NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
The State of North Carolina's School Recycling Programs
Recycle Guys | | Recycle More NC

Click HERE for a printable School Recycling Fact Sheet PDF.

The ABCs of School Recycling (presentation).

School recycling programs are essential to creating community norms for recycling. Setting one up takes planning to build partnerships, establish long-term collection plans and identify key benefits to the individual school or school system. Relying solely on one motivated teacher or staff member to handle the collection of materials does not always lead to a consistent program from one year to the next. However, motivating those in-house allies to help the program run smoothly is an excellent partnership!

Recycle Guys

  School Recycling Survey
In 2006, DENR’s Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance conducted a survey about the day-to-day operations of recycling programs in North Carolina schools. Local governments and school systems returned 31 surveys in response to the request, for a response rate of 16 percent. These respondents represent a total of 1,004 elementary, middle and high schools in North Carolina. Of these schools, 77 percent reported having a recycling program. Only one survey respondent, a town, reported having no recycling program in any of its schools.

Survey Observations
Results from the surveys are presented below in the following categories: program coordination, finances, collection details and recycling responsibilities and training.

Program Coordination
The party responsible for coordinating school recycling programs varies widely across North Carolina, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: School Recycling Program Coordinators
Pie chart showing School Recycling Program Coordinators
A single entity provides recycling to 62 percent of survey respondents. However, another 28 percent do not receive recycling service from a single provider. Often, multiple organizations work together to provide a school with recycling, as shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Recycling Service Providers
Pie chart showing Recycling Service Providers

Twenty-nine percent of respondents reported recycling resulted in a net decrease of costs. Forty-five percent of respondents did not know whether costs increased or decreased, while 13 percent reported an increase and 16 percent reported neither an increase nor decrease.

A small percent of schools, ten percent, reported they received some revenues for the sale of recyclables. Seventy-seven percent of respondents reported schools received no revenues from haulers for the sale of its recyclables. Six percent of respondents did not know whether they received revenues.

Figure 3: Financial Impact of School Recycling Program
Pie chart showing Financial Impact of School Recycling Program

Collection Details
  Table 1: Size of School Recycling Containers*
Recycling bin
14-18 gallon bins
(photo courtesy of Winston-Salem Forsyth Co.)
Paper guy recycling paper in a roll cart
32-96 gallon roll carts
(photo courtesy of Wake Co.)
Recycling Dumpster
4-8 cubic yard Dumpsters
(photo courtesy of Mecklenburg Co.)
Rolloff recycling container
20-40 cubic yard roll offs
(photo courtesy of City of Conover.)
Iredell County's Can Trailer

(e.g. Iredell Co.'s trailer shown here.)
* Totals do not add to 100% because respondents could select more than one option.

Frequency of recycling collection also varied. Twenty-nine percent of school programs collect recycling weekly, 16 percent collect biweekly, ten percent collect monthly, and on an as needed basis at 19 percent. The remaining 29 percent of programs have collection schedules that vary by school or material type.

  Table 2 shows the different types of items collected for recycling throughout North Carolina schools. Cardboard, a material recycled by 77 percent of respondents, is relatively easy to recycle and can generate funds for schools. Another material that may generate funds is aluminum. In fact, many of the 84 percent of respondents who reported recycling aluminum cans also reported receiving revenues from the sale of cans. The disposal of motor oil in a landfill is illegal in North Carolina and the disposal of oil filters and plastic bottles recently became banned items. Yet only 29 percent of respondents reported recycling motor oil or filters.

Respondents reported that school recycling programs most commonly do not commingle materials (55 percent). Thirty-two percent commingle all materials and 13 percent separate fibers from containers (dual stream).

Nineteen percent of respondents reported at least one school in their district has a composting project. Another 23 percent of respondents were unsure if there were any composting projects in their area, and 55 percent said there were none.

Of the respondents able to provide data (32 percent), approximately 11 tons (or 22,848 pounds) of recyclables were collected per school per year. Based on this data, schools recycled approximately two pounds of materials per student per year.

Convenience is always key to the success of a recycling program. Accordingly, more than 50 percent of respondents have a recycling bin in every classroom.

Table 2: Types of Materials Recycled

Material Type Percent of Respondents Recycling at One or More Schools*
White Office Paper 90 %
Mixed Paper 87%
Newspaper 87%
Aluminum Cans 84%
Corrugated Cardboard 77%
Magazines 77%
Plastic Bottles 77%
Steel Cans 68%
Glass 52%
Cooking Oil 29%
Motor Oil and/or Filters 29%
Other 19%

* Totals do not add to 100% because respondents could select more than one option.


Table 3: Student Access to Recycling Bins

In Every Classroom In Some Classrooms In Cafeteria Outside In Other Locations Varies by School Other
55% 13% 39% 6% 26% 65% 13%

Recycling Responsibilities and Training

Table 4 below shows when schools or local governments offer training on recycling operations.

Table 4: Timing of School Recycling Operations Training

Monthly Several Times Per Year Once Per Year When Program Begins When Program Changes Given to New Staff or Students Upon Request
0% 26% 19% 55% 39% 10% 2%

As shown in Table 5, both students and custodial staff are involved in the collection of recyclables.

Table 5: Recycling Responsibilities and Training Opportunities*

  Students Teachers Custodial Staff Administration Parents Other/Not Sure
Responsible for Emptying Bins 77% 48% 81% 13% 10% 19%
Receives Training 74% 87% 71% 39% ** 16%

* Totals do not add to 100% because respondents could select more than one option.
**“Parents” was not a possible answer to the question on who receives recycling training



Pollution Prevention
North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance
1639 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1639      (919)715-6500     (800)763-0136      Privacy Policy /Disclaimer

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