Waste Prevention Ideas for Schools and Classrooms

This list of waste prevention ideas from other schools is intended to assist you in jump starting your waste prevention efforts.

Reduce Paper Waste Whenever Possible

  • Allow students to submit homework on the back side of used paper.
  • Duplicate handouts using both sides of paper.
  • Approach school administrators about purchasing a copy machine that makes duplex copies, if your current copier doesn’t.
  • Avoid printing extra handouts.
  • Keep a box for various types of scratch papers (single-sided, construction, etc.).
  • Bind scrap paper to use for taking notes.
  • Maximize use of overhead projector and black /white board to minimize use of dittoed information.
  • Place worksheets in plastic sleeves. Have students write with crayon and erase with carpet squares.
  • Use erasable lap boards for classroom work.
  • Place wall decorations directly on walls or bulletin boards without paper linings. Reuse wall decorations or exchange them with other teachers.
  • Collect scraps of construction paper, fabric, wood, and other items to use for projects. Ask local businesses to donate materials they intend to discard or provide a list of wanted items. Also, some communities have material exchanges for art supplies where schools can get cheap or free materials. Contact your county or city recycling coordinators for information.
  • There are several ways to start special projects that reduce waste inside or outside the classroom:1. Write letters to manufacturers asking them to use less packaging and design products that are more durable, repairable, and reusable.

    2. Designate a “no-waste day” to see how much waste can be reduced. Teach students how to bring a no-waste lunch.

    3. Investigate the feasibility of composting yard debris and cafeteria fruit and vegetable trimmings.

    4. Set up a worm bin in the classroom (see the request form in the appendix to receive information on vermicomposting/composting).

    5. Conduct a waste prevention poster contest. Specify that posters must be made from used materials.

Product Purchasing

  • Purchase products that are easy to repair.
  • Purchase durable goods.
  • Purchase refillable products (e.g., pens and pencils).
  • Purchase products in concentrate or bulk form. (these often have less packaging per unit of product than unconcentrated or individually wrapped items).
  • Purchase products made with recycled materials.
  • Purchase or make reusable displays. Borrow or trade displays with other teachers.
  • Bring lunch in reusable containers, e.g., use a thermos and cloth lunch bag or lunch box. Encourage students to do the same!
  • Use reusable dishware for class parties. Consider having each student keep his/her own cup, plate, and utensils for parties. Alternatively, select party foods that don’t need to be served on dishware.
  • Set up a table at the end of semesters for students to place unwanted pencils, notebooks, etc. Bring the materials out at the beginning of the next semester for students to use.

Making Lapboards

You can make lap boards from masonite boards, roughly 12″ x 18″. Paint these with two coats of chalkboard paint, ‘cured’ by rubbing chalk across the board, and washed with a wet cloth. The rule-of-thumb for chalkboard paint is one pint per classroom.

Students can use old socks or carpet squares for erasers. The amount of paper saved could justify purchasing the materials. (Students could estimate the amount of paper saved over a specified period of time.)

Waste Prevention in Administrative Offices and Teacher’s Lounges

This list of waste prevention ideas from other schools is intended to help jump start your waste prevention efforts. Brainstorming with others is bound to create more ideas!

  • Cut paper use where possible.
  • Make two-sided copies.
  • Use bulletin boards, electronic mail and/or voice mail to convey or exchange information.
  • Print forms on paper which has been used on one side, such as faculty/student messages and homework requests.
  • Post memos and general bulletins next to teacher’s mailboxes instead of making individual copies.
  • Set up boxes to collect paper used on one side only. Reuse blank sides of paper in laser printers or as scratch pads.
  • Use centralized files for hard copies instead of individual file systems.
  • Reuse manila envelopes/file folders.
  • Re-format faxes to omit cover sheet.
  • Circulate magazines rather than buying multiple subscriptions.
  • Use a half sheet of paper for short messages and memos.
  • When sending notes to parents, send one per family rather than one with each student.
  • Before printing, double check the number and type of copies you need (e.g., double-sided and collated).
  • Replace “Post-it notes” by using reused paper and paper clipping it to documents. “Post-its” are a contaminant for recycling because of the self-adhesive strip.
  • Establish policy that it is acceptable to have a few hand corrected typos on internal messages and memorandums so that copies don’t have to be redone.
  • Reuse packaging and packing materials.
  • Use rebuilt or refillable toner cartridges, and send used toner cartridges to a company that will rebuild or refill them.
  • Use permanent tape dispensers.
  • Use refillable pens and pencils.
  • Send typewriter ribbons to a firm that re-inks them.
  • Send postcards or call to remove your name from mailing lists.
  • Buy sugar, coffee, and tea in bulk. Use reusable coffee filters (metal or cloth) or ones made from unbleached paper.
  • Drink from reusable mugs. Set up storage rack for mugs.
  • Bring lunch in reusable containers.
  • Bring in magazines to share with colleagues.
  • Keep reusable dishware on hand to use for lunch or parties.

Waste Prevention at Special Events

This list of waste prevention ideas from other schools is intended to help you jump start your waste prevention efforts. Brainstorming with others is bound to result in more ideas!

  • Avoid giving away junk prizes that break easily or will be thrown away.
  • Design decorations that can be reused.
  • Make displays and decorations from used items and design them so they can be reused.
  • Exchange decorations with other groups so they are “new”.
  • Don’t release balloons into the environment. The balloons can cause problems for wildlife. For example, animals may mistake the balloons for food.
  • Select a menu that eliminates the need for service ware. For example, serve sandwiches, fruit, cookies, and other finger foods.
  • Use reusable table cloths, plates, cups, and utensils, if practical.
  • Have everyone label their cups so they can keep track of them.
  • Post agendas or program information.
  • Collect programs after an event and use them again (e.g., band concert).
  • Print programs and other materials using soy-based inks.
  • Ask attendees to share programs or handouts.
  • If name tags are needed, select ones that can be reused. Collect the tags at the end of the event and use them again. Recycle paper inserts.
  • Set out clearly labeled reuse or recycling bins at an event. Arrange to reuse or recycle waste that is generated.
  • Use both sides of poster board before recycling or discarding.
  • Inform public about “greenness” of event and how they can contribute (e.g., bring your own plate).

Other Waste Prevention Ideas

  • Waste prevention activities need support from the top! Top administrators should have a waste reduction resolution or policy that provides support for waste prevention and recycling practices to be implemented at the school.
  • Provide staff training on waste prevention. Educating staff on cost savings/benefits will empower them to identify alternatives.
  • Award or recognize waste prevention efforts.
  • Set up monthly “No-Waste Days” where the object is to create as little waste as possible. Eventually, the event may turn into habit.
  • Create PTA positions for waste prevention and recycling.
  • Sponsor the sale of reusable lunch bags or lunch boxes to cut down on disposable lunch bags. Send a letter home or present information at a PTA meeting, encouraging parents to give students “no waste” lunches.
  • Check to see if your area has a materials exchange for art supplies, furniture, books, or other materials. Some regions have material exchanges that sell goods inexpensively or donate them to schools.
  • Set up swaps to exchange goods.
  • Set up a waste display to educate students and faculty.

For more information contact: Schools Program, schools@calrecycle.ca.gov.