School waste study

School cafeteriaHow much waste is generated by Minnesota schools? How much of this could be recycled? To help answer these questions, the MPCA partnered with Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis to take a closer look at what schools throw away.


Six schools (two elementary, two middle, and two high schools) participated in the study. The six schools represented both urban and suburban areas. These schools were chosen in part because the waste generated by them was likely to be similar to other public schools statewide

Garbage, recycling, and organic materials from the six schools were collected for two days and identified by school, waste stream, and the day it was generated. Collected waste was then sorted into 19 material categories. This allowed analysis of total waste generation and composition, as well as contamination of recycling and organics composting, and capture rates for recycling and composting programs at all of the schools.

Key findings

See the full report:

 Key findings from the study:

  • Over 78% of school waste could be diverted from the trash to organics composting and container/paper recycling collection programs.
  • 50% of school waste could be managed via organics composting programs that accept food waste, liquids, and nonrecyclable paper.
  • The single-most common material generated by schools was food waste—23.9% of the total waste generated.
  • Recyclable paper (cardboard, white office paper, and mixed paper) accounted for 23.5% of the total waste generated by schools.
  • The schools had an average per capita total waste generation of just over half a pound per day.
  • By extrapolation, this means Minnesota K-12 public schools generate an estimated 483,520 pounds of waste per day.