In-School Recycling & Cafeteria Composting

Helping schools learn to set up their own recycle, compost, and waste reduction systems. Teaching custodians, teachers, and students how small tweaks can affect big issues like climate change and hunger.

Completed on December 31, 2020

RE Sources offers schools, cafeterias, and districts the tools and training to reduce their waste and save money. What most parents don’t see when they send their kid off with lunch money or a sack lunch is this: a line of students one after the other tossing away whole apples, untouched sandwiches, reusable bags, and unopened juice boxes. One lunch hour in a school cafeteria can produce hundreds of pounds of landfill-bound garbage. When considering the impact of methane, a potent greenhouse gas produced when food waste decomposes, the issue of cafeteria waste comes becomes even more urgent.

Reducing waste, reusing materials, recycling, and using recycled products saves schools energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and landfill overflow, and saves the school money. Working with school district administrators, food service, and custodial directors, we help to implement better waste systems. We also work with students and educators to understand waste issues and sort their trash, and with school gardens to teach composting.

What we offer:

School-wide Waste Audits

We offer school-wide waste audits to help schools understand how much of their current landfill-bound garbage could be recycled or composted. Waste audits also allow users to visualize the difference between types of trash.

We also offer in-class education on the larger ecological, social, and economic issues related to waste — like landfill overflow, water contamination, climate change, and hunger. Through hands-on lessons that break down complex issues in a supportive environment, our curriculum meets state standards and leaves a lasting impression. The skills learned at school will be brought home through educational materials.

Cafeteria Food Recovery

Since many children eat breakfast and most eat lunch while at school, schools present the perfect venue for kids to learn about food recovery and food waste. We can assist in the design of user-friendly cafeteria food recovery and waste stations to be used consistently across the district. This facilitates food disposal and emphasizes the use of intuitive signage that works for multiple learning styles and developmental stages. Then, we train students and school staff to use those systems. We lead educational sessions for custodians and food service staff so they know what food should be disposed of and what can be reclaimed.

Composting in the Garden

With our partner Common Threads Farm, we show staff and students alike how food waste can be easily broken down — without creating methane, a much stronger climate-heating gas than carbon dioxide — into soil nutrients by building and maintaining an on-site compost pile. We help alleviate concerns about rodents, contamination, and answer other questions about composting. Those schools that have opted out of school garden education are encouraged to utilize the area’s Food Plus composting service, which is a tremendous cost saving compared to landfill garbage disposal.


When food is disposed of in a landfill, it becomes a significant source of methane — a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

An estimated 40% of food produced in the U.S. is wasted, while paradoxically one in six Americans lives in a household without access to enough healthy food — many of them being children. Students who learn to value food and to be waste-conscious with their food will help to create a food system with less waste, greater food justice and access, and less hunger.

Teachers can schedule RE Sources’ educators to come to their classroom and teach age-appropriate lessons on complex societal and ecological problems that are hard to teach well. We have time-tested curriculum that supports state standards, and we know how to teach these big issues in a way that honors kids’ right to know, supports them in facing difficult truths, and helps them develop the tools to respond. Read more for what we offer elementary teachers and middle and high school teachers.

RE Sources first developed Whatcom County’s waste prevention and recycling education in 1986 with funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology.  Since then, RE Sources has continually updated the content and instructional strategies based on years of experience and involvement in waste reduction education. Programs are designed around  three sound educational principals:  

  • Learning can be fun and hands-on,
  • Information by itself is important, but even more so is the practice of applying that newly-learned knowledge.  Turning knowledge into action is the best way to shift behavior and attitudes,
  • Messages are more likely retained by students when presented by a trusted source and when reinforced at home and at school.

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