Navbar button The Headteacher

Waste management – What needs to be done in schools

January 16, 2024, 11:25 GMT+1
Read in 4 minutes
  • Michael Taylor looks at ways to manage waste and why it is a problem in education...
Waste management – What needs to be done in schools

In 2018, the UK government published a waste management strategy for England.

It set out various targets for waste reduction and sustainability. One of these targets was that 50 per cent of household waste should be recycled by 2020.

However, while local authorities continue to combat household waste, another public sector is being neglected. Figures indicate that the education sector only recycles around 23 per cent of its waste.

Primary schools generate about 45kg of waste per pupil, while secondary schools produce 22kg per pupil. This totals 250,000 tonnes of waste every year.

While the figure is disappointing, it does not detract from the enthusiasm of students to utilise more sustainable practices in their schools. Here, we look at why waste is a problem for educational institutions, and how schools and local authorities can help combat this problem.

Wasteful spending

Education requires a lot of resources. It is unsurprising, therefore, that 70 per cent of all education waste is made up of food, paper and card. However, while 80 per cent of this waste is recyclable, the reality is that only 20 per cent of it is.

Food waste in the education sector is particularly expensive, costing £2,100 per tonne. Over a year, local authorities will dish out £250 million to manage food waste.

Equally, Landfill Tax adds to an avoidable cost. Estimates suggest that local authorities could save £6.4 million by utilising more sustainable methods of waste management.

The problem can be tackled by both local authorities and individual education organisations.

Sustainable schools lead the way

The Eco-School campaign has registered 52,000 schools across 67 countries. These schools follow a seven-step framework to claim a coveted green flag. Some schools compost more or grow their own fruit and vegetables on school grounds.

Meanwhile, other schools are taking more proactive measures to reduce waste. Biomass digesters are used to transform food waste into biofuel. On school grounds, this device not only reduces waste. It can also cut emissions from transporting waste to disposal facilities.

Local authorities tackling problems

The main focus for local authorities regarding waste management is to reduce overheads and operating costs. With increasing budget restraints, new solutions are needed to combat this problem. Avoiding landfill is an obvious option for local authorities to save money.

However, school waste going to landfill may be an unavoidable consequence. Meanwhile, public waste services are also struggling with stripped budgets. Single-stream waste recycling is becoming increasingly common across all sectors. And even local government offices are becoming more aware of their waste responsibilities.

Most use waste procurement and waste removal companies. They can organise and dispose of their waste, with the assurance that sustainability is ensured.

Education centres can also benefit from this approach if it’s implemented by local authorities. Commercial businesses must ensure that everything is done to reuse, recycle or recover waste.

With recycling targets for household waste are at 50 per cent, it should be possible for the education sector to meet those targets too.


Schools must lead by example and give the next generation the tools, ideas, and logic to make sound decisions with regard to environmental best practices.

Education is key here – and while there is no perfect world, doing the right thing in the most cost-effective manner will always be a solid principle to adhere to.

Leading by example is the best form of education. Depriving students of the opportunity to work in an environment where sustainability is a priority is damaging.

Schools must use their platform to inspire the next generation to use waste responsibly and ensure they remain leaders in the green revolution.

Michael Taylor is General Manager at Skip Hire UK.