How to cut down on waste at the end of the school year

Just like the holidays, waste can really pile up at the end of the school year. We've assembled some tips on how to best reuse, recycle, donate or otherwise keep your school supplies out of the landfill. | May 31, 2022

By Priscilla Brotherton, Sustainable Schools Program Manager

I remember when my son returned from the last day of school wearing a backpack with a broken zipper full of half-used composition books, pencils without erasers, a velcro-less insulated lunch bag and countless other items that were seemingly headed for the landfill. It felt like such a long way from September when so much hope was attached to the new school supplies! But have no fear — there is still hope! We have compiled a list of how to reuse or recycle those materials that pile up at the end of the school year. Whether you are a teacher and have a classroom of supplies or a busy parent of one — we hope you will find ways to find a place for your supplies that isn’t the landfill!

Art and writing supplies:


  • Calculators – places like Staples will take them 
  • Broken laptops, computers, or monitors – if you can’t repair them, recycle them at 1PC or Best Buy in Bellingham. Recycling Disposal Services in Ferndale will also take some types of electronic waste. 

General office supplies:

  • Used up spiral notebooks – remove the spiral portion (if its metal it can be recycled, if its plastic it will have to be thrown away) and recycle the used paper in the scrap paper bin.
  • GOOS (or Good On One Side) PaperWatch this quick video on how to create a new notebook out of GOOS paper and create your own. 
  • 3 ring binder – If it’s toast and can’t be used again, separate the materials for recycling. To do this, you can stand on the cover and insert the claw of the hammer under the metal and pull. With a little effort and determination, the ring metal will separate from the board. Once apart, the cardboard and ring metals can be placed in the recycling bin, and the plastic covering can be thrown away.
  • Broken scissors repair them! 

Lunch supplies:

  • Gel Ice pack – If they are damaged, they should head to the landfill. The gel inside should not go down the drain or in the toilet! If they are not damaged, reuse them! Remember how hot it gets in the summer? Keep some in your freezer instead of buying bags of ice to put in a cooler! 
  • Metal lunch boxes If it’s been outgrown and still in good condition, use it for storing other items! Pass it along to someone who would love to inherit it! Consign! Donate! If it’s damaged beyond repair, remove the plastic handle and put in your “Glass, Metal, and Plastics” bin for recycling!

Backpacks, clothing, shoes, uniforms, etc.

  • Repair! Attend a mending workshop at Ragfinery
  • Outgrown? consign, donate (follow these guidelines)!

Not sure where to recycle or landfill the rest? See Whatcom County’s Waste Wise app!


Cover photo by Nothing Ahead on