Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Back to all Project Ideas / Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Schools produce a lot of waste each day, most of which is put in the trash and landfilled, incinerated or disposed of in the ocean. But what if this “trash” could go elsewhere instead? Almost half of school waste is organics like food and yard trimmings and around 30 percent is paper—we can do better!

Recycling varies in different communities around the U.S. and the world, but the common materials collected include paper, plastics, glass, and aluminum. Many schools are also collecting school lunch scraps and other compostable materials from the building to be composted onsite or hauled away to a commercial composting center. 

Get started

  • Be a trash detective!  Find out where the trash generated at your school goes. 
    • Who collects it? Where is it sent? Is any of it separated into different types of trash first? What does your school do with old computers or electronics?
  • Track the pounds of trash diverted from the landfill on your day of action or for the full year. 
    • The best way to measure this is to do a waste audit before and after your project and assess the difference in what is being disposed of in the trash.
    • You can track your school's waste data throughout the school year using Arc, the online building performance platform, to identify areas of you can reduce your waste consumption.
  • Your school may already have a recycling and/or composting program. If it does, learn more about it and begin an education campaign at the school with signage and presentations about what students and teachers should do with particular kinds of waste.
    •  Promote recycling in your school by posting signs by waste bins or providing additional containers to collect recyclables.
  • If your school doesn’t have a program, talk with your principal or facilities staff to see what it would take to begin one. 
  • Find creative ways to reduce the amount of paper your school uses. 

Additional resources

  • Check the Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools program Green Strides portal for updated resources from federal agencies and partners.
  • Use CalRecycle’s resources to learn about a typical school’s waste composition and resources for your own assessment.
  • Check out Recycle Across America’s well-designed waste labels.
  • Read Keep America Beautiful’s Recycle Bowl Study about the effectiveness of using tools of change to encourage recycling behavior. 

Project spotlight

Lincoln Elementary School in Denver, Colorado

“Over the span of four weeks, students read and responded to informative articles, videos, and stories about the creation of many products we use and their journey to waste streams. Students explored what personal connections they have to things that are in danger because of our current consumption habits. Students learned about and created alternatives to commonly wasted items.

They chose between many options for demonstrating their learning, including written responses, drawings, building, letters to parents, administrators, or community members, slide deck presentations, podcasts, plays, or stories.

We invited parents, industry experts, school leaders, facilities staff, and other students to attend the Zero Hero Exhibition Event!”