Waste management in schools

Information, resources and operational advice.

Level of complianceMain audienceOther


  • Boards
  • Proprietors
  • Property Manager
  • Principals and Tumuaki

Separating, reducing, reusing, recycling and composting are good options for managing school waste. Boards need to find ways to get rid of school waste with the least negative effects on the environment. Incinerating and building waste pits on the school grounds can only be done by schools with no other options.

Separate waste

Separating waste is the first step in managing your school’s rubbish.

Set up bins for the different kinds of waste, and make sure the right bins are used. You should have clearly labelled bins for glass, paper, plastic, cans and for organic waste.

Reduce waste

Avoid sending waste to a landfill. Landfills cause environmental problems, such as unpleasant smells and contaminants and toxins leeching into water and the air.

Educate staff and students about using other ways of disposing of waste, such as recycling, reusing and composting.

Reuse waste

Think about reusing waste around the school and the school community, including:

  • taking lost property to your local opportunity shop
  • using plastic bags as bin liners or as packaging, instead of bubble wrap
  • having students make recycled paper and use shredded paper as bedding for pets.

Recycle waste

Contact your local council to find out what can be recycled in your area. Generally you can recycle:

  • glass
  • paper and cardboard
  • cans
  • plastic.

Make sure recycle bins are used correctly and that the items are clean when they go in the bin.

For recycling to work, educating students and staff is essential. Some local councils help schools to set up recycling programmes and educate their staff and students.

Compost organic waste

Separate organic waste like food scraps, plants, paper and lawn clippings from other rubbish.

Use organic waste for composting and teach students about how it works. You can use the compost on the school gardens, saving on the cost of fertiliser and other chemicals. You could set up worm farms, which can be used to teach parts of the curriculum.

Search online for tips about composting. If composting isn't possible:

  • ask students and teachers to take organic waste home
  • find out if local farmers want organic waste
  • keep hens at school and feed them the waste
  • have the organic waste composted at the local landfill — it’s generally cheaper to drop organic waste at a landfill than other rubbish.

Burning waste

Very few schools still use incinerators. They're usually only used at remote schools without easy access to other waste disposal facilities. Incinerators put contaminants into the air and can be a health hazard.

If you use an incinerator to burn waste, you need resource consent as required under the Resource Management Regulations 2004.

Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Air Quality) Regulations 2004(external link).

Using an incinerator

If you still have an incinerator and the resource consent to use it:

  • burn only appropriate materials, for example, don’t burn plastic (the rules for what’s appropriate are different between areas)
  • make sure the incinerator is working efficiently
  • make sure the incinerator is maintained and regularly cleaned.

Visit the Ministry of Environment website for more information about the national standards for air quality.

About the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality(external link)

Landfills, offal holes or waste pits at school

Burying waste on school grounds will almost certainly require resource consent. If you’re thinking of burying rubbish, contact your local council first.

Use a landfill or waste pit only as a last resort because they can:

  • contaminate groundwater
  • attract pests and be a health hazard
  • create unpleasant smells and dust
  • take up space and must be continuously maintained
  • be very expensive to build and maintain.

Guide to landfill consent conditions — Ministry for Environment website(external link)

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback