Reducing Waste at School

Reducing waste at school instills a culture of responsible waste management in students while helping schools reduce their waste bill. With some creativity and a simple change of habit, schools can watch their dumpster size (and waste bill) shrink.

Follow these tips to reduce and reuse at school:

Reduce Waste at Lunch
Reduce Paper Waste
Schedule an Exchange or Rummage Sale
Conduct a Waste Audit

Reduce Waste at Lunch

Pack a waste-free lunchjpg

  • Use a lunch box or reusable lunch bag.
  • Pack your sandwich or salad in a reusable container.
  • Bring a drink in a thermos instead of packing a drink box or one-use water bottle. (Buying beverages in larger containers saves money, too.)
  • Avoid pre-assembled lunch kits with excess packaging you just throw away.
  • Bring your own reusable utensils and cloth napkin that can be washed and used again.
  • Try to pack only as much food as you will really eat.

You can print and pass out the Waste-Free Lunch Guidelines (hint: print landscape and double sided and cut in half to save paper) for students to take home to their lunch packer.

If you buy lunch in the school cafeteria:

  • Take only what you need so you don’t end up throwing away food or extra condiments.
  • Don’t take (and discard) a lunch tray if you’re just carrying wrapped items to your table.
  • Don’t forget to recycle your bottles and cans. (Remember at the present time, yogurt containers and fruit cups are not recyclable at school.)

To learn more about creating less waste at lunch, visit

Reduce Paper Waste

In the classroom

  • Create a paper reuse center. Set up a box (a lid of a copy paper box works well) where people can put paper that has only been used on one side. Reuse this paper for calculations or drafts, or use it to make pads for taking notes.
  • Encourage students to turn in homework on the back of used paper, such as notices from school or old letterhead. Better yet, allow students to submit assignments via email.
  • If you work on a computer, run a “spell check” on your work on the screen before printing and print double sided.
  • Encourage students to use both sides of notebook pages when they take notes.
  • Use a projector or blackboard to help reduce the amount of photocopied information distributed in class.
  • Buy classroom materials that are durable and, if possible, include recycled content.

In the school building

  • Use paper towels only when necessary. Encourage custodians and teachers to use sponges, rags, erasers, or other towels to clean projectors, boards, and other surfaces.
  • Send newsletters and school publications via email or post notices on the school website.
  • Route messages and publications. Instead of distributing individual messages for all the staff, make one copy and attach a routing sheet.
  • Set double-sided printing as the default setting on all school computers and printers. If a one-sided job goes awry, use the other side for a good copy or place it in a reuse box.
  • Ask the PTA and office staff to print newsletters in columns on legal paper. For short notices, print two per page and cut sheets in half. Better yet, distribute important messages via a school or class listserv or post on the school/PTA website.
  • Don’t forget to recycle used paper and paper products like cardboard packaging and boxes.

Schedule an Exchange or Rummage Sale

Parents and the community will appreciate a school rummage sale or trade day for toys, books, and outgrown clothing, including school uniforms. The school’s environmental club, service club, or PTA can help coordinate the event.

If the event produces a profit, you can use the money for a school trip or special environmental project.

Arrange to donate leftovers to organizations such as Goodwill Industries and other local charities.

Conduct a Waste Audit

A waste audit is a way to see what your school’s garbage is made up of so that you can make a plan for reducing, reusing, and recycling. The results of a waste audit can help your school determine what areas need work and how best to start your waste reduction program. (As a bonus, you can use the data collected for real-world math lessons on weight and volume, and creating graphs and charts.)jpg

The waste is collected, sorted, and weighed by students, teachers, and other helpers. The audit should be carried out prior to the implementation of a school action plan to reduce waste and again after the school has implemented actions to reduce waste. From the data collected, you will be able to measure the effectiveness of the campaign.

If you are looking for more detail on how to conduct a waste audit, contact the District at 513-946-7737. Also, there are many useful resources on the internet, one of which is provided here: