Brown, kraft paper recycling symbol on matte green background

School Recycling Update

December 8th 2022

An Update from SD8 Operations

What’s Happening in Schools Now?

SD8 continues to support interested schools in expanding their recycling programs. In spring 2022, South Nelson Elementary began a pilot program and Hume School began their pilot this fall. Both are going well, with excellent staff and student participation. A huge thanks to staff and students for carrying out these programs.

Step One: Reduce and Reuse

The best recycling approach available to all schools and families is to prevent bringing some types of recyclable waste into the school to begin with. Staff and students are encouraged to make sure lunches and snacks come in reusable containers that are taken home each day, rather than lunches arriving in pre-packaged materials that create waste or are difficult to recycle in a non-home setting. Recyclables including plastics and refundable cans or bottles can be brought back home again where more options for recycling already exist.  

Challenges in School Recycling

Residential recycling and commercial recycling are two very distinct programs. Many people are surprised that the recycling options that have at home aren’t available yet to commercial sites, like our schools. 

Contamination of recycling bins and materials with inappropriate materials is the single biggest challenge in any recycling program. Once contaminated, all contents of a recycling bin become waste as they have no market value to the end-recycler. It also costs more to take this contaminated material to landfills. Pizza boxes continue to be our biggest offender at school sites – these are usually contaminated with food waste and so are considered trash. Also, community dumping is a huge factor in contamination of recycling, even though the bins are locked.

A cornerstone of an effective recycling program is public education and making sure recycling bins are monitored and not accessible when monitoring isn’t available. People can and do throw many inappropriate things in recycling bins when no one is looking, and this results in effort, time and materials wasted. This continues to be a challenge.

SD8’s Waste Management Partners

SD8 currently has service agreements with four contractors to provide garbage and recycling for all district sites. The majority of sites are serviced by two companies: Waste Management in the Nelson area and Green for Life in the Creston area.  Each company has their own set of guidelines for recycling materials. Before 2022 we had separate garbage and mixed/co-mingled recycling bins at all sites serviced by these two companies. While there has been no change of guidelines with Green for Life, in May of 2020 we were notified Waste Management would be adjusting their acceptable materials guidelines due to challenges further along in the recycling process that affected their ability to accept a wide range of materials. Here is a partial list of changes:

  • No longer accepting plastics 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7

  • No longer accepting plastic film of any type

  • Bagged Material – schools are exempt from this due to the challenges of getting recycling to the bin. 

  • No paper towel, no shredded paper.  

A Work in Progress

Successful recycling programs are most often managed at the school level by students under the direction/support of teachers. Sites with no structured or managed programs have recycling bins in classrooms that are picked up or emptied by custodial staff. Custodial staff do not have available time within their shift to sort materials so with the changes that were implemented, SD8 Operations was unable to comply with the new guidelines and most (if not all) recycling loads were considered contaminated, which costs us more to dispose of and completely defeats the purpose of the program.

As a control measure, at the start of September 2020, we notified schools we would be recycling cardboard only.  Currently sites with service provided by Waste Management are recycling cardboard and some sites have recently started adding controlled programs to include clean paper only.

Working with Schools and Partners

We have an excellent working relationship with Waste Management and are continuing discussions to identify possible options. We have a similar contract with the various waste providers across the district, as having multiple agreements tailored to different sites is operationally impractical and unmanageable. 

SD8 Operations will continue to work with our schools. An option for supporting schools to reduce waste and increase recycling is if the school collects, organizes, and packages the (uncontaminated) recyclables in their school, and when ready, Operations is notified and can pick up that material to take it to the recycling depot.

Together, we can make progress in school recycling programs, and continued efforts by staff, students and families will help us reduce what we throw out and reuse and recycle the rest. 

Note: Commercial recycling programs are still under development in our region and SD8 is one of many organizations that communicate regularly with local government about the need for more recycling options for non-residential stakeholders. SD8 is actively working with our schools and our staff to find ways to reduce contamination of materials like paper and cardboard that we can now recycle, and to encourage everyone to take other recyclables and compostable materials home with them where residential recycling and composting programs are currently available.