Elementary and Secondary Schools RecyclingK-12 schools generate a wide array of materials that can be diverted from disposal, creating an opportunity to educate and engage students with hands-on learning. Schools can establish recycling programs to collect paper, cardboard, and bottles and cans from classrooms, cafeterias, offices, and auxiliary spaces. Many schools also reduce and divert food waste. Unopened packaged items and fresh fruit such as bananas or oranges from student meals can be redistributed through the use of share tables, and many schools are also collecting food scraps for composting or animal feed. The RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts Food Waste Estimation Guide can help K-12 schools estimate the amount of waste they generate before implementing a new program.

MassDEP Waste Ban Amendments

As part of the 2020-2030 Solid Waste Master Plan, MassDEP changed to the waste ban regulations to include mattresses and textiles as banned materials, and lowered the threshold of the existing commercial organics waste ban so that it applies to entities that generate one-half (½) ton or more of commercial organic material per week. The MassDEP estimates that approximately 30 schools may be subject to the reduced threshold of the commercial organics waste ban. Using the RecyclingWorks Food Waste Estimation Guide, schools that meet the following criteria may be subject to the lowered organics waste ban threshold:

  • Elementary schools with 885 or more students
  • Middle schools with 1,370 or more students
  • High schools with 2,860 or more students


Teachers or other school representatives interested in empowering their students to help the environment are encouraged to register for THE GREEN TEAM, a free interactive educational program sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. THE GREEN TEAM provides resources to help Massachusetts K-12 students and teachers slow climate change through waste reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, pollution prevention, and energy conservation.

THE GREEN TEAM provides teachers with educational materials and lesson plans aligned with the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Curriculum Frameworks for Mathematics, English Language Arts, and Science and Technology/Engineering. The program also rewards teams that successfully complete one or more of the suggested activities. Through the program registered schools can request free recycling and composting bins, as well as idling reduction signs and materials. Visit THE GREEN TEAM website to learn more and to register.

Key GREEN TEAM Resources


Source Separation of Food Waste Instructional Videos

This GREEN TEAM video demonstrates how to implement a successful source separation program in a K-12 school cafeteria setting. The video features two schools located in Franklin County, which is a leader in school food waste diversion through composting.

THE GREEN TEAM Hingham High School Case Study Video
This case study demonstrates how Hingham High School successfully incorporates food waste reduction, recycling, composting, and sustainability practices into their school operations and educational programs.

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