As the school year begins, it’s the perfect time to set sustainable habits in your classroom. We’ve got you covered with ideas for reducing waste in the classroom—and getting your students excited about it!

  1. Get to the “why”

Sorting trash into the correct bins isn’t all that exciting—until you realize that it makes you a planet protector! 

When students understand why reducing consumption, reusing things when possible, and recycling are important for the health of the planet (and all of us who live on it), doing so will be energizing instead of a chore. Incorporate teachings on sustainability and the waste crisis to instill eco-conscious attitudes. 

  1. Visit a recycling center or landfill

Landfills are “out of sight, out of mind.” Give your students a firsthand look at how trash goes to waste in landfills, and teach them about the negative environmental effects of aggregating our waste in dumps or incinerating it.

Then, visit a recycling center to demonstrate how recycling unlocks the possibilities of trash and keeps it from going to waste. Yes, sorting our trash into the right bins really does matter!

  1. Do a waste audit

Sometimes, you’ve gotta get your hands dirty. Do a waste audit in your classroom! Hand out gloves (you can recycle them with our Disposable Gloves – Zero Waste Box™) and get sorting. Ask students to point out items that can be recycled (through your curbside service or TerraCycle), and to identify trash trends and what low- or zero-waste alternatives there may be (e.g., reusable containers instead of plastic snack bags).

  1. Have a “zero-waste day”

Going fully zero-waste is a journey. Start with one day! Even if your classroom has some trash on hand at the end of the day, it’s a valuable teaching moment. Completely eliminating waste may be nearly impossible to do, but when we take small steps (like committing to only using reusable bottles in the classroom), they add up to make a big difference. Get students thinking about how much trash they could keep out of the landfill if every day was a low- or zero-waste day.

  1. Start a sustainability club

Have a couple of students in your classroom who are especially devoted to the environment? Don’t let that momentum go to waste! Create a sustainability club (invite kids from other classrooms to participate too) and encourage kids to brainstorm and manage projects that will make your school even more eco-friendly. For example, assign students to present about the importance of recycling or plan a park cleanup.

  1. Use up supplies (to reduce new purchases)

Half-used colored pencils may not be as exciting as shiny new ones, but they‘ve still got life left. Encourage students to use up supplies as much as they can before putting them in the TerraCycle bin or trash bin (as a last resort). Go a step further by asking parents to bring in used writing utensils, notebooks, etc., from home to get new life in your classroom.

  1. Recycle with TerraCycle (and earn money!)

Fundraising is trash! Did you know that you can raise funds for your classroom or school just by recycling hard-to-recycle trash through TerraCycle free recycling programs? Set up a recycling center in your school and encourage students, parents, faculty, and staff to bring in accepted trash, like toothpaste tubes, beauty packaging, and more. You’ll send it to TerraCycle for recycling using free shipping labels that we provide. The more you send in, the more money you earn, and it’s completely free to participate. 

If you’re in the United States, learn more about how to raise money for your school through recycling.

  1. Decorate recycling bins

Make recycling easy and more fun by asking students to decorate the recycling or TerraCycle bins in your classroom. Clearly label bins with the accepted items so it’s obvious exactly what can be put inside. Then get creative! Provide art supplies you already have on hand, and encourage students to upcycle trash.

It’s never too late to start incorporating sustainable practices in your classroom, but we encourage you to dive in now. Even taking small steps to reduce, reuse, and recycle has an impact—especially when it cultivates a lifelong commitment to sustainability in your students. 

And remember, recycling your hard-to-recycle trash through TerraCycle earns you money (at no cost to you)! Create a TerraCycle account for your school today.

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