Digging Deep Through School Trash: A Waste Composition Analysis of Trash, Recycling and Organic Material Discarded at Public Schools in Minnesota

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How much waste is generated by Minnesota schools? How much of this could be recycled? These questions are easy to ask, but harder to answer.

In 2010, the MPCA partnered with Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis to take a closer look at what schools throw away. Partners, with the help of many volunteers, sorted through all the garbage, recycling, and organic material discarded by six schools over a two-day period.

The six schools (two elementary, two middle, and two high 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.

The waste was sorted into 19 different 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.

The results of the waste sort are detailed in this report, School waste composition study. Key findings from the study include:

  • Over 78 percent of school waste could be diverted from the trash to organics composting and container/paper recycling collection programs.
  • 50 percent 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 percent of the total waste generated.
  • Recyclable paper (cardboard, white office paper, and mixed paper) accounted for 23.5 percent 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.
  • For more information or to download a free copy of the report, go to http://www.pca.state.mn.us/schoolwaste

    Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)
    Topic Areas: 
    Waste Management
    Target Audience: 
    Geographic Location: 
    All Minnesota
    72 pp.
    Date Produced/Published: 
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    Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
    Learning Resource Center & Library
    520 Lafayette Rd N
    Saint Paul, MN 55155-4194

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