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From Creating Waste to Cleaning Up Trash: How U.S. Schools Are Reducing Debris


Schools provide our children with an education, give them new opportunities, and produce a lot of waste. This has been a subject of interest in recent years, and prompted the EPA to create an extensive guide aimed at helping schools reduce waste generation. Schools are also finding their own creative ways to reduce trash and promote a cleaner environment.

Curbing Food Waste

California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) did a wide-scale waste characteristics study of state schools and found that organic material (mostly food) accounted for 48% of all waste. Another study of Minnesota schools found that 50% of waste was organics (24% was strictly food) that could be composted.

Schools like Chesterbrook Elementary School in McClean, VA are setting a good example by taking the initiative to teach their kids how to separate out recyclables, compostable materials and unopened items that can be donated from the regular trash. Sixth graders volunteer to be on the Eco Team that provides oversight, and adult volunteers take the donated items to a local food pantry.

Other schools are incorporating food waste concerns into their science lessons to promote reducing waste and enhancing community service. The Durango School District in Colorado is limiting portions in an effort to reduce food waste. Another tactic being used is to move lunch until after recess periods when students are more likely to eat, resulting in 30% less plate waste.

Putting Paper to Better Use

According to the National Wildlife Federation up to 60% of school waste is paper that’s thrown out in the classroom. Paper is an inescapable part of schoolwork, but there are many creative solutions that have been used in schools to reduce waste. They include:

  • Supplying students with tablets to complete and submit assignments.
  • Setting up paper reuse stations in the classrooms.
  • Encouraging students to use both sides of their paper before recycling it.
  • Allowing students to submit homework via email.
  • Using towels, erasers and cloths instead of paper to clean up messes.
  • Posting newsletters and notices online instead of printing them out on paper.
  • Donating old books and holding student book exchanges.
  • Using 3-ring binders with loose-leaf paper instead of notebooks.

Coastal Cleanup

Hundreds of schools along the coast participate in the annual Coastal Cleanup. In California it’s the largest volunteer event of the year, thanks in part to the students that pitch in to help out. Local county coordinators help educators plan for the event and even arrange for schoolyard cleanups if students can’t get to the coastline. This year in New Hampshire the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation worked with schools to create a full day of learning and cleaning. Students were taught about the importance of protecting coastal ecosystems and the harm that debris can cause to wildlife and the environment.

Using Better Waste Collection Services

One of the EPA’s suggestions to schools is that districts look over their current waste management contracts to 1.) see what services are offered and 2.) see there is room to renegotiate so that recycling services are available. Some schools are even able to negotiate having their lawn clippings, tree limbs, etc. diverted to composting centers instead of landfills. is a waste management service that fully supports school initiatives to reduce waste. Our dumpster rentals help to keep trash contained so that there is less litter in the environment and our crew handles the recyclable separation. This helps businesses, schools, and homeowners keep more out of the landfill without having to do any extra work. Use our online form to find local dumpster rental rates in seconds.