Starting a School Recycling Program

How to Successfully Start and Run a School Recycling Program

Sure, it’s good advice to say that you should start a recycling program at your school, but in some schools that may be easier said than done. As school budgets get tighter and tighter, school administrators are less open to new ideas...especially if they think it will cost the school money. But recycling can actually save your school money while you save the planet. Follow these steps to research, plan, fund, and propose a winning school recycling program:


Top 5 steps to start a school recycling program 

  1. Research It 
  2. Plan It  
  3. Present It
  4. Do It
  5. Advertise It

Why bother? Recycling saves money, protects the environment, conserves resources, creates jobs, reduces the need for new landfills, saves energy, prevents global warming, reduces pollution, and protects wildlife. In short, recycling just makes sense and starting a program at your school is a win-win situation for both your school and the planet.


1. Research It

In order to put together a successful recycling program at your school, you’ll need to do a little digging to find out what, when, and how to get started. Contact your school’s trash collector, or a local recycling collection service (check your phone book) to find out what types of recycling collection programs are available in your area. If there is no collection service, find out where the nearest drop-off center is.

In order to plan out a program for your school, you’ll need to answer these questions:

  • What items can be recycled in your area?
  • What is the charge for collection and is there a contractor that offers a package deal that includes both waste and recyclables pickup?
  • What price will the contractor pay for the items?
  • How will the recyclables need to be separated?
  • Does the contractor provide collection containers?
  • What is the pickup schedule?

If you want to recycle a material but are having trouble finding a recycler where you live, check out (Ecolife's recycling section) for possible leads. Your local or state government recycling offices, the local chamber of commerce, or a local or regional recycling organization might also be able to help you develop a recycling plan for your school.


2. Plan It

Now that you’ve done your research, it’s time to put your plan together. Decide what items would be best to recycle. Paper is a good place to start because it is easy to recycle and collecting it can make a huge difference to your school’s trash output. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), approximately 35% of the municipal solid waste stream (MSW) is made up of paper and paperboard products. Other items that can and should be recycled include aluminum, glass, plastics, newspaper, steel, and magazines.

Your plan should also include the number of recycling bins your school will need and where they should be located. Ideally, collection bins should be placed close to where the recyclables are generated and/or next to each trash can. That way, it’s just as easy to recycle an item as it is to throw it away.

Finally, you need to figure out whether or not you will need to raise money to purchase collection bins, create signs, and initiate the recycling program... Now put all of your research and planning together into a proposal that you can present to your school administrators.


3. Present It

It’s time to present your plan to your school’s principal. Don’t take no for an answer. There is no reason why your school should not be recycling, so if your principal is hesitant, point out all of the ways this program will benefit your school. (Be sure to highlight the money savers!) If the answer is still no, polish your proposal and present it at the next school board meeting.


4. Do It

If you want your recycling program to be successful, you need to make sure that everyone in the school (students,  teachers, custodians, concessionaires, volunteers, and other staff) participates. Make sure that collection bins are placed in a convenient location and that they are appropriately labeled.


5. Advertise It

Advertise with signs that are placed throughout the school and near all recycling bins and trash cans. Write an article for your school newspaper and send one to your local newspaper as well. Create recycling contests to get students excited about recycling. Prizes could include free pizza or a classroom party for the classroom that recycles the most each month. (Check with your principal and teachers first to decide what kind of prize would work best at your school.)


More Ways To Recycle

Check these alternative recycling ideas to supplement your initiative or to get your recycling program started.

Recycling Drives

A one time or occasional drive eliminates the need for longterm storage and requires shorter-term volunteer commitment. Decide what items to collect and where you will collect them. To hold a drive you must publicize it thoroughly and well in advance, asking families and students to save their  recyclables for several weeks and to bring them to the school during a specific time. Recycling drives can be used to collect  clothing, printer cartridges, computers, cell phones, electronics, and more!

Hold A Swap Meet

Instead of tossing your old books, sports equipment, and art supplies, host a swap meet where students can drop off stuff they don’t want or need and pick up stuff they do. Leftover materials can be donated to a needy organization such as a library, a homeless shelter, a hospital, or a children’s museum.

Sponsor a Take Back Program

Many electronics companies will “take back” old models of their products. Check out the US EPA’s list of Plug-In To eCycling Partners to organize a school-wide take back event.

Organize A Yard Sale

Students, teachers, and other school staff can donate items they no longer want to a school yard sale. Staff the yard sale with volunteers and use the proceeds to fund the school’s recycling program or any other green project.

Adopt a Recycling Center

Make arrangements for your school to set up an account with a local recycling center. School supporters can take their recyclables to the center and request that all proceeds go to your school’s account. This is one of the easiest methods of recycling because it requires no extra storage or handling of recyclables.

Get Your School Involved

Make Signs :Each classroom will need its own recycling bins located near the trash cans. Enlist your teachers’ help in getting students to make recycling posters and collection bin signs for their classrooms.

Make It Part of the Curriculum:Talk to your teachers about the different ways that recycling can be brought up in the classroom. A science class waste audit teaches students about the items they throw away. In math class, students can learn to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions that are reduced by recycling. Art classes can help by making recycling signs or 3-D collages using materials from the recycling bin.

To learn more about recycling check out ecolife's interactive recycling section.


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