What Schools can do to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Schools in Montgomery County dispose of over 14,000 tons of garbage every year--that's enough to fill the Washington Monument with garbage ten times! Much of this waste could be eliminated through recycling, waste reduction practices and reuse.

Recycling in school teaches students good habits they can practice at home and use for a lifetime. Through recycling, students gain an understanding about their responsibility to the environment, and learn that they can make a significant difference through their actions.

Recycling also benefits schools. Diverting recyclable material from the waste stream can save schools money in collection costs. By combining waste reduction practices with recycling, schools can save on materials costs as well.

Generally, school waste is generated in the cafeteria, offices and classrooms. Cafeteria waste is comprised mainly of food and food packaging waste. Offices generate mostly paper. Classroom waste includes teaching materials such as mixed paper and pencil grindings, as well as food waste.

At the end of the school year, classroom waste can swell to four times its regular amount, and include materials such as used workbooks and other papers. Classroom parties also contribute significantly to the quantity of trash.

Involving students in the recycling process is the hallmark of many successful programs. Besides requiring students to recycle their waste, many programs go a step further and develop pride and ownership in the school's recycling efforts by having students help run the recycling operation.

Involve students in the promotion of the program as well. Students can create signs and posters to promote recycling and to describe what materials can and cannot be recycled.

Be sure to tell people who use the school building after school hours, such as bingo players, community groups and the PTA, about the recycling program, so they can participate as well, and not contaminate the school's recycling.

Reduce Waste

Reduce the garbage produced by cold lunches brought from home through the promotion of "Zero Waste Lunches".

Encourage students to use both sides of writing paper, whenever possible.

If more than one child attends a school, send home general information with only the oldest child, to avoid duplication.
Encourage teachers to conduct some lessons and student drills on dry erase boards, blackboards, or on transparencies instead of on paper, when feasible.

Route or post internal staff communications. When practical, use half sheets of paper for memos. Utilize e-mail as much as possible.

Make double-sided copies. Provide scrap paper near the copier so that people can retrieve paper and copy onto the other side.

Zero Waste Lunch

Lunchroom waste creates a problem, because much of the packaging brought from home is difficult to recycle. Fortunately, it is possible to avoid producing this waste in the first place, by following a program called the Zero Waste Lunch.

The theory behind the Zero Waste Lunch is to avoid the generation of waste from lunches by eliminating the packaging that creates waste. Zero Waste Lunches require a little extra thought when packing, but create considerably less waste and reduce cost in the long run.

Schools can incorporate the concept of a Zero Waste Lunch in economics, science and environmental curricula. Students can sponsor competitions based on which class can produce the least waste from lunches per student. Students also could weigh the garbage from the cafeteria, and post and regularly update a wall graph demonstrating their success in reducing waste. Schools could sell Zero Waste Lunch kits, including a durable bag, thermos and durable sandwich and snack containers, as a fundraiser.

Some suggestions:

  • Pack lunches in lunch boxes or durable canvas or nylon bags.

  • Pack items prepared at home, such as sandwiches, in reusable plastic containers.

  • Buy foods in bulk, and repackage for lunch in reusable plastic containers. Avoid single-use prepackaged foods, which produce more waste and are more expensive.

  • Pack soft and liquid foods in durable reusable containers, and use thermoses or plastic bottles for drinks.

Reuse, When Possible

Grasscycle grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn. Put up a compost bin or compost leaves on-site, or collect leaves for recycling. Compost tree and shrub clippings.

Encourage staff to bring coffee mugs from home and reuse them, rather than use disposable cups.

Reuse art supplies such as construction paper.

Use refillable pencils and refillable ink pens.

Reink and reuse computer ribbons and recharge laser cartridges.

Recycle to Lower Disposal Costs and It’s the Law

Recycle mixed paper (manila envelopes, colored ledger, paper bags, construction paper, newspaper, magazines, cardboard boxes, unwanted mail, and other art paper with ink). Locate bins in the library, in each classroom and office, in the teachers' lounge, and next to copy machines.

Recycle commingled materials (aluminum, steel and tin cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles and containers) in teachers' lounges and cafeterias, when appropriate. Recycling bins need to be located next to any vending machine that dispenses products in recyclable packaging.

Compost some cafeteria food wastes using worm bins. These large, wooden boxes can be stored inside and out, and are half-filled with soil, certain food scraps and a variety of worms. This type of effort requires a faculty sponsor who is willing and able to carefully supervise and monitor the effort.

Recycle all commingled containers generated by food service and in the cafeteria.

Buy Recycled Products

Close the recycling loop by purchasing recycled products. The easiest and most widely available recycled products that schools use are recycled copier paper, hand towels and toilet tissue.

Purchase goods which are sold in school stores and for fundraisers, such as rulers, clipboards, stadium cups, and other items, that are made from recycled post-consumer or post-industrial materials.

What are schools in Montgomery County doing to reduce, reuse, and recycle?

We'd like to add your school to our list of recyclers, so let us know how you are doing! If you have a concern or issue you wish to discuss, or a success story you want to share, contact the SORRT Program.