Guest Blog: How to Start a Grassroots School Recycling Program

By Greg Ira, Director of Office of Environmental Education

Crumpled paper flies across classroom and barely makes it into the overflowing trash can. As a teacher, what do you do? While it is common practice to toss the paper in the trash where it is later emptied into a dumpster, try stepping outside the box – dispose the crumpled paper in a recycling bin where it can be turned into a new product, like writing paper, newspapers, grocery bags and copy paper.

Recovered paper is a valuable commodity and schools have access to large quantities. According to our latest figures, Floridians generate 7.84 pounds of waste per day. Imagine the amount of waste generated in your classroom alone. If we manage our waste efficiently, we can prevent negative impacts to the environment. By choosing to recycle, we can double the positive impact by extending the life of the product and diverting it from Florida’s landfills.

Your influence as a teacher is important to each student. By teaching students the importance of recycling at school, they can in turn incorporate recycling at home and in their communities.

If your school does not have a recycling program in place, here are some basic steps you can take to get one started:

  • Contact a county recycling coordinator – By law, your county is required to provide the opportunity to recycle at least four out of the eight following materials: newspaper, glass, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, steel cans, cardboard, office paper and yard trash. Your local recycling coordinator can provide you with specifics on what materials are accepted in the county program as well as a service provider’s contact information.
  • Generate Support and Assign a Coordinator – When formulating a recycling plan, be sure to have the full support of your school administration. Select an enthusiastic coordinator to encourage all faculty and students in the beginning stages of your recycling program. Engaging students in recycling through classroom competitions, daily announcements, rewards or recognitions of personal recycling goals is a great method to enhance your school’s overall recycling efforts.
  • Connect to the Curriculum – School recycling programs provide an excellent opportunity for service learning in almost every subject; monitoring or tracking recycling effort and results will employ basic math skills; promoting the program and communicating results will involve language arts; and analyzing the impact on the environment can be tied to science.
  • Measure and Monitor – Tracking the results of your recycling efforts is crucial to better assess the areas of your program that need improvement. Areas to measure and monitor include the quantity of paper and percentage of students, classrooms and teachers participating.

These general steps are the foundation for creating a recycling program at your school. Incorporating the program in a smaller school may make it easier to encourage student participation. However, it’s the amount of effort, enthusiasm and encouragement that makes a successful recycling program, not the size of the school.

With the appropriate tools and resources, your school can be on its way to effective recycling. Schools recognized for environmental impact and energy efficiency, healthy school environments, and environmental and sustainable education can be nominated through the Green Ribbon Schools Program led by the U.S. Department of Education.

Be the teacher that makes the difference in your school by protecting Florida’s environment through recycling. For additional recycling education resources for kids and teachers, visit the Office of Environmental Education’s recycling page.

While paper recycling will almost always have a place in schools, reducing the amount of paper used in the first place should be the ultimate goal. There are a wide range of practices to help schools and offices to go paperless. Reducing paper consumption combined with reuse and recycling that which is used should be second nature for any modern school.