St. Cloud School Recycling and Toxicity Reduction Pilot: Tri-County Solid Waste Commission and MPCA

Type of project

Recycling and green cleaning.

Sponsors: : Tri-County Solid Waste Commission and MPCA

Organization description

  • Organization: Independent School District 742
  • Number of staff: 1,315 FTEs
  • Communities/areas served: St. Cloud region K-12 schools; 9,662 students enrolled in 15 schools

Project purpose/goals

Solid waste administrators in the St. Cloud region identified school recycling as an area in need of attention. Through collaboration with ISD 742 district staff, the Tri-County Solid Waste Commission (Tri-County) worked with five schools (two elementary schools, one K-8 school, one junior high school and one high school) to develop and implement school-specific recycling plans. The goals of the project included a 5 percent reduction in waste and a 10 percent increase in recycling during the course of one year, as well as an 80 percent reduction in the number of cleaning products not meeting the toxicity criteria established during the project.

Materials targeted

  • Recyclables collected: ferrous and nonferrous metals, plastic bottles, paper, cardboard, milk cartons.
  • Cleaning products: reduced the number of products purchased, substituted environmentally preferable cleaning products for traditional products.


Tri-County and ISD 742 district staff worked with the school district’s waste hauler to right-size the external dumpsters used to collect trash and recyclables. These changes allowed for the collection of a greater volume of recyclables. The grant provided funding to purchase additional recycling bins, signage and green cleaning products for each participating school. Recycling signage was simplified and standardized, the cleaning products inventory was streamlined and traditional cleaning products were replaced with environmentally preferable products. Final project results will be available in Fall 2011.

Project team

  • Tri-County Grant Manager – coordinated meetings, collected data, provided resources to schools, assisted with the development and implementation of recycling plans.
  • ISD 742 Buildings and Grounds Supervisor – assisted with data collection, worked with individual schools on identification of needs and problem areas and implementation of recycling plans.
  • School Maintenance Staff – assisted with data collection, identified needs and problem areas, implemented recycling plans.
  • Teachers – assisted with data collection, identified needs and problem areas, implemented recycling plans.
  • School Administrators – source of information.
  • Waste Hauler and Cleaning Products vendor – sources of information, implemented requested changes.


In addition to grant funding, MPCA staff provided technical assistance with the project.


Tri-County staff worked with school maintenance staff to establish baseline trash and recycling rates. Baseline rates were estimated by monitoring the fullness of external trash and recycling dumpsters during a 3-week period.

Using the baseline data, Tri-County staff made recommendations for right-sizing trash and recycling dumpsters. Once approved by district staff, the waste hauler implemented the recommendations. Tri-County, MPCA and the school district and maintenance staff drafted recycling plans for each school.

School district and maintenance staff also developed maps identifying current locations of trash and recycling bins for each school. These maps were used to determine the number of additional bins needed. School district staff took inventory of current cleaning products used within the school system.

MPCA staff evaluated the toxicity of the current cleaning products and recommended alternative products. Grant funds were used to procure additional trash and recycling bins, simplified and standardized labels and green cleaning products.

MPCA staff created the label design using clip art from Recycle More Minnesota's Web site. A state contract vendor printed the labels. Each school chose to communicate the changes to the recycling and cleaning programs differently – some schools invited Tri-County and MPCA staff to present at in-service staff meetings while others communicated the changes via the school administrator.

Project timeline

  • Selection of participating schools – August 2010
  • Baseline data collection – October 2010
  • Development of recycling plans and maps – November/December 2010
  • Procurement of bins and labels; inventory and assessment of current cleaning products – February 2011
  • Right-sizing of external dumpsters; procurement of green cleaning products – April/May 2011
  • Program roll out – varied by school (May 2011 or September 2011)


The MPCA provided Tri-County with a grant of $4,612.19. These funds covered costs for recycling bins, bin labels and green cleaning products. Cost savings related to right-sizing of external dumpsters may be identified once final data is collected in the fall of 2011.

Measurable results

Final data will be collected in the fall of 2011.

Lessons learned

The success of the project is a result of collaboration between Tri-County, ISD 742 district and school staff and administrators and the MPCA. The project team maintained consistent and effective communication via email and in-person meetings, which allowed for an efficient process. The team noted that recommendations requiring hauler implementation took longer than expected. This may be due to the structure of the school district’s waste hauling contract, so recommendations were made to simplify the process.

Further information

Three Es

  • Since manufacturing a product from recycled materials uses less energy, this project indirectly leads to energy savings.
  • Recycling is good for the environment – it conserves natural resources and reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Recycling creates jobs – in particular, cardboard recycled from these schools is recycled at a local paper mill so this project has a positive impact on the local economy.