Expanding Your School Recycling
and Waste Reduction Program

Once your school or school district has established a successful recycling and waste reduction program for state and locally mandated items, you should consider expanding your efforts to include other categories of waste found in your school’s waste stream.  A good place to start is to conduct a waste audit to figure out what materials still persist in your school’s waste stream.  After you have identified the different materials, you can begin to develop strategies to purchase alternative items that are recyclable or that reduce waste, use items that are less toxic, or create collection systems to recycle or compost these additional materials.  Composting or vermicomposting may help your school reduce the presence of organic wastes. Additionally, school supplies can often be reused by students and staff through the establishment of a "Re-Supply Center" at your school.


Conducting a Waste Audit

Waste audits (also called Waste Assessments) provide valuable information for schools.  They are a systematic way of determining the composition and quantity of your waste.  They expose the largest waste contributors by weight and by volume. The process of conducting a waste audit is to measure the weight/volume of the different categories of waste produced by a school over the course of one day or longer period of time.  This helps identify the aspects of a waste reduction program that need improvement and the categories of waste that have been successfully removed. A waste audit provides data that can be analyzed and monitored as new waste reduction techniques are implemented. The following guides provide step by step instructions for conducting a waste audit and contain useful tables for documenting your results.

Waste Audit Guides

Recycling Makes Sen$e - A Waste Prevention and Recycling Guide for Businesses, Schools and Municipal Offices  (Northeast Recycling Council) -  This guide includes Waste Assessment Instructions and Waste Assessment Sheets in the Appendices

Wisconsin School Waste Audit Guide  (Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin)

Hornsby Shire Council School Waste Audit Guide  (Hornsby Shire Council, Australia)

The Standardized Waste Audit (ChangeWorks, Scotland)


Special Categories of School Waste

In addition to the traditional recyclables (paper, bottles, cans), schools often have special categories of waste.  These categories may include school supplies, school lunch trash, including packaging waste and organic waste, paint, laboratory and photography chemicals, cleaning supplies, and small electronic waste. The ultimate goal of a waste audit is to reduce the amount of waste you are disposing. Therefore, conducting a waste audit must be followed by product specific waste reduction strategies. The resources provided will assist you in finding ways to prevent pencils, apple cores, and ink cartridges from entering the waste baskets in your classrooms.

For items that appear in your waste stream and are not listed below, such as art supplies, waste oil, batteries and grass clippings, etc., visit DEEP's "What Do I Do With…?" webpage for guidance on how to reduce, reuse, recycle, or dispose of those materials.

Electronic Waste (E-Waste)

Electronic waste, or E-Waste, is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the country. Wastes included in this category range from computers and TVs to ink cartridges and rechargeable batteries.

Connecticut Electronic Waste Basics  (CT DEEP)

State Electronics Challenge  (Northeast Recycling Council)

The Electronic Wasteland - Following the Trail of Toxic E-Waste  (CBS News Report, 60 minutes)

Electronics Takeback Coalition

HP Consumer Buy-Back Program

List of E-Waste Recyclers  (US EPA)

Additional List of E-Waste Recyclers  (Earth 911)

Ink and Toner Cartridge Recycling  (STAPLEs)

Rechargeable Batteries Recycling  (RBRC, Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation)


Fluorescent Lamp Recycling



Regardless of the reason, whether your pen ran out of ink, the metal rings on your binder no longer close, or you have too many colored pencils, you will undoubtedly find school supplies (e.g. binders, pencils, glue sticks, folders, etc.) in your waste stream. School supplies can be removed from the waste stream through product specific recycling programs, "Re-supply Centers," and environmentally preferable purchasing. These are just a few strategies for reducing your school supply waste stream. Remember to be creative!
  • Encourage staff and students to reuse office supplies such as paper clips, rubber bands, file folders, binders, and notebooks.

  • Buy refillable mechanical pencils and pens.

  • Be creative! Some of the items may make great crafting materials.
Start a ReSupply Center
A ReSupply Center gives gently used school and office supplies the chance at a second life. You will need a few key items to establish a ReSupply Center at your school:
  • Gently used items collected from students and staff
  • Space to store the items
  • An individual to monitor the center, and
  • Students and staff interested in obtaining FREE school supplies!

    To begin "stocking" your ReSupply Center, organize a clean out day for all staff and students. Provide bins or boxes for collection of reusable office and school supplies. Encourage students to bring usable, but unwanted school supplies from home. Once you have collected and sorted your school supplies you will need to store them in a room or small space on campus. Make sure to keep your room neat and organized for easy distribution. You will want to keep an inventory of items collected and items redistributed to promote the program accomplishments to your administration and/or your community. After your center is inventoried and organized, promote and encourage students and staff to "shop" at your ReSupply Center for needed items. A ReSupply Center will reduce school supplies in your waste stream, and save your school money!
Glue Bottles   (Elmer's Glue Crew Recycling Program)
Buy Recycled  (CT DEEP)


Your waste stream will undoubtedly include food scraps, coffee grinds, and unbleached paper towels. Reducing this waste stream can be fun and educational using traditional composting or vermicomposting.


Composting in the Classroom (A How-To Resource Recycling Article, January 2012)
The Worm Guide - A Vermicomposting Guide for Teachers  (CA Integrated Waste Management Board)
Creative Solutions to Ending School Food Waste - USDA Blog Post includes an info-graphic on school food waste and links to lesson plans and other useful information.


See School Lunch Waste resources below.

School Lunch Waste

The average student that takes a disposable lunch to school generates 67 pounds of lunch garbage per year!
  • Reduce packaging waste by encouraging parents and students to pack lunches and snacks in reusable plastic containers and lunchboxes.

  • Replace disposable lunch trays with reusable ones.
Waste Free Lunches   (WasteFreeLunches.org)
Terracycle Accepts common school lunch packaging for use in the production of new products.
Getting an "A" at Lunch (INFORM)  Although this report discusses college and university dining hall practices, some are relevant to grade school settings.
Greening Food and Beverage Services: A Green Seal Guide to Greening the Industry (AHLEI)  Food production and service make a huge impact on people and the environment, much of it negative.  Topics include: environmental impacts across the food service life cycle; management of pre- and post-consumer food waste; conducting a waste audit; staff training for waste management; understanding energy and water use; and tracking, reporting, and marketing sustainability efforts.

Print Shop Supplies

School print shops can be a source of tremendous amounts of paper waste, waste lubricants, and waste chemicals, inks, and solvents. Proper recycling of the paper waste is easy, but disposing of the more hazardous wastes can be challenging. Older inks and current solvents used for printing and cleaning of machines often contain hazardous solvents and heavy metal pigments. Check all Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), often shipped with the product or easily found online, for inks and solvents used to determine if any of their components are hazardous. You can compare the listed substances to DEEP's hazardous waste determination fact sheet to determine whether your inks must be disposed of as hazardous waste. If a component of your ink or solvent is classified as hazardous you must follow the proper hazardous waste storage and disposal requirements. The same guidelines apply to any rags or wipes used to clean your machines. Wastes that are not classified as hazardous waste do not need to be managed in compliance with hazardous waste requirements, but may not be placed in the trash. Instead, these wastes must be disposed of as non-hazardous "Connecticut-Regulated Wastes".  The following fact sheets can help you establish a pollution prevention strategy for your school’s print shop to minimize the amount and toxicity of the waste you generate.

Checklist for Print Shops  (New Jersey, DEP)

Photographic Chemicals

The dry and wet photographic chemicals used in the development of film and photos in your school’s darkroom often contain hazardous ingredients. Use the hazardous waste determination fact sheet and the Connecticut Regulated Waste webpage  to determine if your processing chemicals are hazardous. If your chemicals are considered hazardous waste visit the RCRA Help webpage
for information on the proper disposal mechanism for these chemicals. Some companies will also take back your used chemicals for recycling.  You can use the tool on the Earth 911 webpage Tips for Recycling and Disposing of Photographic Chemicals to find a recycling or disposal area near you.

Laboratory Chemicals

Middle school and high school laboratory chemicals can be toxic, caustic, and hazardous to your health. Proper storage and disposal of these materials is essential. Recent changes in Connecticut’s hazardous waste regulations allow many small hazardous waste generators, like schools, to bring their waste to household hazardous waste (HHW) collections.  To see if your school is eligible to participate in one of these collections, see the DEEP’s Household Hazardous Waste/Small Business Collections web page. These household hazardous waste collections take in hazardous wastes such as oil-based paints, pesticides, fertilizers, thinners, acids, mercury, gasoline and other household chemicals. If your school qualifies you can bring your chemical waste to the local HHW collection events for disposal. Contact your local HHW facility to guarantee that they will collect specific chemicals. If your school does not qualify as a CESQG, refer to the Small Generators Guidance Document to find out how to properly dispose of your waste.  Do not throw these chemicals in your normal waste stream and never pour organic solvents down the drain! You must collect these solvents in the appropriately labeled containers and store them properly in your storage cabinet until your disposal date. More accurate purchasing can help reduce the quantity of waste being stored and the cost of your hazardous waste disposal. Communicate with your procurement officer, so they can make more informed purchasing decisions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the launch of two public websites, ToxCastDB, a toxicity forecaster database, and ExpoCastDB, a database of chemical exposure studies. The EPA believes these websites will be helpful for the public in examining and determining the potential risks of chemicals. ToxCastDB is a searchable database that estimates the potential toxicity of the chemicals. ExpoCastDB collects human exposure data from measurements taken in homes and child care centers. It also includes data on quantities of chemicals in food, drinking water, air, dust, indoor surfaces, and urine. In addition to the launch of these sites, the EPA recently declassified over 100 health and safety studies involving chemicals in dispersants and consumer products that industry previously kept confidential.

Sources of Chemicals in Schools  (US EPA) 

School Lab Cleanout Program in Connecticut 2002/2003  (CT DEEP)

Building an Integrated Chemical Management Program for Schools  (Pfizer; LEARN)

Household Hazardous Waste  (US EPA)

School Chemical Clean-Out Campaign (SC3)  (US EPA)

Medical Waste from School Clinic

Medical waste can contain blood borne pathogens and should be handled very carefully. Since medical waste can be hazardous, recycling is generally not a viable option. However, there is still a preferred method for proper disposal of waste from your school’s clinic. These resources will provide you with the current recommended disposal practices.

Disposing of Medicines and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Products  (CT DEEP)

Fact Sheet - How to Dispose of Prescription Medicines and OTC Products  (CT DEEP) 

Medical/Infectious Waste Disposal  (CT DEEP)


Cleaning Products

If your school has not adopted an environmentally preferable cleaning strategy you may encounter hazardous cleaning products in your waste stream. These cleaning supplies could include used gloves, paper towels, residual solvent-based cleaning products, such as spot removers, degreasers, or products containing ammonia or chlorine bleach. First, encourage your school to purchase environmentally preferable cleaning supplies
. This will reduce your hazardous waste disposal needs and the disposal costs. Unwanted or leftover hazardous cleaning products should not be disposed of in the trash, flushed down the toilet, poured down the sink drains, nor should they be poured into storm drains or onto the ground. If you have hazardous waste contact your town’s Department of Public Works to inquire about bringing your materials to their household hazardous waste collections, or contact a licensed hazardous waste hauler to help with your disposal needs.

Waste reduction (consuming less and/or throwing away less) is also referred to as pollution prevention, source reduction and pre-recycling. Connecticut residents generate an estimated 5 pounds of garbage everyday! Schools are the perfect place to begin teaching the next generation about the importance of source reduction and conservation. The items you discard in the garbage have an entire life cycle of waste associated with them. Wastes are generated during the extraction of raw materials, the processing and manufacturing steps, the use phase and finally the disposal of the item. Waste reduction strategies can help you and your school reduce your environmental footprint and can save your school money!


Zero Waste Solutions

Zero Waste is a philosophy and a design principle for the 21st century.  The Zero Waste approach seeks to maximize recycling, minimize waste, reduce consumption and ensures that products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled back into nature or the marketplace.



Disclaimer: The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) maintains the content on this web site to enhance public access to information and facilitate understanding of waste reduction, reuse and recycling. The DEEP is not recommending these resources over any others and recognizes these represent only a partial listing of resources on this subject.

Content Last Updated February 2020