Five Ways Schools Can Reduce Their Waste

Schools have a huge waste output every year, with primary schools producing an estimated 45kg of waste per pupil, and 22kg per pupil in secondary schools, equalling 250,000 tonnes of waste annually. This staggering figure indicates how desperately the education sector must reduce waste to be more sustainable.


Finding appropriate ways to reduce the scale of waste being produced can range from small changes that can be implemented from classroom to classroom to large-scale adjustments that will see results in the longer term. Here are five ways schools can reduce the waste they produce for a more sustainable approach to their operations.


Remove paper waste with technology
Whether it’s printing off essays, worksheets, or tests, paper is one waste material that schools will need to significantly cut down on. The data shows that paper and cardboard contribute a gigantic 70% of waste generated by schools, and a key way this can be reduced is through paperless initiatives like technology.


More and more schools are introducing laptops for students, which significantly reduces the amount of paper used for classwork, homework, and educational materials, allowing digital platforms like TurnItIn to be made the most of. Not only does transitioning to a more technology-based method of teaching allow for less paper used for worksheets, but textbooks and even newsletters and announcements can be sent directly to the students.


More effective recycling programs
Many schools will undoubtedly have recycling programs set up so that both teachers and students can do their part to reduce waste. This can include having designated recycling bins throughout the school that separate general waste from recyclable materials like paper, cardboard, and plastic bottles.


Scott Hawthorne from Skips & Bins, the leading suppliers of commercial waste collection in the UK, has commented on this: “The education around recycling in schools feels far too one-size-fits-all, where young people are being told that everything that can be recycled should be. But there’s still nuance within the act of recycling that needs to be addressed, including the amount of recycling they produce on a weekly basis.


“But this comes from looking at long-term goals that verge on greenwashing rather than focussing on the short-term wins and building a more effective recycling program.” He goes on to recommend working with local recycling facilities and organisations to develop these strategies, as the expert knowledge will outline what best practices are for recycling and reducing waste.


Reducing food waste
Another major contributor to waste creation in schools is food waste, which often comes from canteens having to produce large quantities of food to feed students and staff. This results in excessive amounts of leftover food that ends up being thrown out, but what are some solutions to mitigating the amount of food that ends up becoming waste?


One possible solution is to offer smaller portion sizes when serving. In buffet-style canteens, students should be encouraged to only eat what they can. Similarly, by sending out surveys on the food available and analysing results alongside popularity of certain items, schools can better understand student preferences to ensure offering meals that everyone will enjoy so little waste is left behind.


Additionally, schools can explore options for donating excess food to local food banks or community organisations, thereby reducing waste while also addressing food insecurity in the community.


Promoting reusable alternatives
Disposable items are a huge contributor to school waste, and they can range from classroom essentials like one-use pens to plastic utensils and water and drink bottles. This is where schools can promote reusable alternatives to their students, such as fountain pens that can be refilled with ink cartridges or refillable water bottles.


This is also something that schools must look to invest in for their canteens, which should have long-lasting supplies that can be washed and reused rather than disposable options that accumulate over time.


Improved education on sustainability
To foster a culture of sustainability and environmental consciousness in schools, education for everyone can help guide the collective towards a low-waste future. Utilising assemblies that focus on the environmental repercussions of not considering how we dispose of our waste, which can extend into social studies curriculums and extracurricular workshops, can help raise awareness and encourage active participation for a more conscious community.


Reducing waste in schools is not only beneficial for the environment but also for the well-being of the school community. By implementing strategies such as embracing paperless initiatives, implementing recycling programs, reducing food waste, promoting reusable alternatives, and educating and empowering the school community, schools can significantly decrease the waste produced and contribute to a more sustainable future.