School Waste Reduction
- The California K-12 Schools Recycling Challenge is a friendly competition with cash prizes for winning schools and a benchmarking tool for K-12 to promote waste reduction activities to their school communities. For the month of March, schools report recycling and trash data which are then ranked according to who collects the largest amount of recyclables. Registration is now open for the 2016 K-12 recycling competition! View a list of winners from the 2016 competition.
- California Green Ribbon Schools Award Program--Three California school districts and two individual schools as 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools for environmental accomplishments.
Whether you are a school district administrator concerned about increases in solid waste disposal costs, a recycling-conscious teacher or student, or a city/county recycling coordinator working with your local school district, setting up or improving an existing school waste reduction program can benefit everyone involved. Additionally, in most cases, school recycling is a state requirement for traditional recyclables as well as for organic wastes.
- California Law Regarding Mandatory Recycling
- Why is waste reduction planning essential for school districts?
- Starting a waste reduction program in your school district is easy!
- Need some help getting started?
California Law Regarding Mandatory Recycling
CalRecycle provides the following information about the laws and offers resources to help schools and school districts to meet recycling requirements.
Mandatory Commercial Recycling
Starting July 1, 2012, businesses and public entities, including schools and school districts, that generate four cubic yards or more of waste per week and multifamily units of five or more are required to recycle, if they are not already doing so. The purpose of this law is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diverting commercial solid waste to recycling efforts and expand opportunities for additional recycling services and recycling manufacturing facilities in California.
Who Must Comply
Businesses and public entities, including schools and school districts, that generate four or more cubic yards of solid waste per week. Regardless of solid waste service level, all multifamily units of five or more must also comply.
How to Comply
Schools and other public entities can take one or any combination of the following actions in order to reuse, recycle, compost or otherwise divert solid waste from disposal:
- Subscribe to a hauler(s).
- Arrange for pick-up of recyclables.
Mandatory Commercial Organics Recycling
Starting April 1, 2016, a commercial or public entity (such as a school or hospital) including multifamily residential dwellings (5 units or more), that generates a specific amount of organic waste, is required to divert its organic solid waste. Reducing the amount of organic materials sent to landfills and increasing the production of compost and mulch are part of the AB 32 (California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) Scoping Plan.Who Must Comply
Businesses and public entities (such as schools or hospitals) that generate a specified amount of organic waste on and/or after April 2016.
- April 1, 2016: Schools that generate eight cubic yards of organic waste per week shall arrange for organic waste recycling services.
- January 1, 2017: Schools that generate four cubic yards of organic waste per week shall arrange for organic waste recycling services.
- January 1, 2019: Schools that generate four cubic yards or more of commercial solid waste per week shall arrange for organic waste recycling services.
How to Comply
Schools and other public entities that meet the waste generation threshold can take one or any combination of the following organic recycling activities:
- Source separate organic waste from other waste and participate in a waste recycling service that includes collection and recycling of organic waste.
- Recycle its organic waste on site, or self-haul its organic waste off site for recycling.
- Subscribe to an organic waste recycling service that may include mixed waste processing that specifically recycles organic waste.
Other Related School Recycling & Sustainability Laws
Public Resources Code, sections 42620-42622 requires CalRecycle to provide assistance to school districts in establishing and implementing source reduction and recycling programs. This assistance includes a survey of school districts on their level of program implementation, development of a model waste reduction program, training and ongoing technical and informational assistance, and information on programs for other states and institutions.
In September 2001, Gov. Gray Davis also signed into law Senate Bill 373 (Torlakson, Chapter 373, Statutes of 2001), which puts in place many more mandates for CalRecycle to fulfill. These mandates help CalRecycle staff further our mission of assisting schools by establishing an integrated systems model where academics, administration, and facilities work collaboratively to incorporate resource conservation and sustainability into their organizational philosophy, planning, and implementation.
Additionally, California Education Code, sections 32370-32376, encourages each school district to establish and maintain a paper recycling program in all classrooms, administrative offices, and other areas owned or leased by the school district. These sections also encourage school districts to:
- Purchase recycled paper.
- Purchase the paper with the highest percentage of postconsumer waste.
- Revise procurement specifications to eliminate discrimination against recycled paper and to give preference to the purchase of recycled paper.
- Eliminate the purchase of paper and paper products, which are deemed potential contaminants of the educational agency's paper recycling program.
Why is waste reduction planning essential for school districts?
Educational services in California dispose of large amounts of waste (approximately 562,442 tons per year) . These wastes represent a significant loss of natural resources and school district funds. To be responsible stewards of environmental quality, school districts should review processes and operations, and even curriculum choices and evaluate the economic, educational, and environmental benefits of implementing a comprehensive waste reduction program.
Incorporating waste reduction as part of the school district's overall way of doing business can provide a number of important benefits:
- Reduced disposal costs.
- Greenhouse gas emission reductions.
- Improved worker safety.
- Reduced long-term liability.
- Increased efficiency of school operations.
- Decreased associated purchasing costs.
School district waste reduction programs also foster student achievement by transforming the school environment into a laboratory for learning and providing numerous opportunities for investigation through environment-based education.
The California Integrated Waste Management Act requires that all California cities and counties reduce solid waste disposal by 50 percent. School districts can play a critical role in a city or county's ability to realize this goal. As a result, a school district's host city or county is a natural partner in the evaluation of the existing waste management infrastructure and the development of a comprehensive district wide waste reduction program.
These pages provide information, tools, and other resources to support such partnerships and to facilitate the implementation of successful school district waste reduction programs.
Starting a waste reduction program in your school district is easy!
Many school districts have been successful in improving their economic and environmental performance through the implementation of waste reduction initiatives. Throughout this site, you will have the opportunity to learn about successful waste prevention, composting, and recycling programs in schools throughout California. From rural programs that collect cafeteria waste for vermicomposting, to urban districts that take advantage of cooperative recycled product purchasing opportunities, this site contains information from various districts that have developed active, successful programs to reduce waste and save money!
Additionally, this site provides information on programs that can be implemented to reduce the solid waste generated in all areas of a school district (e.g., administration, maintenance and operations, purchasing, food service, classrooms, etc.) that, when properly implemented, create hands-on learning experiences for students and result in districtwide waste reduction! This site also offers:
- Information regarding the environmental, economic, and educational benefits of implementing waste reduction programs.
- School waste composition information.
- Results from CalRecycle's school district survey regarding waste reduction program implementation.
- Information from other states that have instituted waste reduction programs for their school waste stream.
- And more!
Need some help getting started?
- Starting a Recycling Program: Guide to easy steps and resources to help get you started.
- CalRecycle Staff and Local Jurisdiction Contacts: Look up CalRecycle staff and local jurisdiction staff by city/county that can assist in addressing school waste reduction questions.
- Award and Recognition Programs: Award and recognition programs specific to schools and the environment.
- Mandatory Commercial Recycling Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): A comprehensive list of mandatory commercial recycling questions and answers developed in response to stakeholder inquiries.
- The Commercial Climate Calculator is designed for virtually any California business, public entity or multifamily complex to assess the financial, climate change, and waste reduction/environmental benefits of reducing and recycling their discarded materials. The related frequently asked questions page (PDF, 521 KB) provides specific instructions for schools using the calculator.
For questions or to request assistance in setting up a districtwide waste reduction program, please contact your CalRecycle regional local assistance representative.