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Getting Started

Recycling is Simply Elementary


The DavisRISE program works because of multiple partnerships forged in the early days of the program.  The school district, the school site staff including custodians, our local waste hauler and the city’s conservation coordinator all communicate and cooperate to find recycling solutions.  Early networking and continuous communication with invested partners are keys to a successful program.


The first step is to observe existing conditions. DavisRISE found that schools were paying for hauling other people’s trash.  Many of the schools’ bins were in unsecured pickup areas, so nearby businesses and the neighboring residents were dumping their waste into them.
DavisRISE approached this in 3 ways:
(1) We began a simple bin (dumpster) labeling system using paint or markers to identify the bins as belonging to DJUSD. We also numbered existing bins to help track the volume of trash being generated at each site (see below).
(2) In coordination with the contracted waste hauler, DJUSD distributed chains and locks to all sites so that site custodians could secure dumpsters after hours, thus discouraging illegal dumping.
(3) The school district and the city erected signs at bin locations to notify the community that disposal of their items was illegal.



In order for a waste diversion program to be wholly adopted by a school district, an audit needs to be conducted to measure the amount of waste generated at each school.  DJUSD schools are charged by volume of waste, which translates into the number of times a bin becomes full and is emptied each week. Therefore, a “before and after” measure was needed to provide data for the program.
Over a period of three months, custodians took a simple measurement of amounts of waste generated by observing daily bin levels before the waste hauler came to empty them.  Custodians (or volunteers) documented whether dumpsters were full, hall full, or one quarter full the day before removal (see sample dumpster monitoring form below).
To facilitate the monitoring, multiple bins were labeled and numbered, and custodians were asked to fill the bins in numerical order, with #1 always filled first and overflow going to bin #2, and so on.
Tally sheets were collected weekly, and data were entered into a database.  The results were analyzed to measure the effectiveness of the waste reduction program.  Documentation of waste reduction and subsequent cost savings were key to the school district’s decision to adopt the program.   A local environmental consulting company helped document the results.
We began doing measurements at school sites with supportive administrators, custodians and volunteers.  These sites were tasked with creating the best physical arrangements of the various containers used to collect recycling, compost and trash.  Their success would serve as the blueprint for expansion of the program to other sites.


As the program expanded, each school had to make modifications for its own physical layout, scheduling, student lunch seating patterns, and custodial needs. Networking among all parties—site administration, custodians and the Site Leader—should be the basis for determining the fine tuning of the program at each site.  This fine tuning is dynamic and can change from year to year. At the same time, consistency is a goal.



In the DavisRISE program, a Site Leader is present at each school site to direct the waste diversion program.  Although not required, we have found that the most successful programs at the elementary level have daily supervision of lunch time recycling, usually by an adult. Older students can also be trained to help younger students sort waste and these student volunteers can earn community service credit and receive a community service award.



Consistency is the key to success at the school site.  When consistent patterns are established, they become second nature for the students.  This means using the same color and shape of container/cart for the different types of recycling PLUS attaching signage to each container/cart that shows exactly what is to be deposited into it. Signage should be in Spanish as well as English. The identical pattern should be repeated at every school site.
Consistency in the size, shape and placement of recycling bins as well as signage helps tremendously to reduce cross-contamination. Students eventually cue in on the relative positions of collection bins so consistent spatial patterns are important for good compliance.  Consistent color coding of carts and containers is very important and should be identical at each school site. At DJUSD, for example, hard plastic, metal and glass are placed in grey carts; paper is placed in green carts.  It is also helpful to attach actual samples of typical waste stream items that students will see during lunch.
If you have any questions about starting your own school recycling program please contact Davis Farm to School at:
Sample dumpster monitoring form
An example of pilot study data
For more documentation see the Media and Data page

Find out more by clicking on the links below.
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