Reducing Waste at School

Reducing waste at school instills a culture of environmental responsibility in students. With some creativity and a simple change of habit, schools can watch their dumpster size (and waste bill) shrink. For technical assistance contact Cher Mohring or call 946-7737.

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

Set up an "offer versus serve" cafeteria, permitting students to choose the foods they want to eat. 

Have recess before lunch to eliminate students' desire to rush through lunch for more recess time. Playing stimulates students' appetites and thirst, encouraging them to consume instead of wasting food. 

Allow time before lunch for students to review the menu and decide what they want to select.

Set up a food share table and donate what is not taken at the end of the lunch period.

Pack a waste-free lunch

  • Use a lunch box or reusable lunch bag.
  • Pack sandwiches or salads 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 that gets thrown away.
  • Bring reusable utensils and cloth napkin that can be washed and used again.
  • Try to pack only food that's needed, to prevent wasted food.

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.

Buying lunch in the school cafeteria:

  • Take only what is needed so food and condiments aren't thrown away.
  • Don’t take a lunch tray if there are only wrapped food items.
  • Don’t forget to recycle milk/juice cartons, bottles and cans. (At the present time, yogurt containers and fruit cups are not recyclable.)

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 working on a computer, 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 reusable towels to clean.
  • 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, 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 a school’s garbage is made up of so that a plan can be made for reducing, reusing, and recycling. The results of a waste audit can help schools determine what areas need work and how best to start a waste reduction program. (As a bonus, use the data collected for real-world math lessons on weight and volume, and creating graphs and charts.)

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 repeated after the school has implemented actions to reduce waste. From the data collected, the school will be able to measure the effectiveness of the campaign.

Looking for more detail on how to conduct a waste audit? Contact the District at 946-7737. Also, there are many useful resources online.