New study shows great potential for recycling school waste

23rd July 2008

New research published today by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) indicates that up to 78% of day-to-day waste - mainly food, paper and card - produced by schools in England could be easily recycled or composted.

More than three-quarters of day-to-day waste produced by schools could be easily recycled or composted, saving local authorities more than £6m in landfill tax, according to new research published today by WRAP.

Waste produced during the school day by England’s 20,871 primary and secondary schools is estimated at more than 250,000 tonnes each year, which is enough to fill Wembley Stadium.

Of this waste, mostly discarded food, paper and card, an estimated 78% or 200,000 tonnes could be readily recycled or composted. This could potentially save an estimated 176,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions. Recycling or composting this waste would give local authorities an environmentally-friendly alternative to landfill and could save them around £6.4 million in Landfill Tax (at £32 per tonne).

The study - which analysed a week’s-worth of waste from 24 schools in four different local authorities - found that, on average, primary schools generated 45kg of waste per pupil and secondary schools 22 kg per pupil over the 40 week academic year.

More than 70% of waste from schools comes from just two categories – food waste, and paper and card.

Recycling, rather than landfilling, waste from schools can also help local authorities to meet their LATS (Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme) allowances and potentially avoid fines for exceeding these.

WRAP commissioned the research to improve understanding of the types and quantities of waste from schools and give local authorities and other recycling service providers indicative data to aid their service planning.

WRAP says the findings are a useful indicator of the scale and nature of waste from schools and will be helpful in planning the more effective management, and hopefully greater recycling, of this type of waste. Average recycling rates for schools in the study were 13% for primary and 20% for secondary schools.

Philip Ward, WRAP’S Director of Local Government Services, commented: “With nearly 7.5 million schoolchildren in England alone, schools have a great opportunity to contribute to solving our national waste problem and educate tomorrow’s consumers. There are also immediate benefits for Council Tax payers if the cost of waste disposal can be reduced and for the environment if resources are used more effectively.

“This research highlights the potential ‘easy-win’ of collecting readily recyclable materials from a relatively small number of sites, and local authorities should be looking to see how they can help to make this happen,” he added.

WRAP offers training and advice for local authorities, as well as resources for schools, to help improve the recycling of waste from schools. WRAP will also be consulting with other agencies to explore solutions to some of the issues raised by this research as appropriate. 

  • WRAP helps individuals, businesses and local authorities to reduce waste and recycle more, making better use of resources and helping to tackle climate change.
  • Established as a not-for-profit company in 2000, WRAP is backed by government funding from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Working in seven key areas (Construction, Retail, Manufacturing, Organics, Business Growth, Behavioural Change, and Local Authority Support), WRAP’s work focuses on market development and support to drive forward recycling and materials resource efficiency within these sectors, as well as wider communications and awareness activities including the multi-media national Recycle Now campaign for England.
  • More information on all of WRAP's programmes can be found on
  • Waste from schools is classified under the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992 as household waste for which a charge for collection can be made.  Schools’ waste which is collected by the local authority, or its contractor, will be included in tonnages of household waste sent for disposal (eg: landfill). Any that is recycled or composted will count towards the authority’s household waste recycling targets. Preventing biodegradable materials from schools from entering the residual waste stream could also help local authorities to meet their LATS targets.
  • WRAP’s work with schools in England is funded by DEFRA as part of the Recycle Now campaign.
  • Schools from Epping Forest, Leeds, Plymouth and Shropshire local authority areas took part in the study.
  • WRAP’s next recycling training course for schools and Local Authorities will be held in London on 1-2 October.
  • Finding effective ways to reduce the amount of food waste produced by schools would be the optimal solution. Organisations, including WRAP, will need to work together to explore solutions to the food waste issues highlighted in the report and in the wide-ranging Love Food Hate Waste campaign on