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Creating a School-Wide Recycle Center

In honor of Earth Day, I am stepping out of my classroom to share today’s Bright Idea. I didn’t travel very far, just down the hall and around the corner to my school’s recycle center. Does your school recycle? This year I took on the task of revamping my school’s recycle center; transforming it from a mismatched heap of waste bins into a clean, streamlined area that actually enhances the visual appeal of our school hallway.
tips for creating a school-wide recycle center

I know you have lots of reading to do, so let’s dive right in to today’s Bright Idea: Creating a School Recycle Center that’s organized, attractive, and practical! I also have some of ideas for how to help your school raise money while you recycle!
tips for creating a school-wide recycle center
As you can see, my school’s recycle center is located in a section of lockers. This was a BIG change.

The Old Recycle Center

Previously, our recycle center consisted of 12 gallon buckets. Some were white, others were blue. A stand was built to hold the buckets and 8.5×11″ signs were taped above each bucket for labeling purposes. We also had a huge gray bin shaped like a bottle that was intended to hold empty bottles and several large rubbermaid totes for recycling paper. All lined up in the hall and overflowing with recyclables (with an assortment of trash mixed in.) Oh, it was classy.

Here is a photo of our former recycle center in it’s early stages. No heaps of stuff yet, no overflowing rubbermaid totes, and no giant plastic bottle, but this gives you an idea of what we were dealing with. Just imagine this multiplied by five. I’m sure you can imagine my horror.
BEFORE photo of a school recycle center… you should see the AFTER!

Using Lockers as a School Recycle Center

As an upgrade, a set of unused lockers was designated to become the new home of the St. Mary School recycle center. Each locker contains a different type of material to recycle (batteries, plastics, ink cartridges, etc.) I created signs for each locker to help the school community easily sort discarded items. The design of each sign is clean and simple with uniform fonts and colors. Plus our school crest. Because I love our crest.
use lockers to store and organize a school recycle center
A friend of mine is able to print banners at work. She created a banner for the recycle center that encourages all members of the school community to “Keep St. Mary Green.”
(We are a certified Green School in the state of Michigan)
tips for creating a school-wide recycle center

The Interior of Each Locker

The inside of each locker is just as clean and simple as the exterior. A school family has a connection to a local packaging company. We measured the interior of the lockers and had custom boxes created from corrugated plastic (in navy blue and white to coordinate with our school colors.) This completes the visual appeal of the entire Recycle Center, from the inside out.
use lockers to store and organize your school recycle center - GENIUS!

What to Recycle (and how to earn some extra cash)

Whether you’re just getting started with recycling at school or looking to expand your existing recycle center, there are several organizations that can help you get going and (even earn some extra cash for your school!)

Plastic and Cardboard

For plastic and cardboard, check with your school’s local waste distributor. See if they offer curbside recycling for your institution or check to see if there is a drop-off location where you can bring recyclables.

Unfortunately, our school’s waste management company does not offer a pickup service for recyclable materials. Nor is there a drop-off facility for recyclables in the city. I know. It makes me mad too. In the past we have enlisted the assistance of parents to pick up our plastic milk jugs from the cafeteria to take these items home to their own curbside recycle service. The maintenance crew also helps us by taking our plastic waste to a local facility.


abitibi dumpster
Schools produce a LOT of paper waste and this is a great opportunity to monetize all of that discarded paper. My school works with Abitibi Paper Retriever to collect community paper waste in a special dumpster. When the dumpster is filled with paper, Abitibi empties it and we earn money! Abitibi services several cities in the US. Check the map below and visit their website to see if your school is eligible to work with the company.
abitibi paper retriever map

Crayola Marker ColorCycle

Elementary schools use a lot of supplies. Why not recycle them? Crayola now offers a ColorCycle program that encourages schools to save discarded markers and ship them to Crayola. The markers are then recycled into energy for fuel.
recycle Crayola markers and Crayola will turn it into ENERGY
This quick video shows how the process works and is a great resource to share with your students during ecological lessons and activities.


You probably noticed that we save crayons in a locker as well. I would love nothing more than to tell you that Crayola has discovered an effective way to recycle crayons. Unfortunately, that is not the case, but we save our crayons anyway and put them to good use. We drop our crayons off at a local industrial scrap recycling center called Arts & Scraps. My school is located in Macomb County, Michigan. If you are from the same area, it is a great facility to look into. They LOVE getting crayons from us. Most cities have similar industrial recycling programs that are worth looking into.

I also discovered a national crayon program called Crazy Crayons that accepts shipments of crayons for recycling. No prep is required, but the prefer to receive shipments of crayons with the wrappers on that are sorted by color. You just need to pay the shipping costs for sending the crayons.

Turn Waste into Revenue with Terracycle

The Elmer’s Glue Crew is just one of Terracycle’s many recycling brigades. Schools are invited to sign up for multiple brigades through Terracycle. There are a variety of popular brigades which recycle everything from cell phones, to binders, to Colgate toothpaste containers, to Solo cups, and more! Many of these offer a cash donation for shipments. Check out Terracycle’s website to see which brigades have open slots.
tips for creating a school-wide recycle center
This Earth Day, help your school make a difference in the world. Go green and establish a school recycle center (or broaden your recycling efforts by joining a Terracycle brigade to earn some extra cash for your school).

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Maria Gavin

Maria is a former kindergarten and first grade teacher, with 13 years of teaching experience. Her love and passion for all things early childhood is now fulfilled as a mom to two amazing kids. She loves sharing practical and creative tips and ideas that are perfect for young learners – in the classroom or at home!

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18 Responses

  1. I love the way you are using lockers! I will definitely be signing up to recycle markers and crayons. I love the idea of getting our kinders started recycling. Thanks for the wonderful info.

  2. What a fantastic idea! I love how you’ve organized the recycling center at your school! Our Parent/Teacher Organization makes a significant amount of income each year for our school simply by recycling. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  3. Wow, I never knew about all of these resources!! You have given me so much to think about, thank you Maria.

    Oh, and of course you know I adore your signs! 🙂

  4. I am just now seeing your recycling article. I have been trying to collect Elmer’s glue sticks and lids but it’s been really hard to organize…Thanks for the ideas. Do students and teachers just open the doors to the lockers and drop the items in?

  5. I love it! I am definitely bringing info about teracycle and the Crayola marker program to the next PTC meeting. I’ll also be sharing the teracycle with a few churchgoers I know, I’m sure their organizations could do some great things with it! Thanks for the info. I’m hooked and definitely would love to read the other blogger posts you shared…but can’t click on the in link to get to them…

  6. Hi, Maria! First of all I would like to say a big well done for the great article. Your ideas are very helpful and easily achievable. I wish every school to implement such recycling system and to strictly follow it! Thanks for sharing:)

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Hi, I'm Maria.

I’m a former kindergarten teacher turned work-from-home mom. I still love sharing ideas and resources to make teaching easier, so you can focus on what really matters in the classroom. When I’m not working on the blog, you’ll find me chasing kids around the house with a cold cup of coffee in my hand (some things never change even once you’re out of the classroom!)


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