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Getting Started with School Recycling

Starting a successful School Recycling Program is challenging! It involves coordination and cooperation with several different entities. One of the most important aspects of a successful school recycling program is communication--that is making sure everyone knows how the program works, and who is responsible for the different elements of the program. Below is a list of steps to take and the questions that need to be asked in implementing each step.

Organize a coordination team and obtain support from school administrators.

Start a recycling club at your school. Ideally, the club should consist of concerned students, a teacher (science teachers are best), the principal, a PTA member and a custodian (keep in mind that many school recycling programs fail because the custodians simply throw the recyclabes in with the general trash, negating the separation process).

Decide who will be removing the recyclables and where they will be taken for processing.

This is always the most challenging aspect of a successful school recycling program. Determining where the recyclables will go to be "processed" and how they will get there is essential. It may be helpful to contact municipal recycling officials in your city or town as well as the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (942-1430 ext. 252).

First, see if you can get your school included in your town's existing residential recycling program. Many times, recycling trucks that are driving right past your school can simply stop and pick up your recyclables at curbside. If you are unsuccessful with the town, you should pose the challenge to your school's parent teacher organization. Some schools have found local non-profits that are willing to pick up their school's paper and soda cans on a weekly basis (the soda cans help underwrite the cost of removing the paper). Unfortunately, there are no non-profits that specialize in this, so an effort needs to be launched to find one in your community that would be willing to help. If this fails, some schools have parents that transport the school's paper to the recycling facility on a rotating basis.

Decide which recyclables will be collected and ensure that you have enough containers for all the classrooms and offices.

Most of the waste that schools generate is paper, so collecting paper is the best place to start. After your school is successfully recycling its paper, then you can add the other materials. Recyclables must be separated from trash or they will not be recycled. If recyclables are mixed with trash, they become worthless and will be landfilled instead of recycled.

Mike Mesolella is the contact at RIRRC for obtaining classroom recycling bins and posters. He can also be reached at 942-1430 extension 252.

Determine how the recyclables collected in the rooms and offices will be transported to a storage location and what the recyclables will be stored in until they are taken to a recycling facility.

Some of the most successful school recycling programs have students collect the recyclable paper and bring it to a central collection point. If the custodial staff will be collecting the separated paper along with the trash, make sure they are committed and willing to do so. Also, ensure that they have the proper equipment-- school custodians often have one barrel on wheels that they use to collect trash. Because they only have one barrel, they often mix the recyclables with trash.

Where will the recyclable paper be stored until is it collected and taken to a recycling facility? Does your school have large wheeled carts or "Toters" as they are sometimes called, to store the material in until it can be removed?

Educate everyone involved with the program

Make sure everyone who is involved with the program knows about when it is starting and what they are supposed to recycle. RIRRC will provide free MaxMan recycling posters for the entire school if you want them. Contact RIRRC about having a guest speaker (and MaxMan) come visit your school to discuss the importance of recycling.

As for classroom bins, totes and student education, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) can help you, contact Paul A. Caccia for classroom education at 942-1430, x115 and Mike Messolela for classroom bins at x252.

Monitor the success of the program continually.

After the recycling program is underway, periodically assess its effectiveness. Keep in communication with the custodial staff and get feedback from them on how well they think it is working. Also, on a regular basis, do "spot-checks" of the recycling bins, trash cans and dumpster to determine if recyclables are being thrown away.