The idea of recycling is no longer just an “in thing to do”. It has become a necessity for each and every one of us to look for ways to recycle in all aspects of our lives. In addition to the damage we have seen to the Earth, all communities are now feeling real fiscal impact from inefficient and inadequate approaches to trash collection. Our goal now must be to make recycling commonplace and a matter of course in our communities and society as a whole.
In our efforts toward reaching this goal municipalities are seeking to partner with the schools so that they can reach out and educate the children. As recycling becomes a way of life for them it will increasingly become a way of life for all. Children are often our best teachers. This program can be presented to every school as a template and group of ideas that can be tailored to each institution. We know that what works best for one group may not work best for another. Therefore we encourage additional ideas and internal adjustments to the program. This is an effort that must succeed for the good of our children, our city, our society, and our planet.
Consider a recycling program as a chain. Each group represents a link of the chain, and once several links are added the chain becomes stronger.
Any recycling program should start with the maintenance staff of each building. They are your first link in the chain. They will ensure that there is a paper-recycling bin in each classroom as well as larger bins in common areas of the school for glass, metal and plastic. They will also insure the recyclables are stored properly until they can be picked up and recycled by a private hauler or recycling company. Prior to starting a program the school or district will have to identify which recyclable items are present in the waste stream. Click here for a sampleWaste Audit to determine recycling in your waste stream.
Once you have identified what recyclable items are present in your waste stream you need to decide how you are going to dispose of them. There are two main ways you can recycle your items. One is to contact your existing waste hauler and see what recycling programs they offer. There is usually an additional cost associated with this so you should be sure of your budget prior to making any commitments. Second is to market the recyclables yourself and find a recycling company or Material Recovery Facility (MRF) to accept your recycling. This would require some additional sorting on your end however it may prove more cost effective. For a list of commercial recycling companies by category click here
The second link is the teachers and administrators. It is very important that they are supportive of the program from the start. Almost all programs that are started will fail if they do not have the support of the staff. In most cases it is recommended that the principal of the school send a letter or memorandum to all teachers and staff asking them to support the program and see to its success. Click here for a sample school memorandium. Reinforcing the need to recycle by the teachers is important. Please see below for information regarding recycling education.
The third link of the chain is the students; this is their program and they should be involved on a daily basis. After all they are the ones generating the most recycling in the school.
It is always a good idea to involve the students at the inception of the program. They need to feel it is their program and not something that the school is forcing upon them. One way to do this is to choose a school club or class to be Recycling Ambassadors.
The Recycling Ambassadors main duty is to inspire the younger students to recycle and relate to them on their level. Utilizing the fifth grade is always a good idea for many reasons. First: they are old enough to understand the challenges we face in regards to solid waste and recycling. Second: once they have moved on to the sixth grade they are still in the school to teach the new fifth grade class how to do it. This closes the loop, so to speak. The students can also create promotional materials such as flyers and posters to be displayed around the school to encourage their fellow students to recycle. Click here for an example of a recycling flyer
Since no school is laid out the same the needs of each school will be different. This is an example of what other schools have purchased to make the program a success.
- “Smaller” blue recycling bin (28-40 quart container) for paper and cardboard for each classroom in the school. If the bins are not visible and clearly marked the students will find it easier to place their recyclables in the trash.
- “Larger” blue recycling bins (23-30 gallon container) to be placed in common areas of the school for glass, metal and plastic containers. You will not need as many of these bins since glass, metal and plastic containers make up a much smaller amount of the schools waste stream. However water, soda and juice bottles are very common especially in the cafeteria area and it is important that areas like this have larger bins available for the recycling of these items. You may also find that in areas like the copy room or library these bins will be useful where a large amount of paper is being recycled.
- “Much Larger” recycling totes (68 – 98 gallon totes) to be placed in the maintenance areas of the school. These will be used to store and/or sort the collected recyclables until the private hauler or recycling company can pick them up.
Paper & Cardboard
The following is a list of paper products that can be recycled and should be placed in the bin located in the classroom:
- Office Paper School Paper
- Colored Paper (this does not include construction paper)
- Computer Paper
- Shredded Paper
- Newspaper & Inserts
- Phone Books
- Paperback Books (hard cover books are not recyclable)
- Manila Folders
- Cards & Envelopes
- Letters & Enclosures
- Corrugated Cardboard
- Lightweight Cardboard (i.e. dry food boxes and shoe boxes)
Glass Metal & Plastic
The following is a list of glass, metal and plastic containers that can be recycled and should be placed in the bins found throughout the school in common areas:
- Clear, blue, green and brown colored food and beverage glass containers.
- Food and beverage plastic containers (i.e. soda, juice containers and food containers). NOTE: some private haulers only accept limited plastic containers. Before starting a program check with your maintenance staff or private hauler to see what is accepted for your school.
- Milk and juice cartons or boxes.
- Food and beverage aluminum cans (i.e. food & soda cans)
All glass metal and plastic containers must be completely emptied prior to placing them in to the recycling bins.
In order for the students to understand why they are recycling, why it is so important to recycle and what it means to the environment and our planet in general, we need to educate them in a way that inspires them to do so without feeling they are being forced. Several state and federal government agencies have created curriculums focused on waste reduction and recycling. Please use the links below to download curriculums and teachers aids dealing with waste reduction, reuse, and recycling.
NYS DEC's Recycling Lessons and Activities
NYS DEC's School Guide
US EPA's tools to reduce waste in schools
US EPA's school guide
Recycling Coloring and Activity Booklet
Sometimes the environmental benefits are not enough of a reason to make students want to recycle. Our program suggests various ideas to motivate your students by showing them that recycling can provide benefits for them that hit much closer to home.
1. There are numerous companies that offer paper recycling that will pay you for your paper. The monies received can go to benefit a club, the school or the PTA. For a list of companies that pay for paper click here
2. Make a contest out of it. Contests can be done between schools in the district, club-to-club, class to-class or even the entire school trying to beat last years total or even last months total. The collection of recycling can be fun if presented the correct way.
3. Organizations like Keep America Beautiful and NY Department of Environmental Conservation run annual contests promoting recycling and litter prevention. For more information visit their websites at:
The following is a list of websites and numbers for organizations that can provide additional assistance regarding recycling:
State of New York
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
Bureau of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
USEPA Region 2
Keep America Beautiful