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Knowledge Base » Safeguarding » Recycling in Schools

Recycling in Schools

Last updated on 17th April 2023

The 32,028 schools in the UK have a vital role to play in improving the environment by educating children about the importance of recycling and getting them excited and involved in schools’ recycling initiatives such as Plastic Fantastic, Pledge2WIN, Kids Against Plastic, Alupro – Masters of Infinity, and there are many, many more.

Great recycling and reuse ideas from school can be taken home and implemented to help to drive down the mountains of waste that we produce each year.

Some recycling facts and figures

  • Up to 60% of the rubbish that ends up in landfill could be recycled.
  • An estimated 13 billion plastic bottles are disposed of each year, but more than 285,000 tonnes, or 6.28 billion plastic bottles, are not recycled. This costs local councils £24.3m in disposal costs.
  • Recycling a single plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60W light bulb for up to 6 hours.
  • Recycling 1 tonne of plastic bottles saves 1.5 tonnes of carbon. 1 tonne = 25,000 plastic bottles.
  • 65% of UK local authorities provide a recycling collection for plastic bottles.
  • The UK produces over 9 billion drinks cans every year.
  • There are over 2.5 billion cans recycled in the UK each year – that’s a saving of 125,000 tonnes of solid waste every year. Stretched end to end, these recycled cans would stretch three quarters of the way round the world.
  • 90% of all drinks cans sold in the UK every year are made of aluminium.
  • Making one aluminium drinks can from raw materials uses the same amount of energy that it takes to recycle 20 aluminium drinks cans, and the energy saved by recycling just one aluminium drinks can is enough to run a television for 3 hours.
  • Each average UK household uses approximately 600 steel cans and 500 glass bottles and jars per year.
  • Glass that is thrown away and ends up in landfill will never decompose.
  • All steel cans can be recycled – they can be recycled over and over again, into anything from cars and bicycles to more steel cans.
  • 12.5 million tonnes of paper and cardboard are used annually in the UK.
  • Recycled paper produces 73% less air pollution than if it was made from raw materials, and every tonne of paper recycled saves 17 trees.
  • Each year in the UK we throw away over 600 million batteries and over 20,000 tonnes of batteries are sent to landfill.
  • Electrical goods are the fastest growing waste stream in the UK, growing by 5% each year.
  • 15 million mobile phones are upgraded in the UK each year – laid from end to end they would reach from John O’Groats to Lands End.
  • We throw away more than 7 million tonnes of food and drink every year from our homes, most of which could have been safely consumed. Wasting food costs the average family £420 a year and the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road.
  • 1/2 a recycled banana peel could generate enough electricity to charge an iPod/iPhone/smartphone.
  • 35 recycled teabags would power a TV for an hour.
Children learning how they can recycle

The benefits of recycling

Friends of the Earth list the following benefits of recycling paper, plastic, metals and glass on the planet:

  • Recycling paper and wood saves trees and forests. Yes, you can plant new trees, but you can’t replace virgin rainforest or ancient woodlands once they’re lost.
  • Recycling plastic means creating less new plastic, which is definitely a good thing, especially as it’s usually made from fossil fuel hydrocarbons.
  • Recycling metals means there’s less need for risky, expensive and damaging mining and extraction of new metal ores.
  • Recycling glass reduces the need to use new raw materials like sand. It sounds hard to believe, but supplies of some types of sand are starting to get low around the world.

However, there are many more, less obvious benefits to recycling such as:

  • It protects ecosystems and wildlife – Plastic waste that is not safely put into recycling can be blown or washed into rivers and seas and end up hundreds or thousands of miles away, polluting coastlines and waterways. Animals and birds can be harmed by either ingesting materials which in turn can get into the food chain or by getting entangled in plastic or cans.
  • It cuts climate-changing carbon emissions – Recycling means you need to use less energy on sourcing and processing new raw materials, it produces lower carbon emissions. It also keeps potentially methane-releasing waste out of landfill sites. Reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere is vital for stopping disastrous climate change.
  • It is cheaper than waste collection and disposal – A London Council has stated that “it is 6 times cheaper to dispose of recycled waste than general refuse.” So, the more you recycle, and the less you put in the bin, the more money is saved, which should be good for households, businesses and local public services.
  • It helps to grow food – Recycling food waste and green waste often generates lots of valuable compost that can be used to grow more food and other crops.
  • It can help tackle unemployment – The government is beginning to future-proof livelihoods by investing in more green jobs instead of propping up declining, polluting industries.

Why is recycling important in schools?

The UK Government has announced a target to recycle 65% of municipal waste by 2035. So we need to drastically improve our recycling habits at home, in schools and at work.

As schools help to shape the habits that we continue into adulthood, children who participate in recycling now will learn about the benefits of carrying on this “habit” as adults. Schools, by being “passionate advocates” about recycling in the school can encourage children to carry this message home and help improve recycling in their homes too.

Here are some reasons why recycling is such a good thing for schools and the planet:

  • Recycling is crucial to the future health of our planet – the world’s natural resources are finite, and some are in very short supply.
  • School waste is up to 80% recyclable so schools make a huge impact when they recycle.
  • Waste reduction and reuse can save schools money. Schools may also be able to make money from recycling.
  • In learning how to recycle, children are exposed to a host of other learning possibilities such as ecosystems, consumer culture and the properties of different materials like plastic, aluminium and glass.
  • It promotes ethical citizenship in children – introducing the subject of sustainability gives children hope that even the smallest actions matter and that their actions as consumers and recyclers can make a difference.
  • Recycling can also be a creative playground for children. They can reuse paper, cardboard and plastic from the recycling bins and experiment to their hearts’ content making collages, sculptures, models or even musical instruments without the school or their parents having to spend excessive amounts of money on materials.

Passion for recycling can spread quickly resulting in recycling becoming an efficient and normal part of the school routine.

Young girl recycling in school

How to reduce, reuse and recycle waste in schools

Think of all the paper and other recyclable materials a class uses every day. There is a lot of waste that comes out of a classroom daily, for example worksheets, newsletters, packaging and food waste to name just a few.

There are lots of simple actions that a school can take to reduce, reuse and recycle its waste:

  • Get children to think about the packaging used in packed lunches and encourage them to try to prepare a waste-free lunch. The aim of the waste-free lunch is for each pupil to bring in a packed lunch in a reusable snack box and produce as little food and packaging waste as possible.
  • Promote the use of reusable bottles for juice or water rather than children bringing new containers every day or install water fountains to avoid pupils having to bring in plastic drinks bottles at all.
  • Make double-sided photocopies/printing where possible and print only when necessary. Try to keep electronic copies of files instead of printing everything out.
  • Send out email newsletters or notes to parents rather than printed ones.
  • If paper has been written or printed on only one side, why not use it as scrap paper for messages, notes and lists. Keep a tray for one-sided paper to reuse.
  • Set up a school reuse shop for uniforms, games equipment, books etc. Anything not wanted could be donated to charity.
  • Composting at school is a fun way to learn about nature while also reducing the amount of organic waste that the school sends for disposal – children can actually get to see their finished compost being used on the school grounds.
  • There are many organisations that will give money to a school donating mobile phones, printer cartridges and textiles for recycling. This can be a great way to raise funds.
  • Repurpose packaging – for example, egg cartons can be used to store arts and crafts items or a yoghurt container can be used as a crayon holder; why not use old handwash containers as paint dispensers to avoid spillages and children pouring out more than they need.
  • Repurposed materials can make great art projects to encourage children to get creative. Clean plastic water bottles can be used to make vases or pencil holders, make sculptures or to make musical instruments.
  • Try to ditch the laminator wherever possible and instead choose plastic-free displays, or place card or paper displays in reusable plastic pockets for protection instead.
  • Let children take responsibility for specific tasks to reinforce the importance of recycling in the classroom. Assign weekly recycling monitors to ensure that all children are recycling correctly.
  • Give each class its own set of waste and recycling bins to help encourage everyone to recycle more; make it easier by making it a simple task. Having clearly labelled bins throughout the school is a simple way to encourage children and adults to follow a whole school recycling programme and dispose of their rubbish correctly.
  • To reduce contamination and improve recycling efficiency, “wash and squash”; these steps help prevent contamination and reduce the volume, making collections more energy efficient. More specifically:
    – Scrape out any food remains / pour away excess liquid
    – Rinse the container (use your washing-up water)
    – Don’t put recyclable items in the dishwasher – there is no need to waste resources to achieve an unnecessary level of cleanliness.
    – Crush metal cans.
    – Squeeze plastic bottles flat to expel as much air as possible.
  • Create a school recycling policy and communicate it so that everyone connected to the school knows the school’s viewpoint and what to do.
Children recycling in school

What is a school recycling policy?

A school Recycling Policy is an official, public statement made by the school that provides the school’s overall commitment to promoting recycling. It does this by defining a vision, values, principles and objectives, and by establishing a broad model for action to achieve that vision.

The main aim of a Recycling Policy is to demonstrate to students, staff and parents/carers that recycling and the environment is a top priority for the school and establishes a culture of the three Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

The aim for your policy is to publicly state your school’s environmental and recycling values and to provide clear guidance that the whole school community can refer to when they need to know what to do.

The Key Sections Required in a Recycling Policy Include the Following:

  • A clear title for the policy – Choose a policy title that works for your school and clearly defines what the policy is all about.
  • A policy statement – The policy statement should publicly state the school’s environmental values and commitment to reducing, reusing and recycling waste.
  • Purpose of the policy – Explain what this policy sets out to achieve, the aim and objectives. Use clear language so that everyone who reads the policy understands the policy’s principles.
  • The policy scope – This should detail all the people this policy applies to.
  • Exceptions to this policy – Detail any exceptions; if there are none, state no exceptions.
  • Legal framework – Describe any laws that govern this policy, together with any statutory regulations that apply, for example GDPR for the disposal of confidential waste.
  • Classifications – Clearly explain what waste can and can’t be reduced, reused and recycled in your school. This may depend upon the policy and capabilities of the local authority that collects the waste.
    Types of waste may include:
    – Paper and card – from textbooks, workbooks, letters, printed and photocopied paper.
    – Food – food waste from pupils’ lunch boxes and lunch provided by the catering facilities on site if applicable.
    – Packaging – food packaging, new supplies packaging, plastic bottles and drinks cans.
    – Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) – computers, tablets, interactive boards etc.
    – Plastic.
    – Furniture.
    – Glass.
    – Ink and toner cartridges.
    – Batteries.
    – Shoes, uniforms and textiles.
  • Key people – List all roles and responsibilities within this policy and what is expected of each.
  • Actions or procedures – How the school will implement the aim and objectives of the policy – provide details of the waste collection and storage facilities and their location(s). Give some thought as to who will empty materials from your internal recycling containers into external facilities, how they will do it, any equipment they might need, any local authority waste collection arrangements and how often it will be done.
  • Communication plan – Think carefully about how to share the policy with colleagues, governors, students, parents/carers and the wider community. List these activities in the policy. You may find it useful to design an abbreviated and simplified version of the policy highlighting the key messages and most important information for the students.
  • Governance requirements – Specify who is responsible for ensuring this policy is implemented and monitored and when the policy will be reviewed and updated.
Two children making a project on recycling

How do you get recycling bins in your school?

Your school may be provided with internal recycling containers by the local council or school trust. Check this out first, otherwise you may need to buy your own. There is a variety of recycling bin suppliers in the UK, just google “recycling bin suppliers for schools” – some supply recycling bins for free. You could even try asking local businesses to sponsor a recycling bin.

How to increase recycling in schools

  • The key is to make recycling easy. Recycling points should be positioned as close as possible to waste sources. For example, place paper recycling bins beside photocopiers and printers. Are food compost bins as well as plastic and paper recycling bins in the lunchroom? Are recycling bins in every classroom? In other areas, put recycling points and rubbish bins next to each other, so that it is no extra effort for everyone to recycle. However, be careful to label all recycling points very clearly, so that everyone knows what should go in them.
  • Share the new recycling policy and programme start date in school announcements and at staff meetings to get everyone on board.
  • Hang recycling signs all around the school so students and staff will see reminders of the programme everywhere, not only when they are at a bin.
  • Use technology to help promote the cause. Post recycling facts to social media; write an article for the school newsletter/blog or make a video to broadcast at school.
  • Create a Green Team – a group of people including students that will champion recycling and help educate the school about any changes.
  • Review what you already have in place and identify opportunities to improve your recycling set-up – this could be a student project.
  • Have students monitor the lunchroom every day to encourage recycling.
  • Measure and share successes – make a monthly announcement to remind students and staff to keep recycling and thinking about other ways to reduce waste. Share successes with the entire school and celebrate.
  • Have a “no rubbish” day where the students try to not create any rubbish during the full school day.
Reusing recycled materials

Ideas for integrating waste reduction and recycling learning into lessons to improve recycling

  • In Maths, have students weigh rubbish before and after recycling is implemented to see how numbers change. Repeat monthly graph results and calculate to track the school’s recycling rate.
  • In Social Science, research how recyclable items are turned into new products.
  • In English, write blog posts about the environment or an essay about why recycling is important.
  • In Science, study how recycling impacts climate change.
  • In Music, create a recycling-related song and use recycled instruments to accompany it.
  • In Art, create posters about recycling and update the graphics on your recycling bins.
  • In Design and Technology, create an “upcycling club”.
  • In Citizenship, role plays are a good way of allowing children to express their opinions on recycling and encourage debate. Also games such as “name that symbol” where pupils can become familiar with recycling symbols or word search puzzles that allow the pupils to explore the different terms related to recycling.

In conclusion

Making children curious about the world around them, the environment and its vast biodiversity is the foundation of promoting recycling in schools.

Many young people become passionate about their responsibilities to the environment and are motivated to protect it by reducing waste. Educating children about the importance of recycling and the environment provides a path to a greener future. And remember those three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

About the author

Evie Lee

Evie Lee

Evie has worked at CPD Online College since August 2021. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in Level 3 Business Administration. Evie's main roles are to upload blog articles and courses to the website. Outside of work, Evie loves horse riding and spending time with her family.

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