Waste Reduction and Recycling

All NYC Public Schools are required to follow the NYC Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) waste, recycling, and composting guidelines. There are many benefits to sorting and reducing waste in our schools.

  • Composting food scraps and recycling paper, metal, glass, plastic & cartons reduces the material sent to landfills. 
  • Using latched containers to store food scraps and food-soiled paper reduces rodent populations and keeps schools and sidewalks clean.
  • Food scraps and food-soiled paper can be turned into compost, a natural soil amendment, or into biofuel, a form of renewable energy.
  • Recycling and composting provide an opportunity for hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Recycling, Composting, and Waste Guide

Our partners DSNY and GrowNYC created a Clean and Green Schools Guide specifically for schools. This guide helps schools manage waste within school buildings and on the curb.

This guide covers recycling setups for classrooms, cafeterias, and other areas. It also covers roles, responsibilities, and tools needed for sorting materials.

Curbside Compost Expansion

All K-12 schools now participate in the DSNY Curbside Composting program. Staff and students are responsible for waste sorting. Schools receive specialized training, equipment, and ongoing support to make composting a success. 

Schools receive a full suite of materials for Curbside Composting. This includes a cafeteria sorting station with a set of bins and signs to identify recyclable and compostable items, and special tilt trucks for containerizing bags on the curb. 

Curbside composting is a whole-school effort, with Custodian Engineers, School Food staff, teachers, students, and administrators all working together. Schools have designated Sustainability Coordinators who lead sustainability initiatives in their school communities. Many schools have a “Green Team” or a similar student group that helps their peers sort compostable and recyclable materials in the cafeteria. 

The NYC Public Schools Office of Energy & Sustainability offers ongoing support to all staff. 

Plastic Free Lunch Day (PFLD)

After a pilot program in Spring 2022, we now work with Cafeteria Culture and the DOE Office of Food & Nutrition Services on monthly Plastic Free Lunch Days.

All elementary school kitchens should be automatically participating in Plastic Free Lunch Days by serving lunches without plastic packaging. If your kitchen staff is not aware of PFLD, please ask the cook in charge to speak with the School Food Service Manager of the site to partner on ways to implement PFLD and reduce plastic use.

Middle and high school kitchens have different types of meal service than elementary schools, but they can still reduce the use of plastics via staff and student engagement. Here are some ideas:

  • Encourage students & staff to bring their own bottles & safe reusable cutlery – a raffle or prize can be a good incentive for participation
  • Designate a few students/staff each lunch period to perform a Plastic Waste Audit
  • Focus on reducing one kind of single-use plastic packaging, such as straws or condiment packets (dispense from squeeze bottles or spoon/ladle onto student plates)
  • Lead a "Take Only What You Need" campaign - dispense utensils, napkins, and other single-use items by request only instead of automatically serving with each meal 
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