school waste management
School waste reduction tips

How to Reduce Waste at School

Every academic year in the UK around 45kg of waste per primary school pupil and 22kg of waste for each secondary school student are generated. This includes lots of leftover food, paper, plastic, and packaging waste produced on any day of learning. It can have a huge environmental and financial impact.

As educators, it’s essential to practice what you preach. This applies to environmental lessons about school waste reduction and recycling. Teaching about the importance of sustainability is one thing, but acting by introducing clear ways to reduce waste in your school can be far more effective at passing on key green lessons.

Schools across the country create a wide range and high volumes of rubbish every day that can cost a lot to manage and pose a health risk to pupils and the environment. Find out how to reduce waste at school whether you’re a teacher, pupil, or any other educational staff member with these tips.

free bins icon.

Get a free quote

Get a fast FREE quote for waste collection

  • Free quote within 1 hr
  • Any type of school waste
  • FREE bins and delivery
  • We cover all of the UK

Why should schools reduce waste?

Reduce waste in school to help the environment and save money. Schools create high volumes of waste including food, paper, and plastic waste especially. While 80% of waste from schools is recyclable or recoverable, only about 20% is recycled. This means lots end up in landfill or being incinerated, which is the worst outcome for the environment.

School waste reduction saves money. It’s estimated that managing food waste in schools costs the UK’s education sector £250 million annually. Cutting down on the amount could save millions of pounds that could be better spent on educational resources. Recycling helps but reducing waste in schools at the source will cut costs the most.

Reducing school waste also helps create a cleaner learning environment with less chance of overflowing bins causing a hazard. This helps meet health and safety standards and create a good impression for pupils and visitors. Demonstrating ways to reduce waste at school is leading by example and a great way to instil sustainable practices into students.

Study some school waste facts
pupils sat on the floor in a primary school classroom.

10 ways to reduce waste at school

There are many effective ways to reduce waste at school, but the best methods depend on the size of the school and the main types of waste produced. Many common ways to reduce waste in businesses and at home apply, as well as some more specific solutions for the educational sector.

Use these 10 ways to reduce waste at school:

  1. Conduct a waste audit – start by assessing all the waste your school creates, from the classroom to the canteen and in the playground. Work out the different materials and volumes to see if there’s a particular area to prioritise. This should also highlight opportunities to improve recycling and quick ways to cut waste in your school.
  2. Ban single-use items – many single-use items must be disposed of with general waste that may go to landfill, such as wet wipes and paper towels. Remove all single-use items from classrooms, washrooms, and the canteen (such as straws and cutlery). Replace with hand dryers, towels, and cleaning cloths that can be washed and reused.
  3. Switch to paperless processes – an average school can use more than 350,000 sheets of paper in one academic year. It’s not all in the classroom either. Sending letters to parents, printing off homework sheets, taking the register, and making notes all use paper. Move to paperless processes such as emailing parents, doing a digital register, and assigning homework online.
  4. Introduce a recycling scheme – reducing waste in schools is best but recycling is the next best option. Create a recycling policy and install a range of paper, cardboard, and dry mixed recycling bins around the school. A waste paper bin in every classroom means one is always close by to recycle as much as possible.
  5. Compost organic waste – all school kitchens produce food waste and most have some outside garden space. Create a secure compost bin or heap and add organic waste to it for a natural, easy, and affordable solution. This saves money compared to buying bags of compost, benefits the environment, and can be a good way to teach pupils about growing fruit, vegetables, and plants.
  6. Involve pupils – the more engaged students are, the likelier they are to go green. Host workshops, assign recycling monitors, and run internal environmental campaigns to get everyone involved and to feel a sense of responsibility for helping reduce waste in the school.
  7. Review school waste reduction efforts – set regular intervals to assess whether your school waste reduction efforts are working or not. If they are, celebrate achievements to raise awareness and reward those responsible. Should your waste volumes not fall then reassess what more you can do.
  8. Use rechargeable batteries – schools use many handheld and portable electronic devices powered by batteries. Reduce battery waste by switching to rechargeable ones where possible.
  9. Print double-sided – an easy way to halve paper waste in school is to print everything double-sided. Set all printers to automatically print double-sided so any classroom handouts, homework, or letters that must be sent out save paper.
  10. Donate old supplies – partner with local charities to donate any old books, sports equipment, desks and chairs, IT, and other electronic equipment that your school no longer needs. You could also host a sale to raise funds for your school or a charity by selling such items.

How to reduce food waste at school

Food waste is the main type of refuse generated by schools across the UK. Primary and secondary schools create a combined total of more than 80,000 tonnes of food waste every year. That’s about the same weight as 500 houses! Therefore, working out how to reduce food waste in school should be a priority for any educational establishment.

Follow these steps to cut down on the food thrown away in your school:

  • Audit food waste – review how much food, what types, and where it’s wasted in the school. The main areas to focus on are the school kitchen and cafeteria. Look at preparation waste as well as plate waste from pupils.
  • Check and change portion sizes – assess portion sizes and offer smaller ones if needed. Large portions are the main cause of plate waste in school canteens as not all children eat the same amount. Providing smaller portions but letting students return for seconds could minimise waste food.
  • Review the menu – analyse what menu items are popular and those that are often wasted. Adapt the menu to include a variety of nutritious dishes that are proven good sellers and be flexible by removing items if requested.
  • Educate about food production – teaching children about where food comes from, the processes involved, and the impact of food waste may make them think twice before throwing away half a cheese sandwich.
  • Minimise queues – the longer students queue up for food at lunchtime, the likelier they are to waste food. This is because many will be in a rush to maximise their playing and socialising time that’s been hampered by queuing. There may also be reduced options for those at the end of the queue that they don’t enjoy so waste.
  • Encourage packed lunches – bringing lunch from home is ideal for fussy eaters as it should contain items they like and will eat, meaning less is thrown away. Meals prepared at home can create less packaging waste as well.
How to reduce food waste
  • Cook to order – pre-ordering is an effective way to avoid mass leftovers and uneaten meals in school kitchens. It’s not always feasible but cooking to order means all pupils get a meal they should enjoy and minimises preparation waste.
  • Donate leftovers – some food waste is unavoidable in schools, so finding a way to make the most of it is good. Donate to a local farm or animal charity that can use leftovers as feed, or to a gardening or community project for composting. Any packaged goods could go to a local food bank.
school pupil holding out an apple.

How to reduce plastic 
waste in school

Schools produce all sorts of plastic waste as it’s used to package food, for pens, rulers, stationery, and other items of equipment. Damage and wear and tear can lead to many types of plastic waste that aren’t always easy to recycle. Reducing plastic waste in schools is the greenest solution.

Consider these options and work out how to reduce plastic waste at your school:

  • Provide refillable equipment – classroom equipment is a big source of plastic waste in schools. Provide refillable marker pens, glue bottles, and fountain pens to avoid throwing out plastic pens and containers once they’re empty. If every child in every class used a refillable pen it could save thousands of old plastic pens from landfill.
  • Stop selling plastic-packaged food – sandwiches wrapped in cling film, individually packaged yoghurts, and many other foodstuffs sold in school cafeterias create lots of plastic packaging waste. Aim to become a zero waste school by taking these off the menu and selling alternatives in paper or recyclable packaging.
  • Promote reusables – install water fountains and provide students with reusable bottles for water, juice, and milk. This cuts the use of plastic bottles and drink cans.
  • Go for glass milk bottles – glass is infinitely recyclable, whereas plastics are more problematic. Primary schools that give children milk should opt for those in traditional glass bottles that are much easier to recycle.
  • Switch suppliers – review your existing school suppliers for food, equipment, and other resources. Look to partner with those that use zero or minimal plastic and other packaging for their deliveries. It could be those that deliver goods on wooden pallets or in cardboard boxes instead, as both are easier to reuse and recycle than plastic wrap and bags.
  • Lose the laminator – shiny laminated sheets may last longer and look good but they’re not recyclable. Is laminating necessary and better? Sell all school laminators to save money and the environment and see if you miss it.
  • Repurpose plastics in art classes – cut off the top of a plastic bottle to craft a paintbrush or pencil holder, use bottle tops to make a mosaic, and shred coloured plastic food packaging for all sorts of artistic creations.
  • Reward zero waste lunches – encourage students and parents to make lunches with no single-use plastic items and minimal packaging. Conduct a packed lunch waste audit to raise awareness of the rubbish they can create. Rewarding packed lunches with no plastic waste could incentivise pupils to take positive action.
paint palette in art classroom.

Read more waste reduction guides

Despite what we learn at school, many businesses and industries produce lots of waste. Discover how to reduce waste in various sectors and ways to minimise material waste with our expert guides.

Waste reduction guides
free bins icon.

Get a fast and free quote

Get a fast FREE quote for school waste collection

  • Free quote within 1 hr
  • Any type of school waste
  • FREE bins and delivery
  • We cover all of the UK