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WasteWise - schools

The main objectives of the WasteWise schools’ programme are:

  • To raise awareness among educators, learners and their families.
  • To enable educators to raise awareness of the cause and effect of poor waste 
management and the benefits of integrated waste management.
  • To provide environmental tools to enhance quality of life.
  • To assist schools with portfolio development and waste minimisation projects.

Eco-schools programme

The Department of Solid Waste works with the Western Cape’s Eco-Schools Programme and 
the City’s Youth Environmental Schools (YES) programme to provide training to learners and educators in waste management and the efficient use of resources.
Eco-Schools was launched in South Africa in May 2003 by the Wildlife & Environment Society for 
South Africa (WESSA), and aims to achieve sustainable environmental management by integrating the environment into the national education curriculum and empowering teachers and learners to implement environmental policies at school level.

Get Waste Wise at School

If you’re interested in reducing your school’s waste output, your first step is to take a quick look at the various waste streams to give yourself a basic overview. Once you have a good understanding of the various waste streams, take a look at the steps below that your school needs to follow to become a Waste Wise School. Good luck! 

Steps to become a Waste Wise School:

Waste management committee

The first step in setting up a successful waste management programme in your school is to make sure that all parties which could affect the programme’s success namely; school governing body, teachers, parents, students, and the school cleaning staff, buy-in to the idea and are committed to making it work. One of the best ways to do this is to create a waste project committee that includes representation from each of the key groups. 

Your first requirement will be to identify the school’s waste coordinator (leading waste champion). Ideally, this will be a fairly senior teacher within the school (someone from within the school’s senior management team). The waste coordinator will be responsible for heading up the waste management committee and coordinating the waste management programme across the school.  More specifically he/ she will need to:

  • Take responsibility for initiating, planning and implementing a waste audit.
  • Develop and drive the implementation of action plans to reduce, reuse and recycle waste within the school environment.
  • Raise awareness of the school’s waste minimisation programme and highlight the roles that each of the key groups need to play to make it a success.
  • Provide training for other school staff and all interested parties.
  • Set up and chair regular meetings with the school waste management committee.
  • Keep the school management informed.
  • Raise awareness within the surrounding community, and with media and/ or business with the objective of generating support/ financial assistance for the initiative.

It would be ideal if the school’s head teacher or principal were directly involved in the waste management programme since that would ensure it was supported from the top. However, if this is not possible, the waste management committee should set up regular update sessions with the head teacher or principal, to keep them informed on how the initiative is progressing and get support for new ideas, and input on addressing challenges that may arise.

The waste management committee should include 2 – 3 other teacher representatives, preferably from different areas within the school (e.g. one teacher from the academic side, one teacher from the arts and crafts side, and one teacher from the sporting side). As far as other staff is concerned, also include representation from the school caretaker and/or cleaning staff as their day-to-day activities can play an important role in its success.

It’s also important to have parents on the waste management committee. The success of your school’s waste minimisation programme, specifically the recycling centre, will depend on support from parents who will bring waste from home for recycling, and offer to help in the recycling centre.

Having students on the committee is also important, as they will help generating awareness and support from their peers.

Waste Audit

Now that your waste management committee has been established, you can move onto conducting your waste audit. A waste audit will help you establish how much, and what type of waste your school currently throws away. This audit will give you information such as where your school produces its waste (classrooms, cafeteria, playground etc), what types of waste are produced, and how much is produced.

Here are some guidelines on how to conduct your schools waste audit


You will need:

  • Bagged rubbish
  • Old carrier bags (eight for each group involved in the audit)
  • 10-20 large bin bags
  • Spring balances or Newton meter scale
  • Ground sheet/floor covers
  • Clipboards with copies of the recording sheet
  • Rubber gloves (one pair for each adult and child)
  • Overalls or old clothing.


  • Identify an average school day on which you will audit your school’s waste. Let all the staff know when the audit will take place
  • Carry out a risk assessment - consider what the dangers associated with the audit might be and put measures in place to minimise them.
  • You may want to send a letter to the parents to inform them about the activity, ask them to provide old clothing for the children to wear on the day, and possibly to request adult volunteers to support the activity in school.
  • Ask the school caretaker to save one day’s waste from the entire school, including non-teaching areas such as bathrooms, staff rooms, offices and external areas e.g. the playground.
  • Ask the caretaker to look through the bags to remove sharp objects and label each bag with the area of the school it came from (e.g. classroom 1, playground). Ensure all waste is clearly labeled, kept separately and stored safely and securely. Store all bags of waste safely overnight.

The audit

  • Clearly explain all the health and safety issues to the students involved in the audit. Gloves should be worn at all times and students should call an adult if they see any sharp objects in the rubbish etc.
  • Weigh all bags containing discarded food and capture the results in grams on the recording sheet. Once you are done you can dispose of the waste in the usual manner.
  • Divide the students involved in the audit into three to four groups. Each group should have a ground sheet to work around, a recording sheet and pencil, and a set of spring balances or Newton meter scales.
  • Get each group to empty the contents of one bag of rubbish at a time onto the ground sheet and sort it into the different types of waste shown on a recording sheet. 
  • Groups should have a separate carrier bag for each waste type. They will sort the waste into these bags and weigh them using an appropriate spring balance or Newton meter scale. Log the results on the recording sheet.
  • Once the contents of the carrier bags in each group have been weighed and recorded, empty them into larger bin bags and re-use the carrier bag.
  • When all bags have been sorted and the data has been recorded, dispose of the waste and recyclables in the usual manner.

 The follow up

  • The next step is to calculate the daily, weekly and yearly waste totals for the school. Multiply daily totals by five for the weekly results, and the weekly totals by 38 weeks (the average number of weeks per year spent at school). Work out the percentage of different types of waste produced.
  • Compare waste data from different areas around your school to identify the waste ‘hot-spots’ (places where most of the waste is being generated)
  • Discuss your findings. What are the most common types of waste? Is any of it recyclable? Which type of waste would make the biggest difference if recycled?
  • This is the information you will use in planning how to REDUCE, REUSE AND RECYCLE your school’s waste.
  • Present your findings to the rest of the school through an assembly or newsletter.

Reduce Waste at School

The best way to solve our waste problem is to firstly reduce the amount of waste we produce. So, depending on the outcome of your school’s waste audit, your school should try and focus on the waste stream(s) you are producing the most of and see where you can reduce your waste output. Looking at ways to reduce your waste output can be fun. How about allocating each of the classes in your school a specific waste generation area and task the pupils to come up with clever ways to reduce the waste being produced. Implement the viable ideas and track the effect it has on the school’s waste generation. Award the class whose recommendations have the biggest impact on the volume of waste the school produces.

Here are some more tips on how to reduce the waste you generate

  • Avoid buying products with excessively packaging.
  • Reduce packaging by buying the items you use frequently in bulk, and by purchasing refills and concentrates. 
  • Try to buy products with packaging that is made from recycled materials
  • Try not to buy disposable products such as paper plates.
  • Choose glass over plastic as it can always be recycled.
  • Avoid all toxic and hazardous products where possible so try and use organic cleaning products in your school and at home. They are safer for you, and for the environment. 
  • Avoid using non-recyclable materials such as cling wrap or tin foil at your school.

Reuse Waste at School

Always bear in mind that waste is not waste until it is wasted! Finding clever and effective ways to reuse waste will save your school money, help your school to make money, and help to cut down the volumes of waste being sent to landfills. Based on your waste audit results, allocate each class in your school a waste stream and task them with coming up with different possible ways to reuse that waste. Ask each class to produce a project showcasing the ideas they have come up with. Put the projects on display around the school and implement the viable waste reuse ideas around the school.

Here are some more handy tips to help your school reuse the waste that it is generating

  • Before disposing of something you no longer need, try and think about other ways in which your school could use it e.g. discarded paper could be used to make paper mache, discarded cans could be used in your arts and crafts classes and glass jars could be used to hold crayons or pencils in the classroom. You could probably think of plenty of other ideas if you put your mind to it. Once you have identified ways to reuse certain waste streams ask the students to bring those streams of waste into school from home, thereby reusing waste that is generated in households as well.
  • Look outside of your school for people who may want to reuse the waste you are producing. For example, artists may use recycled waste to produce their art. You may even be able to sell your waste to external parties thereby making some money for your school.
  • Where possible, repair items that are broken. Support the local seamstress and carpenter. This will both reduce waste and stimulate employment, growth and development in your community. 
  • When it comes to organic waste such as leftover food, create compost.  There are different ways to make compost so select one that suits your specific situation. Think about how much organic waste you have access to as well as the time and space you have available for composting. You could also consider using the compost you are making to set up a small-scale commercial vegetable garden. Your school could sell the vegetables to members of your community and generate additional income. 

Setting up the recycling centre

Having established your waste committee, done your waste audit, looked at ways to reduce that waste and reuse the materials before they are wasted, the final step in the move towards effective waste management is to set up your school’s recycling centre.

Recycling refers to the separation of recyclable waste from the general waste stream, and the eventual reuse of these materials. Recycling not only saves resources but also reduces the environmental impact of manufacturing new products, and the impact of waste at landfills.

Let’s take a look at what’s involved in setting up your school’s recycling centre:

What to Recycle

Use the results of your waste audit to determine which waste streams you’re going to recycle. The success of your centre will, to a large extent, depend on the access you have to the various waste streams. If, for example, your audit showed that your school does not throw away much glass, then you will need to either leave glass out of your recycling plans, or look to outside sources to bring glass into the centre.

Here are some ways to make sure that you are benefitting from all the waste that is being generated in the school:

Internal Recycling Points

  • Make recycling easy by positioning recycling points as close to the source of waste as possible e.g. place a paper recycling bin next to the photo copier/printer.
  • Label recycling points clearly, so that everyone knows where they are and what should go in them.
  • Put recycling points and normal rubbish bins next to each other.
  • Your collectors may provide you with recycling containers or you can use data from your waste audit to help you decide what type, size and quantity of recycling bins will best suit your school.

Collecting from Internal Recycling Points

Decide who will be most suitable to empty materials from your internal recycling containers and deliver them to your recycling centres. For example, could students get involved on a rotational basis? Think about any equipment that students or other “internal collectors” will need and how often you would want them to collect.

External Sources of Waste

We’d recommend you also look to external sources of waste for your school’s recycling centre. Here are some possible outside sources that you could consider across all waste streams:

  • Learners’ homes (for organic waste, plastics, glass, cans and paper).
  • Restaurants near your school (specifically for glass and cans, and perhaps for organic waste).
  • Retail outlets near your school (specifically for cardboard, boxes that merchandise is delivered in).
  • Businesses that have operations near to your school (for the supply of high quality white paper etc.).
  • Other schools close to your school that have not implemented their own recycling programme and who are happy to supply waste from their school and from their students’ households to your centre.

The distance between your school centre and the various waste sources, as well as how you will get the waste from source to your centre, needs to be carefully considered. Although access to more waste will certainly enable you to generate more revenue, you need to be sure that the costs of getting the waste to your recycling centre (e.g. cost of accessing a vehicle, cost of fuel etc.) do not exceed the benefits.

Who Will Collect

Once you know which waste streams that your centre will recycle, you need to decide on your collectors and set up arrangements with them. Here are some things to consider when making your decisions:

  • TYPES – Look at what type of waste each collector will pick up. This is especially important when it comes to plastics as they all melt at different temperatures, so collectors tend to only recycle one plastic type. This has implications for sorting, as you need to know which plastics need to be separated from one another during the sorting process.
  • PRICE - which collectors will give you the best price for the waste that you have collected and sorted? The more you sort your waste, the better the prices you tend to be able to secure. For example, you are likely to get less for paper if you send all your paper products (newspaper, magazines, office paper) to the same recycler than you will get if you sell specific products to specific collectors or customers (for example, good quality magazines to 2nd hand bookstores or only high-quality white paper to Mondi, SAPPI and Nampak).
  • VOLUMES - what quantity of waste do collectors/ recyclers require you to have before they are prepared to collect? Consider the implications in terms of the amount of storage space you have available in your centre (smaller centres should work with collectors that are happy to pick up smaller quantities of waste). Most plastic collectors tend to want you to have 5 – 6 bale bags available before they collect. Glass, paper and can recyclers would prefer to collect once your containers are full.


You will need to consider the infrastructure requirements associated with setting up your recycling centre. Here are some aspects you need to consider:


  • SPACE: Your recycling centre will need sufficient space to accept waste that is being delivered, sort through it, and store waste once it has been sorted. Most collectors will only pick up once you have reached sufficient volumes so you will need to be able to store the sorted waste until you reach their volume benchmarks. You will also need space to store the bins that the recycling companies deliver to your site for paper, glass and cans. Taking all of these requirements into account, the ideal place will be at least as large as a double garage.
  • ACCESS: Your centre must also be accessible so as to ensure easy delivery of waste coming in from external sources as well as waste collection. The ideal place will have a parking area big enough to turn a small truck.
  • HEALTH AND SAFETY: Because a recycling centre works with and stores waste materials, you need to pay careful consideration to the health and safety aspects. From a health perspective, consider the odour that the waste might generate (especially if you are dealing with organic waste and composting). Also think about the insects such as flies that may be attracted to your centre. Ideally, your centre should be placed away from high-traffic areas within the school, and away from school neighbours who may not be open to having the centre located close to their properties. If paper is one of your waste streams, consider fire risks and put the relevant safety measures in place such as no smoking on the site. Also make sure that you have a fire extinguisher readily available and that staff on site know where it is and how to use it in the case of an emergency.

Bricks and Mortar

When looking at the actual structure you will need to have in place, or put up, for your recycling centre, consider the following:

  • SIZE: as mentioned above, a space that is at least as large as a double garage is recommended.
  • PROTECTION FROM THE ELEMENTS: Your centre should offer the people working there as well as the waste (that has been delivered, is being sorted, or is being stored) protection from heat, rain and wind.  Wind specifically can cause major problems in that it can blow over bale bags containing sorted plastics, which will require that you re-sort the next day. It can also make your centre very untidy, which can lead to health and safety issues. A structure that contains four walls, a roof, a window (to let in light and fresh air when required) and large double doors (that large bail bags can be easily moved through) is recommended. Extra height is also ideal as it enables you to store waste such as bale bags, one on top of another.
  • SECURITY: to prevent vandalism and dumping and to minimise the risk of your sorted waste being stolen, you need to be able to secure your recycling centre when it is not being manned. The structure itself should be lockable and you should have a fence with a lockable gate around the perimeter.
  • WATER AND ELECTRICITY: you will need access to water to ensure the staff can wash their hands after working with the waste. Electricity will allow you to keep a light on at night, which will assist with security. Electricity is also important for running the office.
  • OFFICE SPACE: Your centre will need easy access to a telephone, and ideally - to a fax machine or email. This will help you to set up initial agreements with waste suppliers and collectors, and to notify collectors once your waste is ready to be collected.

Waste Equipment

  • SORTING TABLES: You will require a sufficient number of sorting tables to handle the volume of waste that is coming into your centre. Tables should be easily accessible and should have sufficient space around them. Consider labeling tables so that new volunteers to the recycling centre can quickly learn where each of the waste streams should be sorted.
  • BALE BAGS FOR PLASTICS: You will need containers to manage each of your waste streams. For plastics – you will need bale bags, and ideally – stands on which those bags can be hung. These stands support the bags and make sure that they stay open making it easier to drop sorted waste into them, and to check that the same plastic types are being stored together. Make sure your bale bags are clearly labeled (e.g. PET 1 or PVC 3) to assist sorters with where to place which plastics, and to make sure that collectors pick up the right bags when they come to the centre.
  • CONTAINERS: For glass, cans and paper, your recycler should drop off the necessary containers. Label them if required to assist sorters.
  • WHEELY BINS: You will also need one or two wheely bins on site so that you can dispose of non-recyclable waste that might be sent into the centre by mistake.

Bright Idea! Why not liven up your recycling centre by asking the children in the school to create posters around waste management and the role it plays in protecting the environment and displaying these posters around the centre. This will also increase the learners’ level of personal involvement with the centre.


Ensure that you put some safety guidelines in place to minimise risk.

  • VEHICLES: From a safety perspective, consider the vehicles coming to and from the centre and make sure that school children and people working in the centre are not in risk.
  • PROTECTIVE CLOTHING: Make sure that all recycling centre staff and volunteers wear protective gloves and possibly even a plastic jacket or overall when they are sorting waste. This will protect them from any possible contamination.
  • SHARP OBJECTS OR HAZARDOUS WASTE: Make sure that sorters are aware to look out for sharp objects, and that they can easily identify and deal appropriately with hazardous waste that may mistakenly have been delivered to the centre.

Bright Idea! Teach students about hazardous waste and the more environmentally friendly options that can replace hazardous cleaning products etc. Ask student to create artwork (posters/ murals) that showcase hazardous waste products and include information on how to safely dispose of them. Display this artwork around the recycling centre to ensure that all sorters are highly aware of what to look out for and how best to deal with hazardous waste should they come across it.


When it comes to staffing your recycling centre, think about the volume of waste coming into the centre each week to determine how often and how many people you will need to sort it. Should your centre not have the financial resources to hire staff to run it - you will need to work on a volunteer basis. Ask your parent’s association to assist you with finding parents who are able to help.

You could also consider using this as an opportunity to uplift unemployed members in your community by offering them a job at the recycling centre in exchange for a small remuneration. This will obviously affect the profit you are able to generate but the social responsibility aspect may help you to generate financial sponsorship from business.

Take into consideration that different people on a regular basis may staff your centre. Make sure that the processes that need to be followed are clearly laid out to make sure that the centre works efficiently no matter whom is staffing it.


In addition to working to reduce waste in Cape Town, a well-run recycling centre is also likely to generate some revenue for the school. You will need to work out how this revenue will be handled. For example, how will collectors pay you and how often will you be paid.

You should also think about how the money that the centre is generating will be used. Are there specific projects that the school needs to raise funds for, or can the profits be used to enhance the recycling operation (e.g. to hire a centre manager, purchase a bakkie for the centre etc).


Recycling should be seen as fun and easy. Think about holding an exciting launch event that involves the entire school, their parents, leading members of the local community, businesses (who have already offered to support the initiative or who you would like to approach for support), and the local media.

With Staff

  • Hold an introductory meeting with all staff members including cleaning staff. Explain why the school would like to implement a waste management system, and how the recycling system will work. Communicate the role everyone needs to play in ensuring the initiative is a success. 
  • Run a staff training session to discuss the why’s and how’s behind the waste management programme. Make sure that all staff understand the process – from the initial waste audit through to organising external and internal recycling collections and agreeing staff member roles.
  • Create a calendar displaying key dates and milestones for the programme. Place the calendar together with information around the program on staff notice boards.
  • Run follow-up training sessions focused on giving staff ideas on how to include waste management topics in the curriculum.

With pupils

  • Get the students that are members of the waste management committee to present the waste management plan during assembly. Think of ways to make the presentation fun, exciting and interactive.
  • Give fortnightly updates in assemblies to tell students about how the program is progressing.
  • Showcase key milestones and successes on pupil notice boards and the school’s website.
  • Think about organising social activities based around waste minimisation such as community clean up days where students go out into the community and help to clean up litter.
  • Give students branded bibs or hats to wear on the days that they are collecting waste from school recycling points.
  • Arrange a visit from a member of your local authority’s waste management department.

With parents

  • Follow up the launch event by sending home a “How to Recycle” guide for all parents. This guide should clearly outline what parents can and cannot send to the school recycling centre as well as the way in which recyclables should be delivered (e.g. washed and rid of all excess water).
  • Ask the parents’ association to include the waste management programme as an item on the agenda during their meetings.
  • Include a regular waste management update, including achievements to date and new initiatives being planned, in the school newsletter.
  • Ask parents who might have ideas around how to improve the programme or generate sponsorship money for the initiative to contact the waste management committee.


Getting a school recycling programme started is one thing. Keeping it going is a much harder task. Here are some tips and practical advice on how to ensure sustainability for the programme you put in place:

  • Make sure that you have a member of staff as a waste champion – someone who has accepted responsibility for keeping the momentum going and moving the programme forward. Ensure the waste champion continually monitors the scheme and presents back to the waste committee. The waste champion must also keep the head teacher or principal, as well as the rest of staff, up to date around the progress that is being made and what is planned next.
  • Put measures in place to get regular updates from staff managing the recycling centre. They will have a clear idea of the volume of waste that is coming in and how it is changing. If it starts to decrease they will be able to alert you so that you can put measures in place to re-motivate students, parents, staff and cleaners. Centre staff can also alert you to any problems the programme might be experiencing (such as parents sending non-recyclable waste to the school centre) which will enable you to send out the necessary communications to avert this.
  • If the level of buy-in or involvement drops off – ask teachers to build waste minimisation topics into lesson plans. Consider field trips to give students a first-hand view of a landfill, or bringing in an expert to talk to students about waste and the impact it has on the environment.
  • Reward the school when the programme works well – everyone enjoys recognition. Talk to community media about the programme and what it has achieved to see if you can secure press exposure. Set up rewards for waste management champions (e.g. the class that comes up with the best way to reuse waste that is being generated or the class that produces the best waste awareness posters for the school’s recycling centre). Also look for any national, or regional awards and competitions that your school could enter.
  • Consider succession planning. To make sure that the waste management programme does not falter when the elected waste champion(s) leave the school, put some succession planning tactics in place. For example – there will always be a parents’ association so give them the task of electing the two parents who will sit on the waste management committee each year. Or, make sure that the head teacher or principal elects a waste champion from within the staff compliment on an annual basis and that running the waste management programme is part of that teachers job description for the year.

Success Factors

We’ve discussed a number of factors that are central to your school being able to set up and run a waste minimisation programme. Here is a summary of all the boxes you need to tick to ensure your venture will be a success:

  • People to champion the cause - make sure you always have a waste champion in place, backed up by a number of committed waste warriors.
  • Support from the top - ensure that the school’s top management understands and buys-in to the waste minimisation programme. This should be seen as an integral part of the school’s day-to-day operations.
  • Support from the staff – work to ensure that the entire faculty, the school caretaker and the cleaning staff understand and are supportive of the waste minimisation programme.
  • Recycling Facilities – having the right infrastructure and equipment in place is crucial. You need a secure, contained and protected area from which to run your recycling operation. It must not be accessible during non-school hours to prevent illegal dumping, and to prevent people from stealing waste that has already been sorted. You also need well sign-posted recycling points across the school to ensure that it is as easy to recycle waste as it is to throw it away.
  • Recycling Staff – your centre will need people to run it on an ongoing basis. Volunteers tend to be less reliable than paid staff so try and look for ways to raise funds to bring in salaried staff. Remember that you will also need someone with great communication and negotiation skills to get you the best deals from suppliers, collectors and recyclers.
  • Ability to generate awareness and understanding – make sure staff, students and parents are aware of the waste minimisation programme, the benefits associated with reducing, reusing and recycling, and what is required of them. Communicate regularly to keep these key groups up to date on how the programme is doing and what is planned next.  
© City of Cape Town, 2014