California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

School Waste Reduction



Purchasing is a key component in a comprehensive integrated waste management program for any school district. Purchasing decisions about product life, warranty, repair service, as well as packaging and the level of recycled content of products affect the amount of waste produced by a school district. Purchasing agents can save the school district money through reduced repair, replacement and disposal costs through efficient purchasing practices.

For example, Los Angeles County established a Cooperative Purchasing Program, enabling governmental entities (including school districts) to join the County (free of charge) in purchasing recycled bond paper and benefiting financially from the advantage of collective purchasing power. The County selected a contractor to supply 30 percent recycled-content paper at below wholesale cost to all participating governmental entities (with no minimum purchase requirement and with the added convenience of next day delivery). By joining the program, participating cities (and school districts) are saving a tremendous amount of money (e.g., based on projected annual consumption, the City and County of Los Angeles alone will be saving $84,000 and $40,000 per year, respectively, compared with their previous contracts).

When school districts buy goods with recycled content, their purchases help to create a demand for materials collected in recycling programs. Recycling is not complete until we close the loop by purchasing recycled content products.

This site provides information that will assist school district purchasing agents in their efforts to buy products and services with reduced effects on human health and the environment. Also called "Affirmative Procurement," "Environmentally Preferable Purchasing," and "Green Purchasing," this approach means integrating environmental factors into procurement policies, usually using the following tools and/or methods:

  • Pollution Prevention--From the start of a process or procedure, reducing or eliminating toxicity, air and water emissions.
  • Life Cycle Perspective--Beyond the purchase price, considering costs and environmental impacts over the lifetime of a product or service (manufacturing, packaging, transport, energy consumption, maintenance, disposal).
  • Natural Resource Protection--Giving preference to sustainable, reusable content, and recycled materials over virgin materials, as well as to conserving water and energy.

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Purchasing Policy

When evaluating existing purchasing policies, consider the following options to incorporate recycled products into the school district’s purchases. Buying recycled products is just one component of a school district’s green purchasing program, but it is also a great place to start. Many recycled, remanufactured, or refurbished products (xerographic paper, paper towels and tissue, corrugated boxes and packaging, envelopes and mailers, corrugated file boxes, plastic trash cans and liners, latex paint, re-refined automotive lubricants, compost/mulch, retreaded truck tires, writing tablets, continuous feed computer paper, laser toner cartridges, and reformatted computer disks) actually cost less than or the same as comparable non-recycled products and are widely available. In such cases, a school district can apply cost savings from the purchase of less expensive recycled products to the purchase of more expensive recycled and other environmentally preferable products.

The following options may also be helpful in expanding a school district’s purchasing policy to encourage the broader environmental considerations outlined above.

Designate a Recycled Product Procurement Advocate--Staff are assigned whose specific responsibility is promoting recycled product use and monitoring school district purchases.


  • May involve less paperwork and fewer formal procedures.
  • Provides flexibility to target procurement efforts where greatest impact can be easily made.
  • Ability to promote procurement of products for which content standards have not been developed.


  • Less ability to increase usage by recalcitrant agencies unless enforcement capability is granted.
  • Lack of formal commitments may limit effectiveness of market development impacts.

Develop a Recycled Product Procurement Team--A team of a high-level procurement official, a procurement officer, and cross-divisional staff, including those who place and review orders, and staff in the contracts and legal offices (to review contract and bid documents to ensure that recycled product procurement language is included) are assigned the responsibility of ensuring the use of recycled products and monitoring school district purchases.


  • Team approach ensures that all aspects of purchasing will be addressed.
  • Upper management has the authority to mobilize resources and commitment from throughout the school district.


  • Requires more staff time.

Establish a Recycled Product Procurement Fund--A specific amount of money is appropriated to pay for the additional cost of procuring recycled products if they are more expensive than nonrecycled equivalents. After the fund is exhausted, less expensive non-recycled products may be procured.


  • Allows accurate assessment of budget impacts.
  • Establishes a clear commitment.
  • Guarantees that a specified amount of money is allocated for the procurement of recycled products.


  • Amount of money in fund may be set too low to be effective.
  • Difficult to know when fund is exhausted if applied to large term contracts where quantities are estimated or if there are several buyers.
  • May encourage higher prices for recycled products.

"Buy Recycled" Policy (PDF, 23 KB) for Frederick County Government, Maryland--This policy requires specific warehouse items (e.g. copy paper, computer paper, plastic trash cans and liners, etc.) be stocked in products with recycled content where available. A cost difference of up to $8,000 total, if any, was funded through the Solid Waste Management Enterprise Fund during the pilot phase. Additionally, a limit of 10 percent cost differential will be allowed on individual items.

Develop a Preferential Policy Statement--A resolution is established indicating the school district’s preference for procurement of recycled products.


  • Provides guidance to agencies.
  • If publicized, commitment encourages market development.


  • Provides no guidance on price reasonability.
  • Policy is ineffective unless accompanied by procedures.

City of San Jose Source Reduction and Recycling Procurement Policy (PDF, 19 KB)--This policy provides direction to purchase products that contain the highest percentage of post-consumer material available followed in preference by materials with the highest percentage of pre-consumer material available.

Establish Content Requirements and Procurement Goals--Through a resolution, the school district establishes content requirements and procurement goals for specific product categories (e.g., 25 percent of all dollars spent on paper will be spent on recycled paper with a minimum content of 30 percent post consumer material). Goals may also be set for individual departments.


  • Provides a good tool for measuring success, both for individual departments and the whole school district.
  • High goal commitment, if publicized, can promote market development.


  • Provides no guidance on price reasonability.

In California, all local and State public agencies must purchase products that contain recycled materials instead of those which do not contain recycled materials whenever price, quality, and availability are comparable. The State Agency Buy Recycled Campaign requires all State agencies to meet specific content requirements and procurement mandates for products purchased within 11 product categories.

Require Mandatory Purchase--For specific products, the school district is required to use recycled products.


  • Will potentially lead to the highest volume use of recycled products.
  • Bidding procedures and contract language are less complicated than other options.


  • Provides no guidance on price reasonability.

The City of Los Angeles Buy Recycled Program includes the mandatory procurement of recycled products in designated categories.

California's State Agency Buy Recycled Campaign--Participation in California’s State Agency Buy Recycled Campaign is mandatory for all State agencies (See previous section).

Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Section 6002, and Executive Order 13101, federal agencies, as well as state and local agencies and government contractors that use appropriated federal funds, are required to buy 54 EPA-designated recovered/recycled products. The Office of the Federal Environmental Executive recently issued a Model Affirmative Procurement Plan on environmentally preferable purchasing to meet the requirements of the RCRA.

Establish a Price Preference--The school district is required to use recycled products unless their cost is above a specified percentage higher than equivalent non-recycled products. This policy allows the purchase of recycled products even if they are more expensive than comparable non-recycled products. In general, price preferences are in the 5 to 10 percent range.


  • Provides clear guidance on price reasonability.
  • Procedures treat recycled products as equivalent to non-recycled products (e.g., same quantities ordered, same specs).


  • Invitations to bid and contract language are more complex.
  • May be difficult to determine at what level to set the price preference.
  • May encourage higher prices for recycled products.

California Education Code Section 32373  encourages school districts to purchase recycled paper if the supplier of recycled paper offers the paper at a cost which does not exceed by more than 5 percent the lowest offer of non-recycled paper of comparable quality.

The King County Recycled Product Procurement Policy establishes a price preference of up to fifteen percent for recycled paper products and up to ten percent for re-refined lubricating oil.

Implement a Set Aside Purchase Program--For specified products, the school district commits that a specified percentage of the quantity purchased will be recycled products (e.g., 50 percent of paper purchased will be recycled paper).


  • Guarantees that a specified amount of products will be procured.
  • Bidding procedures are relatively uncomplicated.


  • May treat recycled products as specialty items (lower volumes and consequently higher prices).
  • Provides no guidance on price reasonability.
  • Set-aside amount may discourage purchase of recycled products above the set-aside amount.

Regardless of the type of purchasing policy a school district implements, it is important to track the procurement of recycled and other environmentally preferable products and to analyze the policy’s effectiveness on an annual basis. This will enable the school district to measure its success, correct problems, and plan for increasing its procurement of recycled and other environmentally preferable products in the future. It is best to track purchases as they are made using an automated tracking system.  For more information, see CalRecycle fact sheet on Creating A Successful Buy Recycled Program.

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Purchasing Practices

When evaluating existing purchasing practices, consider the following waste reduction options:

1. Use minimal, reusable, and/or recycled packaging--Encourage your suppliers to eliminate unnecessary packaging. In your purchasing, you can favor suppliers who offer products with minimal packaging. Whenever possible, buy products in bulk quantities and in reusable and/or recycled packaging. To reduce waste in your own shipping department, see if you can use fewer packing layers and ship merchandise in returnable, reusable, and/or recycled containers.

2. Include environmentally sensitive specifications in all district goods and services contracts. Examples include: insisting on full disclosure of manufacturer's chemical use and disposal; removing language from bidding specifications that require virgin material; specifying recycled products in contract language; and requiring vendors to minimize packaging, maximize the use of recycled materials in packaging, and take back packaging.

  • Sample letter to vendors requesting their partnership in the district’s efforts to reduce packaging, reuse shipping materials, use recycled products, etc.
  • Vendor Take Back (pallets, cardboard boxes and toner cartridges).
  • Sample contract language for Certifying Recycled Content is available from CalRecycle. For all products sold or offered to the state. State agencies must obtain certification from all suppliers about the recycled content of those products.

3. Use and maintain durable equipment and supplies--Consider investing in quality, long-lasting supplies and equipment that can be repaired easily. These items will stay out of the waste stream longer, and the higher initial costs may be justified by lower maintenance, disposal, and replacement costs. Setting up a regular maintenance schedule for machines will extend their useful lives, cutting back on waste and the need to replace expensive reordering.

4. Reuse products and supplies--Adopt simple, cost effective measures to conserve materials through reuse. Disposable items, such as coffee cups and single-use cafeteria trays, can be replaced with long-lasting, reusable products. A one-time investment for such items breaks the frequently expensive cycle of discarding and reordering.

  • Create an internal clearinghouse for excess inventory, old chemicals, and recoverable waste. Encourage employees to reuse common items such as files and interoffice envelopes.
  • Secure materials through a materials exchange--A materials (waste) exchange provides a mechanism for reusing or recycling unwanted, but usable, materials. It maintains and distributes listings of materials available and materials wanted from individuals and local and international companies. Through the exchange process, one party's "waste" can become another party's "treasure." It serves as an information clearinghouse for available leftover materials, by-products, and unused products.
  • Plan ahead to avoid both over purchasing and the purchase of materials that can be found in the internal clearinghouse or are available through a waste exchange.
  • Label containers properly to encourage reuse and to avoid misuse of materials.
  • Establish well organized storage practices.
  • Donate used items to local charities or other non-profit organizations--See CalRecycle's Reuse Links and Resources.

5. Utilize federal, state and local surplus programs.

  • The City of Watsonville was able to take advantage of California State University, Sacramento's surplus portable classrooms which were offered free to local governments! Working through the California Department of General Services, Surplus and Procurement Division, The City of Watsonville was able to acquire one of these classrooms, a 40 ft x 60 ft modular building. The building was transported to and set up at the City landfill. The building is utilized to provide landfill operation staff office space (e.g., locker room, restroom, office space and lunch room) and a 40 ft x 30 ft classroom for their public education/school program. The City estimates a savings of $50,000 by "Reusing" an existing modular building.
  • CalTrans (California Department of Transportation) realized significant savings when it obtained office furnishings another agency sent to the Department of General Services Surplus Property Program.  The agency no longer needed the furniture because it had moved into a building that "came with" furniture. CalTrans took the unneeded property and saved $1.5 million!

6. Purchase recycled and other environmentally preferable products. Environmentally preferable refers to products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose. The product or service comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance, or disposal.

  • CalRecycle Recycled-Content Product Manufacturers (RCPM)--Directory showcases innovative recycled-content products made by California manufacturers who use recycled waste as a feedstock.
  • Buy Recycled Resources--Find general buy recycled information, related government web sites, buy recycled programs in other states, and links to other recycled-content product databases.
  • Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Database--This United States Environmental Protection Agency database will help you buy greener products and services by linking you to:
    a. Contract language and specifications created and used by federal and state governments to buy environmentally preferable products and services.  
    b. Environmental standards and guidelines for the product you want to buy and vendor lists of product brands that meet these standards.
    c. Other useful sources of information on environmentally preferred products and services.
  • Participate in State Recycled Contracts--Public Contract Code, Section 10298 allows local agencies to participate in State procurements including agreements for goods, information technology, and services. Local agencies may contract with suppliers awarded these contracts without further competitive bidding. A local agency is a city, county, city and county, district, or other local governmental body or corporation empowered to expend public funds. When they meet the definition, this includes school districts, water districts, mosquito abatement districts, transportation authorities and many other agencies.

7.  Participate in purchasing cooperatives--One effective way to reduce costs is through cooperative purchasing. Cooperative purchasing increases the volume of recycled and other environmentally preferable products purchased, helps ensure availability, establishes common definitions and percentages, and lowers the cost of producing and purchasing recycled products. A similar approach to leveraged buying power is the formation of Joint Powers Authorities (JPA) or agreements.

  • Los Angeles County’s Cooperative Purchasing Program enables governmental entities (including school districts) to join the County (free of charge) in purchasing recycled bond paper and benefit financially from the advantage of collective purchasing power. By joining the program, participating cities (and school districts) are saving a tremendous amount of money (e.g., based on projected annual consumption, the City and County of Los Angeles alone will be saving $84,000 and $40,000 per year, respectively, compared with their previous contracts).
  • The El Dorado County Office of Education Stockless Purchase Program is an example of a purchasing cooperative that saves school districts time and money while providing low cost office and school, custodial, computer and athletic supplies. When available this program bids on and makes available recycled products. For more information, contact Sue Allen at (530) 622-7130 extension 240.
  • Cooperative Recycled Paper Purchasing--The Recycled Products Purchasing Cooperative (RPPC) is funded in part by the U.S. EPA Region IX. The goal of the RPPC is to increase the use of recycled paper used in the public and private sectors. The cooperative is accomplishing this goal by providing 30 percent post consumer recycled paper that meets or beats the price that many businesses and public agencies are paying for virgin fiber paper.

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Integrated Waste Management School Board Policy and Procedures--In collaboration with school districts and the California School Boards Association, CalRecycle developed sample school board policies and administrative procedures to help institutionalize the implementation of district-wide waste reduction programs, including the purchasing of recycled and other environmentally preferable products.

Green Procurement Policies--CalRecycle has made clear its desire that recipients of State grant funds should be practicing what CalRecycle preaches. To assist potential grant applicants, as well as any local government or business that wishes to establish a written procurement policy, the Buy Recycled program compiles actual and proposed policies as a resource.

Fact Sheets
Purchasing for Waste Reduction--Managers and purchasing agents can take a number of steps to practice waste prevention. This list of ideas was approved by professional procurement officers and is intended to help you jump start your waste prevention efforts and save money too.

Steps to Implement a Successful Buy Recycled Program--Although this fact sheet is intended for California State agencies, which are required to purchase recycled products instead of nonrecycled products, and to ensure that specific content requirements and procurement mandates are met for specific product categories. This fact sheet is very useful to school districts interested in developing a buy recycled and/or environmentally preferable purchasing program.


  1. Going Beyond Recycling, Buy Recycled--A practical guide for schools and school districts on closing the recycling loop by buying recycled products.
  2. Take the Next Step, Buy Recycled--Guide to the benefits of buying recycled-content products. Describes how to find and buy recycled-content products, types of products available, and tips for State agencies. Lists CalRecycle staff contacts and other resources.
  3. Catalog of CalRecycle Publications, Buy Recycled
  4. The United States Environmental Protection Agency Green Purchasing Guides--Several guides are available to assist those interested in green purchasing, including general green purchasing guides and product or service specific guides.
  5. The (Minnesota) Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board's (SWMCB) Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide is a reference tool for government and school purchasers who want to buy more wisely. Identifying examples in over 30 product areas, the guide will help identify ways to reduce workplace hazards, consume less energy, and protect natural resources. In each category, the guide surveys the latest field information and provides details on cost, performance, and vendors. Success stories illustrate how buyers are using environmentally preferable purchasing to improve their workplaces and our communities.


Paper Calculator that allows an organization to compare the environmental impacts of different paper choices across the entire life cycle of five major grades of paper.

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Last updated: August 27, 2015
School Waste Reduction
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