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What your school can do about waste - practical ways in which schools can reduce, reuse & recycle.

The nearly 34,000 schools in the U.K. produce a significant proportion of the waste dealt with by local authorities and waste contractors and, as a result, have a vital role to play in dealing with the waste problem.

The good news is that, as well as having environmental and social benefits, taking action on waste can save, or even make, your school money. Depending on their size, schools can currently spend between £300 and £1000 per year on waste disposal. Through reducing, reusing and recycling, schools can cut waste production by more than 50%, saving money on disposal costs. Money not spent on wasted materials or on waste disposal is money that can be spent on something else - a vitally important fact in these days of delegated budgets.

Here are some ideas to get you started. However, it is important to remember that you won't become a waste-free school overnight and it will take a while to build up support, particularly in larger schools. So don't get downhearted if things take a while to get going.


  • Rather than asking pupils to start a new page for each piece of work, get them to rule off below previous work and continue on the same page.
  • Develop strategies that encourage your children not to throw written work away as soon as they make a mistake.
  • Cut the amount of paper used by your school through greater use of I.C.T., both in lessons and for administration.
  • Cut down on photocopying. Ask yourself whether it is the best way of presenting the information to your class. Would using Powerpoint or an OHP be better? If you do need to photocopy, do it double-sided whenever practical.
  • Is it necessary to print everything that's done in the I.C.T. room out onto paper? And if so, could it be printed double sided?
  • When sending home letters, combine information into one letter rather than sending three separate letters. Ensure that families only get sent one copy and consider whether it is feasible to send information by other means e.g. e-mail.
  • About one fifth by weight of most schools' waste consists of food. If your school has a lot of food waste, could this be because pupils are being given portions that are too big or that they are being given things that they don't want to eat?
  • Talk to the people who do the catering for your school about buying food with less packaging on.
  • Aim towards 'waste-free lunches' for those who bring a packed lunch. Encourage children not to bring more food than they can eat and to use reusable bottles and flasks for drinks instead of individual cartons or cans. They could also be asked to use reusable airtight containers for snacks and packed lunches instead of disposable wrappers.
  • Give careful thought to what is sold in your school tuck shop, both in terms of healthy eating and the amount of waste produced. Reduce the number of crisp packets in your school bin by having crisp-free days and generally limiting the number of packets eaten per child, promoting fruit as a healthier alternative.
  • For parties at Christmas and the end of term, use washable plates and cups instead of disposable ones made from paper and plastic.
  • Save money by sharing infrequently used resources with other nearby schools.


  • Always use both sides of a piece of paper, before you recycle it or throw it away. Make sure that every classroom has a 'scrap' paper tray and put paper that has only been used on one side into this, rather than putting it straight in the bin or sending it off for recycling. The paper can then be used for 'rough work' or at wet playtimes. Another good place for one of these scrap trays is by the photocopier!
  • Reuse items of waste in art work, and use plastic pots for growing seeds, etc. Reuse old paper which cannot be written on any more to make papier mache models or your own recycled paper.
  • Provide children with reusable 'sports bottles' that can be cleaned out and refilled every day.
  • Ask your office staff to reuse envelopes by sticking a label over the old address. This will save money as well as reduce the number of envelopes thrown away.
  • Collect in photocopied worksheets and store them so that they can be used again in subsequent years. This will save you work too!
  • Hold a bring and buy sale to raise money for your school to which people can bring old clothes, toys or books for someone else to buy and reuse.
  • Request that teachers reuse paper when changing classroom displays
  • Make use of rechargeable batteries and refillable print cartridges.
  • More than 80 scrapstores exist throughout the UK to take in scrap materials to be used in work with children. Join your local scrapstore and persuade your 'after school club' to do the same.
  • Don't just throw old school furniture in a skip. Find out if anyone else can make use of it first. Many projects exist to pass unwanted furniture to voluntary groups and people in need and there are also similar schemes for computers.
  • Give old tools from the school workshops to Tools for Self Reliance who can refurbish these before sending them on to developing countries.


  • Not surprisingly, the main material thrown away by schools is paper, which makes up at least quarter of their waste. Contact the recycling officer at your local council and ask them to provide your school with a paper recycling bin or equivalent. Then, set up a system of paper collection from each classroom which can be taken to the main recycling bin at the end of each day or week. Also ask them if they are running a Yellow Woods Challenge so that you can recycle Yellow Pages directories.
  • Set up a composting scheme or a worm composter for food & green waste, including all the staff's tea bags and fruit scraps. Again your local council's recycling officer may be able to help here. In some cases, compost bins can be provided to schools free of charge.
  • If your school has a drinks vending machine, put a bin next to it to collect up old cans for recycling. You can even join schemes which will enable you to make money from these for your school. For more information on these, see 'What your school can do about waste' on the Waste on the Web page of this site.
  • Cardboard milk cartons can also be recycled. Wash them out after use and store them for collection. For more details, contact the Association for Beverage Carton Manufacturers and the Environment
  • Encourage your school to buy and use recycled paper and other recycled products. Doing so may mean that in the short term you pay higher prices for some goods but in the long term it will increase demand and lower prices. A number of websites containing information about recycled products are listed on the Waste on the Web page of this site.

So remember to reduce, reuse and recycle your waste. It is much better to reduce waste in the first place as then there is less to deal with. Reusing things is the second best option as it saves you buying new things. After you have reduced and reused as much as you can, recycle.

The last thing that should cross your mind is to throw it in the bin!

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