in a room with a sprinkler system Visible or easy access/location for students/teachers, parents, and staff Location inaccessible to insects or other animals Classroom containers should be emptied as often as possible Ensure the sustainability of your program Sustaining a recycling program over several years can be challenging. Start right away by promoting your school’s recycling program. Some ideas:
  • Bring in guest speakers 
  • Take a field trip to a recycling facility 
  • Distribute recycling information to students, teachers, school staff, and parents (check out literature from the Department of Community Affairs, recycling coalitions, and Department of Natural Resources.) 
  • Print articles in the school newspaper or newsletter
  • Construct a recycling website
  • Create a recycling bulletin board
  • Record audio and/or visual announcements/commercials that describe the recycling program Have a contest between classes or grade levels
  • Produce a school play about recycling and present at a PTA/PTO meeting and/or school assembly Use a national event to launch or promote a recycling program (example of annual events: America Recycles Day on November 15 and/or Earth Day on April 22)
  • Make a presentation at a school assembly or in individual classrooms, highlighting the locations of the collection and storage bins, the materials that can be recycled, how the system will work and the benefits of recycling.
  • Create a recycling scrapbook with names of local contacts, supportive staff members and student organizations, grants received, and a summary of the year. This will provide a fun and informative way for others to learn about sustaining the recycling program.
  • Learn how to use recycled materials in the garden!