How can schools reduce waste
Teacher Tips

How can schools reduce their waste?

Trash, waste, refuse – we all know there is too much of it. At worst it clusters our waterways, critically damages animal species and pollutes our living spaces. At best it ends up in a landfill or incinerator – both of which cause their own environmental and health issues.

So what’s the solution? 

For schools, there are lots of effective measures you can take to decrease your community’s waste output (both in and outside of the school premises). Let’s dive in and take a look at what you can do to reduce school waste:


Audit your school waste

Boring as it may sound, the best solutions are backed by reliable data. The most effective way to reduce your school trash output is to first understand exactly how much waste you are currently creating, the type of waste and what activities are involved in producing it. You may feel like you already have a good idea, but it’s only by conducting a full waste audit that you will know for certain and can take effective action. 

To hold a productive school waste audit you will need a set time period, for example, a week or month, over which to hold your audit. Remember to try and conduct your audit period over a standard time period, where no special events or holidays will impact your numbers. 



Over this time assign various staff the responsibility to count and record the amount and type of waste produced in their job function. For example, each classroom teacher can be responsible for noting how many bins full of trash are produced every day. Lunchtime staff or janitors can be asked to record food waste and the amount of bins worth of other trash collected around the premises. Note having trash split into category bins, such as recyclable, paper, non-recyclable, food waste etc. will help you to accurately determine how much of each waste type you are producing.  

Once you have all of the data you can analyze it. This step is very important and should be given due time and attention. From your numbers determine which activities produce the most waste and which types of trash are most common. For example, if food waste and food packaging make up 70% of your trash output you know that your main strategies should target the cafeteria. This is also a good time to consider possible reduction targets and to brainstorm strategies (don’t worry we will go into this later). 

Don’t be afraid to consult experts at this stage to discuss how other schools have approached the situation and possible solutions for you. Organizations such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Green Action Centre or Green Schools National Network can offer advice.


Once your audit is complete it’s time to consider which waste reduction strategies could work for you:


1.Educate students and staff on waste management

Schoolwide change is much easier to facilitate when you have the cooperation of your community. Incorporating waste management ideas and strategies into staff PD sessions helps to keep your team onside and gives them the information to understand why changes are happening, why they are important and how they can uphold them. 

Including waste management themes into lessons and underlining the importance of producing less waste also helps students to get proactive. It provides them with an understanding of the systems being set up in school and also gives them the opportunity to think about their own trash and steps they could maybe take at home to reduce it. 

The big bonus of introducing waste management education for everyone is the opportunity to get everyone involved in idea development. Opening up the floor to staff and students to put forward solutions allows everyone to get creative and really delve into the options available. It’s an amazing opportunity for leadership and community cohesion!


2. Make more informed purchases

A lot of waste is created through overstocking spoilable products, excess packaging, low quality and single-use items. Consider whether shifting suppliers or altering your normal order items could help your waste reduction efforts. Think about:

  • Buying Second Hand: Where possible try to source items second hand, either by purchase or accepting donated products. Not only does this reduce your costs but it puts perfectly good items back to use rather than creating more waste by buying new.
  • Quality: Low-quality furniture, stationary and kitchen items may be cheaper right now, but the cost of replacing and repair will stack up. Consider buying items with a long lifespan.
  • Stay away from single-use: Single-use items can be quick and convenient but they create an unjustifiable amount of waste. Items like plates, silverware, cups, and even food packaging can be cleaned and reused again and again.
  • Source recycled or compostable items: Pencils, pens, furniture and toilet paper are all among the many products that can now be made from recycled elements or have been designed so they can break down in compost.


3. Start composting

Composting is an environmentally beneficial way of getting rid of organic materials like food waste and certain packaging. This can be done either on school premises, using outdoor composting bins to enrich the school ground soil, or compostable materials can be collected and taken to a large-scale composting facility. 

Both methods have their benefits and can be used in conjunction. School premise composting gives staff and students the opportunity to benefit from the production of quality soil and it can be a great source for science experiments! Large scale composting facilities are however more suitable if you have large amounts of food waste which you want to divert from landfills. 



4. Getting Started with Recycling

Recycling is a key element of reducing trash sent to landfills. For your school, this could mean invigorating your existing scheme or starting one fresh. For either approach you can:

  • Contact local waste haulers and municipalities:  Find out what recycling options exist in your area. Work out details such as cost and collection or delivery times. It’s also important to clarify what sorts of materials they accept and in what form i.e cleaned or unsorted.
  • Establish recycling points or trash cans: Develop consistent signage, colors and containers to make recycling areas recognizable and easy to use throughout the building.
  • Educate everyone: Provide ongoing education of teachers, students, custodians and administrators so that everyone can recycle correctly. This should include specifying which items are recyclable and washing them out if they need to be cleaned. Remember one wrong item can make a whole recycling unit unusable. 
  • Reduce trash collection: An active recycling effort should immediately reduce you landfill trash output. This means you can arrange for fewer collections and smaller dumpsters. Savings in trash service can help to fund your recycling efforts.




5. Get rid of paper

Paper is, without a doubt, the biggest form of classroom waste. Single-use worksheets, filled up exercise books and printed pages of textbooks all make their way into the trash, often at the end of the same lesson in which they were distributed.

You can recycle as much as you want but the hard fact remains that between 2010 and 2015 there was an annual net annual decrease in forest area of 3.3 million hectares, the leading driver (responsible for 37% of the loss) being timber harvesting, primarily for papermaking (according to 2018 Environmental Paper Network report: ‘The state of the Global Paper Industry’). 

So what can you do? 

Breaking the paper cycle is by far the most effective way to reduce, if not eliminate, your classroom paper waste. Fortunately in the age of sophisticated digital technology, this is now a pretty straightforward step. Ebooks and portable devices mean that students can now read resources and book pages digitally. Combined with edtech apps that allow digital annotation and grading, you can eliminate single-use paper worksheets completely. For example, Kami allows you to take any existing document, including scanned PDFs, and write, draw, type, annotate, comment, augment, enhance, and otherwise bring it to life – all within your browser. Students can then turn in their assignments straight into an integrated LMS for grading.




6. Bike racks and walking school buses

Waste isn’t always collectible in a trash can. In a world of rapidly increasing carbon output, reduction of emissions and pollution are equally vital. Creating systems that encourage students and staff to access school premises without the need for a vehicle can improve the surrounding air quality and reduce carbon output. Building bike racks instead of extra car parks, providing bike lanes and accessible sidewalks are a great way to make for safe alternative transport access. 

Starting a walking school bus, where parents take turns walking neighborhood kids safely to and from school, can also significantly reduce congestion and helps students get consistent fresh air and exercise. 


7. Plant Trees and native plant life

Okay so it’s not strictly a waste reduction method, but planting trees around the school and encouraging native plantlife will help your local ecosystem to thrive alongside benefits to the health and happiness of your school community. 

Mature trees offer many benefits such as cooling the area during summertime and provide both windbreak and protection from noise pollution. They also make for cleaner more oxygenated air while providing much-needed homes for local birds and wildlife. Planting native flowers on school grounds is also brilliant for insect life and makes for a more pleasurable environment for everyone at your school. Consider planting in empty spaces such as areas between sports fields, car park dividers or even rooftops. For city schools with minimal outdoor space, indoor plants can also be a great way to create a feeling of nature indoors. 



With the Kami app you can eliminate the need for paper in your classroom altogether. Find out how the Kami app could help you to create a more collaborative, creative and interactive learning environment today!

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