School recycling

Nearly 80 percent of school waste is recyclable or compostable.

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

Applications for 2018 school recycling grants are now being accepted.

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.

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


Applications for grants up to $50,000 are due by 4 p.m. on Wednesday March 28, 2018. Applications for grants of up to $15,000 will continue to be accepted throughout the year as funds remain.

Submit the following documents to apply:

Information meetings

Learn more about the grant program and get feedback on project ideas at an upcoming information meeting:

  • Thursday, March 8 from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. at the Lunds & Byerly’s Community Room, 3777 Park Center Boulevard in St. Louis Park
  • Tuesday, March 13 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Rockford Road Library, 6401 42nd Ave. N in Crystal  

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.

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.


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.

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.

Recently awarded grants

Grants awarded in 2017

Hennepin County awarded 10 grants totaling $144,800 to schools and school districts to reduce waste and improve recycling and organics programs. The following grants were awarded:

  • Arete Academy (Minneapolis): $6,200 to start organics collection, improve recycling, and reduce waste by replacing disposable foodware with compostable alternatives
  • Cristo Rey Jesuit High School (Minneapolis): $4,300 to improve and expand recycling throughout the school
  • Edina Public Schools: $8,500 to expand and improve the recycling and organics recycling program throughout the middle schools and high school
  • Good Shepard School (Golden Valley): $4,800 to improve and expand recycling throughout the school and install bottle-filling stations to reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottle
  • Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School (Minneapolis): $21,200 to start organics collection, improve recycling, and reduce waste by replacing disposable foodware with compostable alternatives
  • LoveWorks Academy (Golden Valley): $3,700 to expand recycling throughout the school and add outdoor recycling stations
  • Minneapolis Public Schools: $40,000 to improve recycling and start organics recycling for composting at Anderson United Community School, Seward Montessori, Southwest High School and Webster Elementary 
  • Noble Academy (Brooklyn Park): $500 to start composting onsite and perform neighborhood cleanups
  • Richfield Public Schools: $50,000 to add recycling stations at athletic fields and outside buildings, improve organics and recycling collection district-wide, and install bottle-filling stations to reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottles 
  • Venture Academy (Minneapolis): $5,600 to expand recycling and organics recycling to their school’s addition and start collecting recycling at events
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