Waste disposal in education

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Waste disposal in schools and universities

The UK’s education sector produces over 600,000 tonnes of various types of waste each year, making effective waste management a key issue. Schools also play a crucial role in teaching the younger generation about the importance of promoting recycling and minimising waste.

💡 Key takeaways:

  • Duty of care: Schools must follow the waste hierarchy as is applied to them to remain compliant.
  • It’s predictable: Educational establishments typically produce predictable waste streams like paper, food and confidential waste.
  • The future: Appropriate waste management in schools can lead will lead to waste and environment-aware citizens in the future.

Waste management in schools

Like all businesses and other organisations, schools in the UK are legally required to adhere to the waste hierarchy: prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling, other recovery, and disposal.

Here is a summary of how DEFRA’s latest guidance on applying the Waste Hierarchy applies to the education sector:


Schools and universities can significantly reduce waste by minimising the use of paper in the learning environment. Digital learning platforms offer a waste-free alternative to paper worksheets. Similarly, going paperless in educational administration not only has many operational advantages but will also significantly reduce paper waste, confidential waste, and ink cartridge usage.

Preparation for Reuse

The UK education sector is being transformed by the adoption of digital technology in the learning environment. Unfortunately, the lifespan of IT equipment in education can be short due to the intensive use in multiple classes each day. A dedicated IT function can focus on repairing damaged equipment, thereby avoiding the need to purchase replacements and dispose of commercial electronic waste.


The key to maximising recycling in schools is ensuring the appropriate segregation of the various types of waste. Providing separate waste bins for each recycling category in the classroom and actively encouraging students to use them helps prevent the cross-contamination of waste, which can hinder recycling efforts.

Other Recovery

Composting food waste, such as scraps from the school canteen, can serve as a valuable educational tool. It demonstrates direct waste recovery and produces compost that can be used to fertilise gardens within the school’s grounds.


Even following best practices for waste management at your school, you’ll still need to dispose of various types of waste. A reputable commercial waste collection company will provide appropriate waste bins to store your waste before their regular collections. Your provider will give you a waste transfer note to demonstrate you’ve fulfilled your compliance obligations in disposing of the waste produced at your school.

Discover potential savings by requesting commercial waste quotes today. Start by simply entering your postcode into our smart address finder below.


Types of waste disposal in education

Here are the top six types of waste disposal typical to schools, colleges and universities. To comply with the duty of care regulations each of these waste categories must be stored separately to avoid contamination with other waste types.

<h3>Paper and card</h3>

Paper and card

Schools produce paper and card waste through activities like printing and photocopying educational materials, creating arts and crafts projects which often use various paper materials, and distributing paper notices, flyers, and newsletters to students and parents.



Schools generate plastic waste not only through disposable items in the canteen and plastic-based classroom supplies such as plastic folders and binders but also from students bringing in plastic bottles of water and soft drinks.

<h3>Food waste</h3>

Food waste

Schools produce food waste primarily through uneaten meals left by students, excess food prepared by cafeterias beyond consumption needs, and overbuying perishable supplies that spoil before use.

<h3>Confidential waste</h3>

Confidential waste

Schools generate confidential waste, including sensitive student records containing personal information, staff documents with employment and payroll details, and confidential test materials that are not for public release.

<h3>Mixed electrical equipment</h3>

Mixed electrical equipment

Schools generate electronic waste primarily through the fast ageing cycle of computers and laptops increasingly used by both students and staff. These dead devices can be recycled with one-off scheduled collections.

<h3>Ink cartridges</h3>

Ink cartridges

Schools continue to use ink cartridges due to their reliance on printers and photocopiers for creating essential educational and administrative documents. Despite digital advancements, printed materials remain widespread for handouts, tasks and exams.

Promoting recycling in education

Recycling is arguably more important in schools compared to other types of organisations. Promoting recycling instils environmental awareness and responsibility in students from a young age, equipping them with crucial knowledge and habits for the future.

According to DEFRA, UK households consistently recycle less than 50% of their waste. By teaching a culture of responsible waste management to society’s youngest members, we can work towards a more environmentally conscious future.

At Commercial Waste Quotes, while we are not an educational charity, we seize this opportunity to promote the free educational resources available on the Recycle Now website.

Waste disposal in education – FAQs

Our waste experts answer your commonly answered questions below:

What are the barriers to effective waste management in schools?

According to Waste Watch – a leading UK environmental charity, here’s a summary of the biggest barriers to effective waste management in schools:

  • Staff Time: Limited staff time in schools often acts as a barrier to effective waste management. The workload of teachers can seem endless, so it’s understandable that it’s difficult to find the time to ensure waste is appropriately managed.
  • Awareness: A lack of awareness among students, teachers, and staff about the importance of proper waste management and methods can hinder the implementation of effective waste management practices in schools.
  • Funding: Insufficient funding for waste management initiatives in schools is a significant barrier, as it limits the ability to invest in necessary infrastructure, resources, and educational programs related to waste reduction and commercial recycling.