The ABCs of School Recycling Programs

The ABCs of School Recycling Programs

Recycling and schools are a natural fit. Schools have large numbers of people generating lots of waste—much which is recyclable. Environmentally, recycling reduces the amount of waste heading to landfills and incinerators. Additionally, recycling can reduce carbon emission and conserve natural resources. Economically, a school may be able to reduce the volume of waste they need to dispose of resulting in a reduction in the size or quantity of waste collection containers and service.

That said, everyone needs to understand that recycling is not free and a school may have to spend money to pay for the cost of containers and extra pickups of recyclables. Best advice is to work with a reputable local hauler who, in most cases, will help design a recycling program that is both environmentally sound and cost effective.

Steps to Implementation

Each year thousands of recycling programs are kicked off at elementary schools, middle schools high schools and even colleges and universities. New recycling bins are deployed with much fanfare and great enthusiasm. But before the first piece of paper is placed into a recycling bin, there needs to be extensive planning and logistics to ensure the school’s recycling program earns a passing grade.

The following are some of the basic steps associated with the startup and operation of a school recycling program.

Step 1: Identify who needs to be involved in the program. The list should include administrators, custodial and maintenance staff, interested teachers, students, kitchen/food staff, the current hauler, etc…  A team can be formed to help support the effort and move the program forward.

Step 2. Identify all of the benefits and challenges of implementing the program. List how much the program will cost or save the school.

Step 3. Put someone in charge to facilitate. This person facilitates the entire process and communicates progress and challenges to the decision-makers. The recycling coordinator could be a janitor, teacher, administrator or a school club. The person in charge should have the skills to solve problems and work out logistics. 

Step 4. Identify what material will be part of the recycling program. A waste audit should be conducted to determine the composition and volume of the waste materials at the school. With this information you can determine the portion of the waste that can be reduced, reused or recycled. A reputable local hauler and/or recycler can help you determine what can be recycled.

Step 5. Design a workable recycling program by getting input from several perspectives. Figure out who will collect recyclables and how often will containers be emptied. Identify the location where recyclables be stored (see Step 10). Determine if there are opportunities for students to be involved in the recycling process.

Get the school janitor involved early. The custodial staff will know what can and cannot work. The custodial staff is a critical part of the recycling program and need to have input into the design of the recycling program especially the collection system within the school. If this part of the program is not managed properly, recyclables may end up getting dumped into the waste containers or garbage may end up getting dumped into the recycling containers.

Step 6. Start small and grow. It is a good idea to choose one or two recyclables (such as cardboard and mixed paper) to start your new program. Once the program is functioning smoothly, you can expand the program to include more recyclable materials.

Step 7. Make the program simple. The recycling program should be simple and easy to use.  Consider getting enough recycling bins to place one next to every trash container. Side by side containers give you the best participation rates.

Step 8: Educate, educate, educate. When ready to launch the program make sure everyone is aware of the program and how it works. This is the most important step for any recycling program. Use signs to make students and teachers aware of the program. Consider multi-language signs on the waste and recycling containers both inside and outside the school. Plan a big kickoff event for the program and provide regular updates on the school’s recycling efforts. 

Step 9. Evaluate and review the program. Identify what works well and what needs to be improved. There is always room to improve every recycling program. Consider surveying teachers, students, administrators and other school staff to solicit ways to improve the recycling program. 

Step 10.  BE CAREFUL. Collecting and storing recyclables can be dangerous and requires special care. Follow these safety guidelines:

·       Make sure stored material complies with local and state fire protection and building codes. Make sure the storage area has adequate fire suppression equipment.

·       Never allow stored recyclables to block doorways or walkways.

·       Recyclable materials should never be stored in boiler rooms or near electrical equipment.

·       Make sure the room has easy access to move materials out of the school.

·       Maintain good housekeeping and keep insects and animals away from the recyclables.

·       Empty classroom containers regularly (at least daily).

Step 11. Celebrate the results. Let people know about their efforts. Give out awards to recognize outstanding individuals who help to make the program a success.

Will Flower is president of Green Stream Recycling in Long Island, N.Y. The company is focused on advancing recycling throughout Long Island.

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