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What's in your school's trash? And why should you care?

Updated on June 17, 2012

Do you know what’s in your school’s trash? Here’s the typical makeup of a California school’s trash, according to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery:

47% paper

32% organics

12% plastic

4% metal

2% glass

3% other items

How can you find out what's in your own school's trash? A trash audit can help you to determine the particular makeup of trash at your own school. This could be a class activity, where the kids separate the trash from one day, then weigh each portion. But even if digging through and separating trash isn’t your thing (whose is it, really?), you can use the percentages above to get a general idea of what is in your school's trash.

Where does all of that trash go? If you don’t recycle or compost it, it goes into a landfill. There are several reasons why this is a bad thing.

1. Cost – landfills are expensive, and revenue that might be earned from recycled materials is lost.

2. Wasted resources – landfills use valuable land, and the items disposed in them represent precious resources that could be reused.

3. Pollution and groundwater contamination – plastic, metal, and other items in landfills leach toxins into the soil and groundwater, and trash blowing from landfills can pollute our land and waterways, causing problems for wildlife.

4. Creation of greenhouse gases – anaerobic decomposition in landfills creates methane, a major greenhouse gas.

5. Wasted energy – it will take more energy to make new cans, bottles, and plastic bags, than it would to make them using recycled items.

6. Wasted water – manufacturing uses a tremendous amount of water, reusing or recycling uses less. This can be a big issue where water is scarce.

Why is it important to know what's in your school's waste stream? Given the above problems with landfill waste, it makes sense to divert as much trash as possible from the landfill through reuse, recycling, composting, or by preventing the waste in the first place. Knowing the makeup of your school's trash allows you to target your efforts in ways that will make the most difference.

For example, in most schools, simply putting a good paper recycling program in place will drastically reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill. Even better, you may be able to figure out ways to reduce the amount of paper you're using in the first place, like copying on both sides of the paper whenever possible, reducing napkin and paper towel usage, or switching to email communications from paper newsletters. Once those systems are in place, you can look for ways to reduce other categories of trash.

In my opinion, any amount of trash that can be diverted from the landfill is a win for the environment. This is doubly important in our schools, where our kids are learning to be stewards of the earth.


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      alloporus 5 years ago

      Nice Hub Mart, a trash audit is a great idea. It helps when we see what we are throwing away. Up