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5 Step Checklist To Start A Successful School Recycling Program

flex e ™ school recycling programs

How do we create a more sustainable society? Simple. We must change our bad habits!

Ok, we know this is easier said than done, but what we CAN do is make small changes today for a better tomorrow. And where we SHOULD start putting our focus is in teaching our kids.  If we want to raise our youth to be environmentally responsible individuals we need to instill good sustainable habits at an early age. That’s why we believe that schools should be ground zero when it comes to producing sustainable and environmentally “active” members of society.

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The North American school system generates a large amount of waste and pollution including, paper, food, cleaning products, water, etc. There is tremendous potential for your school to not only become more resource efficient but begin saving money by implementing an effective recycling program. Recycling is an educational opportunity and it encourages sustainable behaviour that students can take outside the classroom. With a strong and consistent recycling program in place our schools can become key drivers in developing sustainable models within our communities.

So don’t waste another minute and get started today with our 5 step checklist to start a School Recycling Program:

Step 1: Build Support For Your Recycling Program

  • It pays to do your research. When it comes to initial funding to start a school recycling program, you may not have the budget available, that’s why it is so important to look into start-up grants that are available through your state or province.  Whether it’s a government green grant for recycling businesses or other types of programs that are more generic, there is lots of money out there for the taking, you just have to do a little bit of research of which funding programs you may be eligible for. For more information about how to get a recycling grant check out our blog How to Get A Recycling Grant: Turn Your Trash into Treasure.

  • Get everyone’s buy-in! Get janitorial staff, teachers, students and active parents such as lunch and cafeteria monitors on board with a school recycling program. Conduct staff, student and PTA meetings to discuss the importance of an effective program, potential ROI, opportunities for funding, identify any past efforts (what worked, what didn’t work) and first steps. Here are 3 ways to help convince your team to start a recycling program.

Step 2: Start A Green Team

  • Put together a school Green Team with various stakeholders across the school. For example, teachers, parents and custodial staff this will make it much easier if you have their buy-in from the beginning. We also highly recommend including students. It’s important to be inclusive to build ownership for the program and shared responsibility.Inclusive
  • Conduct your own waste audit using our Waste Audit Toolkit
  • Create a list of recyclables and compost at your school
  • Discuss the recycling program with your waste hauler and determine any ROI oppurtunities through recycling rebates. Check out Questions To Ask Your Waste Hauler.

Step 3: Plan The Recycling Program

  • Determine collection points, how many different streams you will be collecting, and how many recycling bins you will need through the school including both indoors and outdoors. Check out our blog How Many Different Bins Do I Need For My Recycling Program? for more help.
  • Choose your recycling bins based on capacity, location, whether they are Future-Ready and remember to be consistent with signage and colors.

  • The right recycling bin for the right room is a critical part of effective school recycling programs. The Three-Pack BevvyBin was designed with classrooms in mind. Colour coded with restrictive openings to guide students to effectively separate their waste, recyclables and compost (most elementary students still eat in their classrooms so food waste is a necessary stream to collect).
school recycling program

BevvyBin8 is ideal for classrooms

BevvyBin 8 3 Pack with Waste, Recycling and Compost.

BevvyBin 8 3 Pack with Waste, Recycling and Compost.

CleanRiver recommended bins for school recycling programs:

  • Get the GRAPHICS right: From showing students exactly what goes where, to communicating your sustainability message, graphics are a powerful component of any school recycling program. CleanRiver has developed new and innovative ways to use graphics, such as diorama graphic displays, that showcase the actual waste generated, or branding for recycling programs to take pride and ownership.
school recycling programs

Custom Transition™ TIM with Diorama

  • Take the time to design your own graphics based on items your Green Team has identified as problematic in your waste audit. Include students in choosing items represented on the bin graphics to help guide them in making the right decision. Talk to us about custom graphics that can help your school program make a bigger impact. See our Guide to Recycling Graphics.

Step 4: Promote The Recycling Program

  • Be sure to communicate the upcoming roll out of your school recycling program through:
    • Assemblies
    • Newsletters
    • Tent cards in cafeterias
    • Educational posters in classrooms and hallways to support the program (CleanRiver will work with your school to design and print posters to support your schools recycling program)
    • Emails to staff and parents
  • Encourage teachers to set clear expectations of how to properly separate waste with their students and the role of the recycling program in their classrooms.
  • Include lessons and activities on the importance of recycling, sustainability and waste diversion. Check out OntarioEcoSchools for some great teaching resources and tools to help get started.

    recycling program

    Langley Township Recycling Program with CleanRiver Top Loading Bin

Step 5: Analyze, Adjust And Celebrate

  • Check in regularly with your janitorial team on how the recycling program is working from their perspective. Are they having challenges with staff and students not sorting their recycling effectively? Do you need to tweak the capacity of certain streams? If you’ve selected flexible recycling bins that allow you to increase or decrease the volume of streams you’ll be able to adapt your program as it develops. Be sure to schedule regular follow ups.
  • Celebrate and communicate the success any small wins of the recycling program with students, staff and parents.
  • If your school is beginning to produce a profit use the money for school trips, special guests and family fairs.

For more information on implementing successful recycling programs, check out our blogs 5 Risks To Consider Before Starting A Recycling Program and 3 Ways To Protect Your Recycling Program From Failure.


CleanRiver Recycling provides a variety of innovative, flexible and customizable recycling solutions. To determine the right solution to meet your needs, use the CleanRiver product selector.

If you have additional questions that weren’t answered in this blog post please call us at 1-888-646-4246 or email solutions@cleanriver.com.