Improving your School’s Waste Management

The world we live in today has made convenience a priority and a 'throw-away' culture normal. When we throw something away, especially plastic the waste ends up somewhere. I am a huge believer in a circular economy where there is no such thing as waste, and waste becomes transformed into an asset again. As individuals it is important for us to consume less and be conscious about the waste we produce, and how we can redirect waste going to landfill.

What is a waste audit?

A waste audit is the process whereby you sort through the school's rubbish (as a guide audit waste from at least 3 days) into categories and measure each category of waste. Importantly the measurement of each category to be recorded. From the data recorded it enables school management to arrive at what type of bins are required to manage the schools waste and identify the waste categories that can be recycled.

Below are the steps necessary to reduce your schools 'waste' consumption and reduce the amount of 'waste' you are sending to landfill.

small boardder.png

How to Conduct a Waste Audit:

Step 1: Choose a Date/Time

Pick a venue, date/time, number of students and how many days of waste is to be measured. Conduct the waste audit somewhere with plenty of room and where it is visible to the whole school community such as the playground or tennis courts. To help you gauge how long the audit will take, the audit at my high school took half a day - this was based on 3 days rubbish, 1,200 students and 40 student volunteers which helped in managing the audit.

Contact your local Council and see if they can provide you with help and materials (For the waste audit at my school, North Sydney Council provided help and measuring scales).

Step 2: Preparation Before Audit



  • Signed permission note

  • Gardening gloves

  • Water bottle

  • Sunscreen

  • Hand sanitiser

  • Clothing: rough clothes, long pants and sleeved shirt and hat

  • Encourage students to eat prior to audit if audit is scheduled for the afternoon

Required Supplies for Audit:

  • Spare gloves

  • Posters to determine the categories of waste

  • Big tarps

  • First Aid Kit

  • Scales/Weight (sourced from North Sydney local council)

  • Spread sheet to record data

  • Tongs

  • Bin liners

  • Camera to take photos during audit


Step 3: Debriefing of Students/Teachers involved in Audit

Before conducting the waste audit it is important that all the students and teachers participating understand how to sort the waste into the different categories. Nominate people who are the 'officials' for the audit and they will be the people who can answer any questions during the sort.

Collect and store all the waste from your school over 2 - 3 days in preparation of the audit (ask the maintenance team at your school for assistance).

Step 4: Sorting through the Waste

It is now time to get your hands dirty! Set up your equipment, lay the tarps out and label them with posters. Don't forget to take some videos and photos during the audit. Importantly play music during the actual audit.

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 12.18.10 pm.png
  1. Before opening the Bags: Place the unopened rubbish bags onto one tarp and weigh and record each bag onto a spreadsheet and then total the amount.

  2. Open one bag at a time, by a group of say three individuals, with each person assigned a waste category

  3. Start sorting the rubbish into different categories, placing rubbish on labelled tarps:

    • Organics - food scraps

    • Recyclables - bottles, cans, soft plastic, glass, aluminium and paper

    • Landfill - whatever is left

  4. Once everything has been sorted place the separated rubbish from the tarps onto the labelled garbage bin liners, weighing each category and recording the weight into a spreadsheet.

  5. Last thing to do now is to clean up.

Step 5: Calculate your Results

Using Microsoft Excel record each waste category. Rank each category by weight and think creatively of ways how to reduce the waste.

Step 6: Analysing your Results

Once you have identified the type of waste your school produces its now about identifying ways to reduce and redirect it from landfill.

You may want to start by informing the school about the waste that was produced by showing a video at assembly of the waste audit. Discuss possible solutions at assembly and maybe look at introducing new initiatives such as Nude food or No Waste Wednesdays.

work break.png

How to Implement a new Bin System for School

Step 1: Identify Waste

Identify say the top 4 waste categories that were produced by your school. For my school the top 4 categories in order of ranking were food, paper, soft and hard plastic. Contact the companies that are currently managing the bins for your school and have discussions with them about the best way to manage the waste in a sustainable fashion. For my school the current bin managers are SUEZ and Cleanaway, who supply the general waste and paper recycling bins.


Step 2: Contact Bin Suppliers

For my school we identified the following bins for the school waste management:

  1. Organic bins - for food and garden waste

  2. Co-mingling bins - for plastic, glass and aluminium waste

  3. Return and Earn - for eligible bottles

  4. Paper Bins - for paper and cardboard waste

  5. General waste bins

Find a bin supplier that can meet all the school requirements for managing the new bins

Things to Consider:

  • Access – location of collection of bins, timing and access to schools loading dock?

  • Time – how often will the supplier collected your school’s waste?

  • Storage – where will your school store the waste?

  • Hygiene and Safety – current hygiene and safety issues

  • Finance – how much will the supplier charge? Can any additional costs be offset against savings from return and earn?

Recommendation is to obtain three quotes from bin companies with their quotes based on the collection point, transportation fee, contract management and leasing expenses your school may be liable for.

Choose the supplier that works best for your school (you can apply for local council grants to help finance the cost of the bins being used to recycle waste).

Step 3: Planning for New Bins

To ensure the success of the bins it is very important to plan the roll out.

  1. The first thing to consider is the location of the bins around the school campus. The location of the new bins for my school are:

    • Paper bins in all classrooms

    • Organic, co-mingling and general waste on the playground

    • Return and earn near school canteen and library

  2. Existing school maintenance personnel to be advised on new bins on campus and included in the roll out process.

  3. Aesthetics and appearance of the bins

  4. Plan the launch of the new bins - promote it at assembly and place posters around the school

Step 4: Launching the New Bins

On the official launch date of the new bins create an atmosphere that is welcoming to the students, encouraging them to use and like the bins. This can be done through music, food and gifts. 

During the first week of the new bins have Green Team members stand at the bins, policing the use of the bins ensuring that the correct waste is going into the right bins. Small rewards to be given out to encourage correct usage of bins.

 IMPORTANT: Three months after the launch of the new bin system, review how new bin system is working and have the school maintenance manager advise the success of usage of bins, the weightings of each bin type (by location) and any suggestions for improvements. The review to include a comparative analysis of the collection costings, comparing the costs prior to the new bins being introduced. It would also be advantageous to have a follow up waste audit a year after the introduction of the new bin system.

work break.png

How to organise a NSW Government container deposit Return and Earn scheme:

Contact a supplier such as:

From my experience, it is so worthwhile giving them a ring as it can take a long time trying to organise a Return and Earn scheme by email. After consulting with the different companies chose the one that works for your school the best.  

An initiative a school Green Team can lead is to encourage students to utilise the Return and Earn bins by running a colour house competition and giving a small prize to the colour house that collects the most eligible bottles.