School recycling costs and benefits

PDF icon The Costs and Benefits of Minnesota K-12 School Waste Management Programs

food-waste-recycyling-stpaulRecycling programs vary widely from school to school throughout Minnesota. Some schools have programs that allow students and teachers to recycle in classrooms, cafeterias, sporting venues, and elsewhere. Many schools also include organics recycling, such as composting or food-to-livestock recovery programs. Other schools have minimal recycling programs or none at all.

Schools are frequently interested in expanding opportunities to recycle, but are wary, believing that adding or expanding recycling programs will increase costs.

To clarify the economics of school recycling, the MPCA hired a consultant to evaluate the costs of recycling and trash hauling services — and the impact expanding recycling may have on a school's budget.

The study evaluates the costs associated with low- and high-performing recycling programs and provides insights on how expanding recycling efforts may impact costs for schools.

About the study

Almost 150 schools or school districts from 57 of Minnesota’s 88 counties participated in a survey as part of this research effort. A representative sample of 21 schools that participated in the survey also received site visits that assessed their recycling programs and evaluated 12 months of waste hauling invoices. The study also analyzed 47 schools provided three months’ worth of waste hauling invoices to assess how traditional recycling and organics recycling affect costs at schools. The results of this analysis are detailed in the report.

Key findings

  • Many schools have an opportunity to reduce hauling costs by seeking competitive bids from waste haulers on a more frequent or routine basis.
  • In most cases, having a high-performing recycling program reduces net waste hauling costs for schools since most parts of the state have a lower cost per cubic yard for recyclables than for trash.
  • Organics recycling is typically more expensive per cubic yard than traditional recyclables, but less expensive than trash. However, some of the gains in hauling costs are offset by costs for compostable bags and food service items. So, some schools with organics recycling programs experienced net cost savings while others saw small increases in costs.
  • Integrating recycling best practices in schools will increase the effectiveness of recycling programs. In most cases, the improved performance will be cost neutral or save the school money.

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