Reduce Waste Through Reusing, Composting, and Recycling

by Maria Hitt and Natasha Bowden

(originally printed by NC Farm to Preschool Network)

Celebrate Earth Day with your children! Bringing a conservation focus to your home or your childcare program can be beneficial in many ways.

  • It teaches your children to be more aware of their impact on the planet.
  • It shows how children can be good stewards of the earth’s resources.
  • It reduces your center’s environmental footprint (almost 70% of a typical preschool waste stream is reusable, recyclable, or compostable).

One simple way to start is by identifying items that are one-time use that could be replaced with reusable items. Next try recycling paper, bottles, cans, and other items through your local solid waste program. In addition, food and garden waste can be turned into rich compost to return nutrients to your garden.

To start recycling at your center, contact your local waste management department first to find out what materials are accepted for recycling in your area. They may have materials, posters and bins to help you set up your system and educate your staff. Then set up recycling receptacles that work for your center. Getting the kids involved is a great way to teach sustainability and conservation practices all year round and they can educate their families about recycling too.

Fruit and vegetable scraps in a compost pile

Food and garden waste can also be commercially exchanged for amended garden soil for a small fee from statewide composters such as Compost Now  or local composters such as Danny’s Dumpsters.

The option to connect with local pig farmers to take clean (no trash) food scraps is also a way to connect the classroom to the food system. These two methods combined create a huge decrease in food waste and trash load. This may save your center quite a lot of money if you must pay for solid waste removal by the pound.

Another way to decrease your footprint and your waste removal cost is by switching to reusable products or buying compostable products that can be tossed in with the compost for your commercial composter. The Orange County Partnership for Young Children conducted a study in 2018 to determine the cost benefit of transitioning from disposable to reusable dishware in two childcare programs. You could save your program approximately $4,000 a year depending on the number of children your program serves. While there is an upfront cost of around $1,000 to purchase reusable dishware, utensils, and a dishwasher, that cost can be paid back in just a few months in the savings that will occur by not buying thousands of disposable plates and bowls that will end up in the landfill. Reducing the amount of trash you produce will definitely reduce your environmental footprint. Read the full report here.

If working towards these goals is a path your center intends to expand, the potential is there to get your center endorsed for your efforts. Learn more here.