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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Download educational materials and recycling signs

A variety of signs and educational materials are available for school cafeterias, breakrooms, classrooms, and other areas.

Due to efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Hennepin County is unable to fulfill orders of school recycling resources until further notice. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. 

Our signs and educational materials are available as download only versions so you can print them yourself. 

View and download school recycling resources.

Sign up for our Sustainable Schools newsletter to stay informed about when we will be filling orders again.

School recycling grants

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.

See the school recycling grants flyer (PDF) for an overview of the program.

Application timeline

Applications are being accepted for 2020 school recycling grants. Applications for grants of up to $50,000 are due by 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 27. 

Applications under $15,000 will be accepted on a rolling basis as funds remain.

Eligible organizations, expenses and activities

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

Grant funding can be used to purchase equipment and supplies, including recycling and organics recycling containers, sorting stations, reusable food service ware, bulk condiment dispensers, organics hauling, and compostable bags.

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. 

Information meetings

Bring your project ideas, get questions about the program answered, and discuss other ways county staff can help make your project a success. 

An information session will be held Thursday, February 6, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the St. Louis Park Library at 3240 Library Lane, St. Louis Park, MN 55426.

Or you can watch a recording of the online webinar information session.

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

These include scraps from kitchen prep, lunches and snacks.

Paper products

These include paper towels, napkins and tissues.

Food-soiled paper

These items include 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 (YouTube) 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.


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 2019

Hennepin County recently awarded 11 grants totaling $179,100 to schools and school districts to reduce waste and expand recycling and organics recycling programs. Grant recipients include six public school districts, two charter schools, and three non-public schools.

Anoka Hennepin School District

$24,500 to start collecting organics recycling in the cafeteria along with paper towels in the restrooms at Champlin Park High School. Additionally, Champlin Park High School and Jackson Middle School will expand their recycling efforts in common areas. Jackson Middle School will also improve the organics recycling and recycling sorting system in their cafeteria.

Blake School (Hopkins)

$22,500 to expand recycling and organics collection programs by adding containers in the hallways and at events. They will also add recycling stations at their athletic facilities.

Breck School (Golden Valley)

$18,300 to add recycling stations to their ice arena.

Eagle Ridge Academy (Minnetonka)

$2,200 to start composting on-site and add recycling bins to newly remodeled areas of the school. They will also add a sharing table in the cafeteria to reduce food waste. The sharing table will include a refrigerator to store unwanted cartons of milk and other perishable items.

Eden Prairie High School

$500 to add refrigeration at their donation station in the cafeteria so that cartons of milk and other perishable items can be donated.

Hope Academy (Minneapolis)

$12,100 to start an organics recycling program. They will also install bottle filling stations to reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottles.

ISD 728

$29,200 to add outdoor recycling stations at Hassan Elementary, Rogers Elementary, Rogers Middle School, and Rogers High School.

Minneapolis Public Schools

$27,200 for the district’s Culinary & Wellness Department to pilot a tracking system to assist with food waste prevention at two schools. They will also start an organics recycling program at Anwatin Middle School and improve the organics recycling program at Edison High School by installing waste sorting stations in their cafeterias.

Osseo Area Schools

$10,700 to start an organics recycling program at Zanewood Community School in Brooklyn Park. The school will start collecting organics in the cafeteria and paper towels from the restrooms to be composted. They will also get condiment dispensers to reduce waste from individual condiment packets.

Partnership Academy (Richfield)

$15,000 to start an organics recycling program and expand the recycling program at their new building. Partnership Academy will set up on-site compost bins so the students can learn about composting first-hand. They will also get a set of reusable dishes and utensils for staff to reduce waste from disposable foodservice ware.

St. Anthony-New Brighton School District

$16,000 to expand recycling in common areas throughout Wilshire Park Elementary. They will get outdoor recycling stations for both the elementary and high school athletic fields. They are also replacing disposable foodservice ware with reusable cups and utensils in the school cafeterias.

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