How school recycling programmes can help to reduce waste efficiently

How school recycling programmes can help to reduce waste efficiently

Natural resources are finite and in very short supply and recycling is crucial to the future health of our planet, our continent and our country. Reuse and waste reduction can save many schools some money. 80% of school waste is recyclable materials, so schools make a huge impact when they recycle waste. 

Schools and educational institutions are the largest generators of waste. 40% of the typical school waste stream is paper. More than 840-million trees are grown over 693 000 ha to make pulp and paper in South Africa. Recycled paper uses 70% less energy than the energy needed to make paper from virgin wood. Glass and plastic beverage containers account for 15% of school waste streams. Recycling just one glass bottle saves enough energy to power a 100-watt electric bulb for hours. 

Therefore, implementing recycling programmes at schools exposes school children to learning possibilities such as ecosystems, consumer culture and properties of different materials like plastic, glass and aluminum. It promotes ethical citizenship in children and it gives them hope that even the smallest actions as consumers and recyclers make a significant difference.  

 What to think about when starting a school recycling programme?

It is crucial to develop a functioning waste-reduction and source-separation plan that works within the needs of the school. The biggest challenge is to develop a tailored plan that works with the school’s strengths and challenges. Formulating a school recycling programme requires understanding what programmes have been successful in other schools and the reasons why other programmes have been ineffective. 

There are certain structural elements that must be put in place to ensure the effectiveness of the school recycling programme. Source-separation is a reletively low-cost, straight-forward approach to apply values and principles crucial to sustainable development. 

The school's recycling programme should have four phases namely: Catalyst, Administration, Implementation and Maintenance.

  • Catalyst 

A catalyst is needed for the recycling plan to be implemented successfully, by removing existing social barriers and re-establishing habits. The success of a school recycling programme is closely related to the level of motivation and actors behind the programme. The catalyst has a direct bearing on ambition and the results. Environmentally sensitive conditions can also foster the development of an ambitious waste reduction programme as part of a sustainable vision for the school as a whole.

Changing habits within a bureaucratic network requires external assistance. There are multiple ways to build interest in the staff which leads to the momentum in the programme. So, lack of incentives linked to the recycling programme presents a major obstacle to increasing the effectiveness of recycling efforts. Trying to build internal motivation to change habits and take the steps to facilitate source separation is a difficult problem without a concrete catalyst to motivate the people involved. 

  • Administration

Administrative components must be in place for a recycling programme to succeed. Strong leadership, administrative support, and a clear policy are all requirements needed to support the school recycling programme. For administration to be successful, the commitment of the administrative staff must be in place to overcome the impediments imposed by the limitations of time and money.

Schools must have a sustainability coordinator who will develop and implement the recycling programmes. General training on sustainability must be in place to support this role. The role of the sustainability coordinator and the responsibilities and checkpoints for this position must be functionally developed to engage with all staff members and learners at large

  • Implementation

Implementation is putting into practice the planned administrative changes, as well as changing attitudes and behaviors that are fundamental to implementing the recycling programme. Recycling plans not only change attitudes so individuals are open to breaking habits but they also smooth and facilitate this transition. 

The most successful plans remove situational barriers, provide information on how to properly recycle, and set goals that increase awareness and motivate students. Recycling programmes must be deployed to change attitudes first and adjust behavior second, with an awareness of the impediments to implementation and the tools needed to fit within the habits of those affected. 

Consistent and accessible bin placement represents the foundation for successful source separation, as it facilitates participation, thus removing a major impediment to the programme. Implementation must therefore address logistical changes while also adding programmes that foster participation and engagement.

Physical separation of waste is needed to prevent confusion, share information and affirm habits. The most common form of physical separation is the different bins for waste disposal and recycling disposal. Once the difference in bin function becomes emphasized by more than just a color difference, diversion rates will increase dramatically.

  • Maintenance 

Maintenance allows for reexamination of the recycling programme and supports the continual reinforcement needed for long-term habit formation. Reinforcing the individual elements allows the system to move past potential barriers to change. 

Given the number of individuals involved with waste generation, disposal, separation, collection, storage, transfer and processing, there are many opportunities for recycled waste to be improperly handled. The continued success of a recycling programme depends not only on the participation and diversion rates, but also on maintaining the many interconnections of a functional waste management system past implementation and regularly revisiting performance. A recycling programme must become a part of standard operation and cannot be limited to the relatively brief period of implementation.

Therefore, waste audits provide an indispensable tool to assess school recycling performance and to assign responsibility for underperformance. The waste audit provides the key to remedying the problem. It gives a point of comparison to judge the efficacy of a programme after implementation and provides a scheduled checkpoint to evaluate programme performance and redress disconnections.

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