Are you a school administrator concerned about waste disposal costs? Are you a recycling-conscious teacher, parent, or student? The Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District (District) wants to help your school set up a new solid waste reduction/recycling program or expand or improve your existing program. District staff is available to provide consultation services at any point in your planning or implementation. Call our office at 513-946-7737 to speak to someone about technical assistance.
The information here can be used to guide you in setting up a school recycling program. This will help you establish necessary roles, provide you with a printable checklist, and direct you to additional resources.
If you would like our help, take advantage of the Recycling Assistance Program. To stay up-to-date on our program offerings, subscribe to Spencer’s News or check out the current edition.
Recycling Assistance Program
A representative from the District can come to your school and meet with principals, teachers, students, facility managers, custodians, and PTAs to help you assess your school’s waste stream and determine what program is right for your school. The District can also help you design your collection method to have minimal impact on custodians; educate staff, students, and parents; and generate school pride and enthusiasm for the program.
Once you have committed to starting a program and complete the Recycling Assistance Program Registration Form and School Recycling Plan Worksheet, the District can provide the following services:
Step-by-Step Guide to Set up a School Recycling Program
Principals, custodians, food service staff, teachers, and students all have responsibilities to make sure that recyclables are kept separate from the garbage and properly placed out for collection.
Phase One – Develop a Program
Step 1 – Learn about the current state of waste management
- Seek support and input from your building manager, principal, and teachers.
- Get a better idea of how waste is currently handled and find out if the school is recycling anything. Because recycling is cheaper than landfilling, let decision makers know they could save money. Some recyclers will even pay the school for materials like paper, cell phones, and printer/ink cartridges.
- It’s also a good idea to have some recycling facts to help others realize the benefits of recycling.
Step 2 – Figure out what can be recycled
- Look at the school’s waste to see what can be recycled. This can be as easy as looking in each garbage can and estimating the amount of the different materials, or as thorough as doing a waste audit.
- Visually inspect various locations where trash is generated or collected:
- Teachers’ lounge
- Gyms and stadiums
- Building dumpsters
- List the materials that can be recycled and estimate the amount of each. This can be as simple as eye-balling containers and listing materials by apparent quantity (e.g., mostly paper from classrooms, lots of cardboard from offices and kitchen, some bottles and cans from cafeteria). A waste audit will allow you to better quantify amounts of various materials and could be used as an educational tool, as well.
Step 3 – Identify a recycling provider
Find a business or businesses that can pick-up and process recyclables.
Step 4 – Designate a recycling coordinator and support team
Recruit a recycling club or Green Team. This could include the principal, building manager, teachers, and students. Someone will need to be in charge of the recycling program, so designate a Recycling Coordinator.
Phase Two – Implement the Program
Step 1 – Write a step-by-step guide for recycling in the school
Come up with a recycling plan.
- Decide what type of material you want to recycle.
- Set goals for the program (e.g., decrease number of garbage pickups to __ per month, reduce yearly paper usage by __ reams, expand beyond paper recycling to include bottles and cans).
- Tour the school building and grounds to determine where recyclables should be collected and type(s) of recycling receptacles needed at each location. In classrooms you will need containers to collect paper; in the cafeteria, kitchen, teachers’ lounges, gyms, and outdoor sporting areas you will probably need receptacles suitable for bottles and cans. Don’t forget about the areas that generate cardboard waste. You may even need all-weather receptacles for outdoor areas.
- Figure out who will generate and deposit recyclables into recycling receptacles and provide appropriate signage of what can and cannot be recycled.
- Once the recycling receptacles are full, decide where the material is to be taken. You may want to provide larger containers for paper to be put in strategic areas that are convenient for students or teachers to deposit paper collected from classroom. Make sure you designate someone to take the recyclables to the recycling dumpster/tote so they don’t end up in the trash. This could be the responsibility of students, Green Team, facilities personnel, etc. Make sure they know where to find recyclables and where the recycling dumpster/tote is located.
- If someone has to call for a pick-up of the dumpster/tote when full, designate someone to look in dumpsters/totes on a regular schedule and then call when they are almost full.
Step 2 – Obtain and place recycling collection containers
Acquire and distribute recycling receptacles. Always put recycling receptacles next to garbage cans to prevent contamination. If you need to use bags, only use clear bags. Make sure each recycling receptacle is well marked with signs (paper recycling, lunch recycling).
Phase Three – Promote, Maintain, and Improve the Program
Step 1 – Kick off a new program any time of year
- Inform everyone about the program with signage, emails, morning announcements, newsletters, etc. Let people know what can be recycled and where the recycling containers are located.
- Consider having a kick-off event with an assembly or classroom programs.
- If you are collecting items (paper, aluminum, cell phones) through a fundraising program, make sure you inform parents and the community so they will also participate.
- Remind everyone of the recycling program at the beginning of each school year.
Step 2 – Monitor for contamination and landfill dumpster usage
- Keep records of how much you are recycling.
- Monitor the recycling containers and check for contamination. Adjust signage if you notice a lot of mistakes.
- Monitor landfill dumpster and decrease pick-ups as needed to make recycling financially sustainable.
Step 3 – Report results and continue promoting program
- Provide positive feedback by informing students, teachers, administrators, parents and the community of your successes.
- Let folks know the benefits of recycling and if the school is saving or making money by recycling.
- Keep recycling on everyone’s minds by hanging posters, including recycling facts in morning announcements, newsletters, etc.
- Consider having recycling contests like a zero waste lunch day where each grade or class competes to produce the least amount of lunch waste.
Step 4 – Reassess program and identify possible improvements
- Set aside time with the Green Team to evaluate what is working and what isn’t. This step may need to be done at intervals throughout the school year, and certainly at the end of every school year.
- Identify and recognize your successes!
- Identify possible improvements and create a plan for implementing those changes. This could include ways to reduce contamination in existing recycling bins, reducing garbage service if warranted, or adding new material(s) to be collected for recycling (e.g., adding bottle and can collection to an existing paper-only program).
Role of the Recycling Coordinator and Green Team
Just as with any other program, an effective recycling program needs leadership. A Recycling Coordinator can be a teacher, administrator, or parent volunteer. Whether the person volunteers for the position or is appointed, Recycling Coordinators usually take responsibility for:
- Researching a recycling service to pick up recyclables.
- Organizing the recycling collection system.
- Getting students and staff involved in the program and providing education.
- Tracking the progress of the program.
Depending on the size of your school, the Recycling Coordinator may spend anywhere from a day to a week getting a recycling program off the ground. After the program has started, the coordinator usually needs just a few hours each month to oversee the program.
In addition to the Recycling Coordinator, it’s useful to have a group of students involved who can monitor an area, grade level, or floor. This could be a Green Team or an Environmental Club. Team members check on recycling containers making sure they are relatively free from contamination and that they are conveniently placed next to trash cans and vending machines. They can make posters to place around the school, read recycling facts on morning announcements, assist students at cafeteria recycling stations, or other age-appropriate tasks.
School Recycling Program Checklist
Use this checklist to guide you through the process of setting up a sustainable recycling program at your school. For a printable version of the checklist, click here.
√ Seek support and input from your building manager, principal, and teachers.
√ Look at your waste to see what can be recycled.
√ Find a business to pick-up recyclables.
√ Recruit a recycling club or Green Team. This could include the principal, building manager, teachers, and students.
√ Contact the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District at 513-946-7737 for ideas, consultation, or to participate in the Recycling Assistance Program.
√ Come up with a recycling plan:
√ Tour the facility to determine where recyclables should be collected.
√ Target signage for who will generate and deposit recyclables into recycling receptacles. In classrooms this will be for students and teachers; in the kitchen for the kitchen staff; and in the gym and outdoor sporting areas for the general public.
√ Decide what types of recycling receptacles are needed. In classrooms, offices, and copy/print/fax areas you will probably just need boxes to collect paper; in cafeterias, kitchens, teachers’ lounges, gyms, and outdoor sporting areas you will probably need receptacles suitable for bottles and cans. Don’t forget about the areas that generate cardboard waste.
√ Designate someone to move material to the recycling dumpster or tote. This could be students, the Green Team, facilities personnel, etc. Make sure they know where to find recyclables and where the recycling dumpster/tote is located. Consider offering staff centrally located overflow container(s) to empty their individual recycling containers in the event their recycling bins fill up before someone collects the material.
√ Find out if you need to call for a pick-up when the recycling dumpster is full or if there is a scheduled pick-up day. If you need to call, figure out who will monitor the dumpster and make the call. If there is a scheduled pick-up day, monitor the amount of recyclables in the dumpster before pick-up to adjust service level as needed.
√ Acquire and distribute recycling receptacles. Always put recycling receptacles next to garbage cans to prevent contamination. If you need to use bags, only use clear bags.
√ Inform everyone about the program with signage, emails, morning announcements, newsletters, etc. Let people know what can be recycled and where the recycling containers are located. Consider having a kick-off event with an assembly or classroom programs. If you are collecting items (paper, aluminum, cell phones) through a fundraising program, make sure you inform parents and the community so they will also participate.
√ Keep records of how much you are recycling and set goals.
√ Monitor the recycling containers and check for contamination. Adjust signage if you notice a lot of mistakes.
√ Monitor landfill dumpster and decrease pick-ups as needed to make recycling financially sustainable.
√ Provide positive feedback by informing students, teacers, administrators, parents and the community of your successes. Let folks know the benefits of recycling (creates local jobs, and saves money, natural resources, energy, and landfill space). Keep recycling on everyone’s minds by hanging posters, including recycling facts in morning announcements, newsletters, etc. Consider having recycling contests and rewarding good recyclers.
Resources for Recycling