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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 free container signage and technical assistance available to help schools start or improve recycling programs.

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Request assistance

Our committed staff is ready to help you reduce or prevent waste, reduce food waste or donate food, and start or improve recycling and organics at your school.

Request assistance by submitting a school recycling inquiry request form.

Opportunities for schools

Hennepin County Environment and Energy has many resources available to schools, including grant programs, educational materials, curriculum, and experiential education opportunities. Reference this list (PDF) to review all available opportunities. 

Order educational materials and recycling signs

Order free recycling, organics recycling and trash signage and other supplies. A variety of signs that work in office, cafeteria, hallways, classrooms and more are available.

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

Preventing food waste

In the United States, as much as 40 percent of food is wasted. Grocery stores, restaurants and institutions are responsible for about 40 percent of this waste. Wasted food is the most prevalent material in the trash by far, representing about 20 percent of the trash by weight. When food is wasted, the water, energy, fertilizer and cropland that went into producing the food is wasted, too.

You are protected from liability

Food donors are protected by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act, which was passed into federal law in 1996. Organizations that donate food in good faith to a nonprofit for distribution to food insecure individuals are not subject to civil or criminal liability that arises from the condition of the food.

Sharing tables

If your school does not already have a sharing table in the cafeteria, set one up! Students put unwanted food and beverages on the sharing table which other students can take.

Food donation

Some schools in Hennepin County donate surplus prepared food from the kitchen, and others donate items from the cafeteria. Items that are accepted on a sharing table have the potential to be donated.

If your school is interested in pursuing food donation, the following organizations can schedule regular pick-ups for donated food.


Organics recycling

Common organic wastes at schools

Organic waste in schools is commonly collected in the kitchen, cafeteria, restrooms, and faculty lounge.

The most common organic waste collected at schools is food waste and paper products. See the organics recycling at schools guide (PDF) for more details on materials accepted.

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.

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

  • Reduced trash service because pick-ups can happen less frequently.
  • State and county solid waste tax exemptions. Trash is taxed at 38.5 percent, while there is no tax for organics recycling.
  • Reduced tipping fee on organic waste. Tipping fees for trash are generally twice as much as organics per ton.

Learn more about organics recycling at schools

Minnesota cooperative purchasing for compostable bags and products

The State of Minnesota manages a Cooperative Purchasing Venture (PDF) that is available to public entities including school districts and charter schools. The state contracts with vendors to provide goods and services at competitive prices. Contracts are available for compostable bags, reusable and compostable food service ware, and waste and recycling containers. First, check with your purchasing department to see if you already have an agreement in place, either with a janitorial supply company or another buying cooperative.

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.

Recycling and organics recycling at school guides

Includes an overview of what is and is not accepted for recycling and organics recycling at schools, plus tips to improve recycling.

Composting correctly: sorting organics at school video

The "composting correctly" video (YouTube) (2:35) is geared toward schools that collect organics in their cafeteria. The video covers how organics become compost, what you can and cannot compost, and why composting is important.

Sorting lunch waste at school video

Our sorting video (YouTube) (3:08) 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

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


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.

School recycling grants are paused for evaluation and review in 2022. Check back in 2023.

Reduce waste and improve recycling at your school

Hennepin County has grants available to public and private, K-12 schools to start or improve programs to reduce waste and keep recycling and organic materials, including food and non-recyclable paper, out of the trash.

Grants awarded in 2021

Hennepin County awarded six grants totaling $60,300 to schools to reduce waste and expand recycling and organics programs. Grant recipients include one public school district and five non-public schools.

Blake School (Minneapolis)

$15,900 to expand recycling to hallways and common areas at the Upper School. They will also reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottles by installing water bottle fillers.

Brooklyn Center Community Schools (Independent School District 286)

$15,000 to improve their recycling program by expanding recycling at their elementary and secondary schools. They will begin collecting recycling in common areas, including the cafeterias and outdoor areas.

Eden Prairie Schools

$4,800 for reusable trays and bowls to reduce waste from single-use items at Central Middle School.

Holy Trinity Lutheran Academy (New Hope)

$6,500 to start recycling in their classrooms, offices and common areas. They will also start composting in their school garden.

Hope Academy (Minneapolis)

$12,000 to expand their organics program by collecting paper towels in restrooms and classrooms. Organics and recycling bins will be available in the hallways to capture materials from breakfast in the classrooms. Additional recycling bins will be placed in classrooms and offices to increase access to recycling.

Nativity of Mary Catholic School (Bloomington)

$12,600 for a dishwasher and reusable trays. They will install a fridge to preserve excess snacks and beverages at the preschool to reduce waste. In addition, they will reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottles by installing water bottle fillers.

Saint Helena Catholic School (Minneapolis)

$8,500 to expand recycling throughout building and start collecting organics in the cafeteria. They will install a dishwasher and start using reusable trays and utensils to reduce waste. In addition, they will install water bottle fillers to reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottles. They will also start composting on-site.

Contact us

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

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