School recycling

Nearly 80 percent of school waste is recyclable or compostable.

Schools are required by state statute to have a recycling program. In Hennepin County, more than half of the K-12 schools voluntarily divert additional waste from the trash by having an organics recycling program.

School recycling programs educate future generations about the importance of waste reduction, recycling, and overall environmental stewardship. Recycling can also help schools save on disposal costs and taxes associated with solid waste disposal.

Hennepin County has funding, free container signage and technical assistance available to help schools start or improve recycling programs.

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School recycling grants

Application timeline

Applications are no longer being accepted for 2019 school recycling grants. Applications will be accepted again in early 2020. 

Eligible organizations, expenses and activities

School recycling grant funding can be used to start or improve recycling, organics recycling, and waste reduction programs. See the school recycling grants flyer (PDF) for an overview of the program.

Eligible organizations include public and non-public K-12 schools in Hennepin County.

Review the school recycling grant guidelines (PDF) for more information about the program, eligible project activities and allowable expenses.


The following document must be submitted to apply:

Contact us

You are encouraged to contact the program manager, Kira Berglund, to discuss project ideas at or 612-596-1498.



Organics recycling in schools

Diverting organic materials, which includes food, napkins and other compostable products, at schools is a significant opportunity to put waste to better use through food donation, food-to-animals, or organic composting programs. 

For more information and tips on getting started, see the organics recycling in schools best practices guide (PDF)

Common organic wastes at schools

  • Food waste, including scraps from kitchen prep, lunches and snacks
  • Paper towels, napkins and tissues
  • Food-soiled paper, including paper lunch bags, pizza boxes, and certified compostable or uncoated paper products

Organic waste is commonly collected in the following areas in schools:

  • Kitchen
  • Cafeteria
  • Restrooms
  • Faculty lounge

Organics recycling options

  • Food-to-people programs: Donate edible food to organizations that help people in need.
  • Food-to-livestock programs: Have your food processed into feed for livestock.
  • Organics composting: Have your food scraps and food-soiled paper products turned into valuable compost.

Learn more about organics recycling.

Tips and lessons learned

The capital cost of starting up an organics recycling programs includes, but is not limited to:

  • Compostable bags
  • Educational materials and advertising
  • New containers for organic waste

Efficiently operated organics recycling programs can pay for themselves. Significant cost savings can result from:

  • Reduced trash service: pick-up required less frequently
  • State and county solid waste tax exemptions: there is a 31.5 percent tax for trash and no tax for organics
  • Reduced tipping fee on organic waste: at Hennepin County facilities, trash costs $58 per ton plus taxes and fees while organics costs $25 per ton

Expect to spend some time educating both students and staff about an organics recycling program, especially during the initial start-up of the program. Have dedicated monitors (which can be students, staff, parents, or other volunteers) at waste containers to educate students and assist them with sorting. Monitors should educate and encourage sorting while offering minimal assistance so that the organics program can eventually operate with little or no supervision.

Educational resources

Most of the waste produced at schools can be recycled or composted. The following resources can help you start or improve a recycling program at your school.

Sorting video

Our sorting video is intended to help students learn how to sort and properly recycling their lunch waste.

The video gives a brief overview of why recycling and organics recycling is important, then instructs students how to sort their waste into recycling, organics recycling, and trash. The video is intended to be generic enough to be used by schools throughout Hennepin County.

Benefits of recycling programs

Implementing recycling and organics collection in schools provides environmental, educational and financial benefits:

  • Environmental: By recycling, new products are made from materials being thrown away. Diverting organic waste means that leftover food is donated to help people in need, fed to animals or recycled into compost.
  • Educational: Recycling and organics recycling presents hands-on environmental education opportunities that provide a forum for teaching many scientific topics, such as decomposition, pollution, habitat loss, microbiology, chemistry, soil ecology, manufacturing and engineering.
  • Financial: Schools can reduce disposal costs and taxes associated with solid waste disposal.

Setting up a recycling program

The recycling guide for Minnesota schools (PDF), published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is a great resource for setting up a school recycling program.

School waste study

A school waste sort study, conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Hennepin County and City of Minneapolis, gives some key insights into waste generation at schools, including that nearly 80 percent of school waste could be recycled.

Waste sort guide

Interested in learning more about the amount and type of waste produced at your schools by conducting a waste audit or waste sort?

Check out our how-to guide for conducting a waste sort (PDF) for step-by-step instructions for conducting a waste sort, including how to organize and set up the sort, what equipment you will need, and how to collect data with sample data sheets.

School reuse and cleanout day guide

Rethink Recycling has a school reuse and cleanout day guide (PDF) to help prevent waste and maximize the reuse and recycling of materials during cleanout at the end of the school year.


Recycling classroom presentations

Bring hands-on learning about recycling and waste reduction to your school

Hennepin County has staff available to give classroom presentations to engage students in hands-on learning about waste generation, the benefits of recycling and the importance of sorting waste correctly at school and everywhere else.

Some presentations provide a comprehensive overview to help students understand the importance of participating in the school recycling program. For schools that have already done such presentations, additional lessons delve deeper into different topics areas, including paper recycling, investigating packaging and composting.

Review presentations available (PDF).

For more information or to sign up your class, contact Kira Berglund at or 612-596-1498.

School recycling meetings

School recycling meetings provide an opportunity for school staff and volunteers to learn about environmental topics and share successes and challenges related to their recycling and organics programs.

Meetings are held every other month during the school year. Meetings are typically held on Friday mornings in September, November, January, March, and May.

Contact Kira Berglund at to be added to the contact list.

Recently awarded grants

Grants awarded in 2018

Hennepin County recently awarded eight grants totaling $150,300 to schools and school districts to reduce waste and improve recycling and organics programs. Grant recipients include four public school districts, two charter schools, and two non-public schools. 

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School (Minneapolis)

$12,200 to start an organics recycling program in their cafeteria and standardize the recycling bins throughout the school.

Hopkins Public Schools

$23,500 to improve organics and recycling collection in all school cafeterias by getting sorting stations to help direct students when disposing of their waste.

Minneapolis Public Schools

$50,000 to start or improve recycling and organics recycling at 11 schools

  • Anishinabe Academy/Anne Sullivan Communication Center and North High School will start organics recycling.
  • Eight schools will improve their organics recycling program by getting waste stations to help students figure out what goes where:
    • Anthony Middle Schools
    • Dowling Elementary School
    • Hiawatha Community School
    • Jefferson Community School
    • Kenwood Community School
    • Lake Nokomis Community School -  Keewaydin Campus
    • Northeast Middle School
    • Pillsbury Community School
  • Dowling Elementary and Jefferson Community School will also expand recycling and organics collection throughout their schools.
  • Justice Page Middle School will add outdoor recycling stations.

Minnetonka Public Schools

$2,500 to improve recycling collection in common areas at Minnetonka Middle School East.

Nativity of Mary Catholic School (Bloomington)

$9,400 to start organics collection in the cafeteria and improve recycling school-wide.

Noble and Nompeng Academies (Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park)

$24,000 to establish organics and recycling collection in the cafeteria and classrooms at Nompeng Academy, which is opening this fall in Brooklyn Center. Nompeng is also getting outdoor recycling stations and compost bins for the garden. Noble Academy in Brooklyn Park will focus on improving waste sorting in cafeteria.

Osseo Area Schools

$13,600 for Fair Oaks Elementary to start collecting organics and recycling in the cafeteria. Paper towels from the restrooms will also be diverted to organics recycling.   

Prairie Seeds Academy (Brooklyn Park)

$15,300 to start organics collection in the cafeteria and get reusable utensils to replace disposable ones. They will also start collecting paper towels from restrooms for organics recycling.

Yinghua Academy (Minneapolis)

$9,100 to improve and expand their recycling and organics recycling program in the cafeteria and throughout the school.

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