The California Integrated Waste Management Board (now known as CalRecycle) conducted a survey of K-12 schools in 1994 to assess existing waste reduction efforts. Staff also used this information to select a variety of school districts throughout the state to participate in a pilot program to quantify the benefits of recycling in terms of reducing waste going to local landfills and saving schools money.
Based upon this pilot program, and other success stories, CalRecycle developed two guides to help school districts reduce waste. While these guides are no longer in print, the fundamental principles and process remain current. They are available online through the CalRecycle Publications Catalog (use links below).
- Seeing Green Through Waste Prevention provides valuable insights to performing waste composition surveys, waste prevention activities, and cost analysis procedures to help set up a comprehensive waste reduction program. (1999)
- A Districtwide Approach to Recycling includes case studies that document the economic benefits of districtwide programs and detailed information on how to promote districtwide recycling. (1994)
Since that time, CalRecycle continues to collaborate with school districts to manage sustainable solid waste and recycling programs. These efforts include surveys (2000 and 2003), the School District Diversion Project (2001), and ongoing technical assistance in coordination with local recycling coordinators. CalRecycle also works to provide current examples of successful programs for peer matching.
Below you will find various strategies and techniques to reduce schools’ environmental footprint throughout the state. To the degree possible, these examples are listed by geographical regions—North, Bay, Central, and Southern California—and feature specific replicable program components.
- Comprehensive School Recycling Programs
- School Organics Recovery Programs
- Local Government Programs for Schools
Comprehensive School Recycling Programs
Starting July 1, 2012, schools that generate four cubic yards or more of waste per week are required to recycle. Each of the following programs highlight a recycling program for traditional recyclables, such as paper, beverage containers, and cardboard.
- Pine Hill Elementary School—The school hosts a community recycling program in conjunction with Humboldt Bay Service Corps (Americorps)
- Tahoe Truckee Unified School District—The Sustainability and Energy Conservation Program’s recycling and waste reduction efforts save the district $50,000 per year.
Bay Area Region
- Alameda Unified School District—This district uses a standardized process to educate students and their families, custodial and food service staff, teachers, and the community and was awarded a 2014 Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association (CSBA) for Sustainable, Renewable, Energy and Resource Efficient Programs.
- Berkeley Unified School District—This district hosts the Green Star Schools Program and has a partnership with the city, Green Teams, and a 58 percent waste diversion rate.
- Bishop O’Dowd High School—This school hosts Green Gloves, a 2015 partnership with the ReThink Disposable project, and they replaced disposable cafeteria plates and bowls with reusable baskets, reducing solid waste by 3,376 pounds per year.
- Oakland Unified School District—This district hosts the Green Gloves Program and is greening school operations via Nutrition and Custodial Services staff.
- Ukiah High School—Members of the Environmental Club at Ukiah High School organized a Bring Your Own Bag campaign, a student initiative culminating in a related local ordinance.
- Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission’s Local Conservation Corps (LCC)—This Corp provides recycling programs for schools and colleges. The Schools Recycling Team and its recycling mascot, Karla Kool Kan, provide recycling education to students. Each school receives a monthly check for all monies generated from CRV collected on their campus.
- Kern High School District—This district’s Food Services Department and Central Kitchen staff participate in the 2015 Keep California Beautiful K-12 Recycling Challenge. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools also has a specific page for recycling programs.
- Ojai Unified School District—This district puts a strong focus on the "5Rs" (reduce, reuse, recycle, rot and rethink!) to minimize the district’s ecological footprint.
- Arvin Union School District – This district’s waste hauler, Mountainside Disposal, donates all profits from their community-recycling program to the Arvin Union School District. In addition, Mountainside Disposal partners with the City of Arvin to provide support and diversion education to students in the City of Arvin. For example, in 2017, the City and Mountainside Disposal partnered to provide pocket folders to every student in the City.
- Irvine Unified School District—The Irvine District has a recycling plan with a Green Team. Their Facilities Planning and Construction Department also implements environmentally friendly design standards based on criteria developed by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools.
- Oceanside Unified School District—This district committed to a goal of zero waste by adopting a Zero Waste Resolution in 2014.
- San Diego Unified School District—This district’s waste reduction and recycling program operates through its District's Energy/Utilities Management Program, and offers recycling signage examples, hosts a separate website dedicated to recycling in schools, and has a supplies exchange for schools to reduce waste.
- Westmorland Union Elementary School District—Working closely with local government, this district overhauled its waste management activities, cutting back from 6-cubic-yard bins of garbage picked up twice per to two 6-cubic-yard garbage containers, and one 3-cubic-yard bin for recyclables picked up once per week. This is a reduction of more than half the existing disposal capacity!
School Organics Recovery Programs
With the passage of AB 1826, starting in April of 2016 and depending on the amount of weekly generation, schools are required to recycle organic waste. The following are excellent examples of school districts diverting organic material from the landfill through edible food recovery, composting, vermicomposting and anaerobic digestion.
- Davis Joint Unified School District—DavisRISE (Recycling Is Simply Elementary) lunch waste reduction program is designed to handle both home and school lunch waste throughout all schools in the district and is one component of the Davis Farm to School program.
Bay Area Region
- Anderson Valley Elementary School—This school is a 2015 Keep California Beautiful winner for organics recycling: they compost plant and tree trimmings, give food waste from their lunchroom to a local chicken farmer, and vermicompost food from their after school program. In addition, they also recycle Capri-sun pouches and milk cartons.
- Bay Farm School—This school has implemented an efficient three-stream waste diversion program that diverts 85 percent of solid waste from the landfill. Students monitor lunchtime sorting and conduct waste audits to keep recyclables out of classroom and playground trash.
- Upland Unified School District—This school is a U.S. EPA Food Recovery Challenge participant that implements share boxes and Styrofoam reduction.
- Palmdale and San Bernardino Schools—These schools donate food to Food Bus, a public charity that designs, implements and maintains systems by which unused/unopened food leftover from elementary school lunches is saved from being thrown out as waste and then is distributed to local food pantries.
- Arvin Union School District – Since 2003, the schools in the district have had organic service including food waste. The students are very dedicated to the process; in fact, students direct fellow students on how to properly place their food waste in the right bins. One school in the City of Arvin, Grimmway Academy, has a compost bin, a vermicompost bin as well as gardens. The rest of the school’s organic waste is collected by Price Disposal for composting at nearby composting facilities.
- Anaheim City School District—Waste Not Orange County Coalition provides great resources from their pilot with this district, which is already donating food from three schools. These resources include the district’s Food Donation Process Reference Guide and Food Safety Guide for Schools Interested in Donating their Excess Wholesome Food (CA).
- Los Angeles Unified School District—In an effort to avoid discarding excess or unused food served, the Board of Education passed the "Healthy Students, Healthy Families, Healthy Communities" resolution to make surplus edible food and edible food waste available to charitable organizations.
- Manhattan Beach Unified School District—This district diverts food waste by combining on-site composting with a municipal program that converts food waste into energy.
- Oceanside Unified School District (OUSD)—Through the adoption of the OUSD Zero Waste Resolution in 2014, OUSD is working to reach a goal of 75 percent recycling rate by 2020. This is the first school district in the nation to commit to the goal of Zero Waste!
- The Orange County Office of Education—The Office of Education's Project Zero Waste program was awarded the 2015 CSBA Golden Bell Award. Project Zero Waste is an Inside the Outdoors’ service-learning environmental science program run in partnership with the County of Orange Waste and Recycling team.
- Ramona Unified School District—This rural district is diverting food surplus and waste into food donation, animal feed, and on-site composting with an Earth Tub and recipient of 2016 CSBA Golden Bell Award for Sustainable, Renewable, Energy and Resource Efficient Programs.
Local Government Programs for School
Many cities and counties have developed school district waste reduction program assistance for their local school districts. The following examples may provide ideas on how to establish effective partnerships between school districts and local jurisdictions in your community.
- Yuba-Sutter Regional Waste Management Authority—Supports Cash for Class: a fundraising program for California Redemption Value (CRV) aluminum cans.
Bay Area Region
- StopWaste—Offers Alameda County school districts technical assistance if they commit to a comprehensive district-wide waste reduction and recycling program to reduce waste through reuse, recycling, and composting and if they close the recycling loop by purchasing recycled products.
- Castro Valley Sanitary District (CVSan) Schools Food Scrap Recycling Program—CVSan developed a comprehensive guide to help schools implement a successful food scrap recycling program.
- Environmental Action Program for Schools—A free program for schools located in the unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County and the City of Oakley. It includes eight action areas: recycling, school composting, becoming a collection site, letter campaigning, becoming less toxic, preventing waste, buying recycled, and providing environmental curriculum from which to choose. Upon completing activities in four of these eight action areas, schools earn the title of Environmental Action School.
- San Jose Go Green Schools Program—-Fosters school recycling and environmental stewardship in a parent- and community-driven process. The City partners with the Go Green Initiative—an innovative, comprehensive environmental program for K-12 schools endorsed by San Jose's City Council.
- San Francisco Environment—Offers all city schools free K-12 assemblies and classroom curriculum that educates students about how recycling protects the environment and what can be recycled. SF Environment also provides city public and private schools with free blue classroom recycling bins and signs.
- "Recycle Works" Schools Program—San Mateo County provides assistance setting up recycling programs, gardening and composting projects, tips for facilities and maintenance staff and the latest news about legislation, good policy examples and award programs.
- Marin County Zero Waste Schools Program—Offers assistance to comply with state composting and recycling requirements. Zero waste experts educate teachers, students, and staff on the benefits of reducing waste, provide the infrastructure to set up indoor and outdoor recycling and composting, and help schools implement 3-bin waste stations for resource recovery.
- RecycleMore—Comprehensive school recycling and classroom education program serves West Contra Costa County schools.
- School Paper Recycling Program—One of San Bernardino's citywide commercial recycling services. This program is available to schools within the San Bernardino City limits that are serviced for refuse by the City Refuse and Recycling Division.
- Santa Barbara County—Provides assistance to schools with recycling bins, educational materials, waste services, and more.
- County of Santa Cruz Green Schools Program—Supports the county’s schools as they evolve into "Green Schools" that model wise resource use, eliminate waste, reduce nonpoint source pollution, and train students to conserve scarce resources like energy and water.
- City of Victorville Recycling Program—Helps set-up school recycling programs with fliers, recycling signs and posters, recycling containers, and recommendations on placement of containers. Schools can also participate in Victorville Recycles Week each November when they can compete with other organizations in the city for cash awards.
- Smart Business Recycling Program—Offers resources and consultation services that can help schools in the Los Angeles County unincorporated areas reduce the amount of trash they generate and implement new recycling practices or enhance existing practices.
- County of San Diego—Helps to establish or strengthen school recycling programs through on-site technical assistance, including composting.