Universal Recycling for Schools

schools no symbol

What does Universal Recycling mean for Vermont schools?
VT DEC Waste Reduction Resources
VT DEC Composting Resources
Food Donation
Case Studies
Technical Assistance Resources
Classroom Resources and Lesson Plans
Additional Resources

What does Universal Recycling mean for Vermont schools?

With the adoption of Vermont’s Universal Recycling law (Act 148), we are all taking a step to reduce the amount of material that goes to waste in the landfill. Universal Recycling ensures that all Vermonters have convenient and consistent services for recycling and composting throughout the state. The law required recycling of baseline recyclables in 2015, separation or composting of leaf, yard and clean wood debris in 2016, and created a phased-in requirement to divert food scraps that started in 2014 with the largest food waste generators. All Vermont will need to divert food scraps by 2020, with some of the largest schools required to get started in 2017. Schools play a critical role in implementing Universal Recycling throughout the state, as producers of recyclables and organic materials (leaf and yard debris and food scraps) but most importantly as educators.  Schools can teach their students why recycling and composting matter, and serve as models for their communities. The behaviors we learn as children become our habits as adults, and the changes schools make today will be second nature for tomorrow’s leaders.

VT DEC Waste Reduction Resources

  • School Recycling Guide – How to develop, manage, and sustain school recycling and composting programs.
  • School Recycling Scorecard – Take the test and see how your school is doing to reduce waste.
  • See our Organics page for information about organics diversion, including resources on designing and building on-site compost systems, compost "recipe" development, and a list of professional organics management service providers.​
  • See our Food Donation page for more resources, including  guidance for creating Food Sharing Tables.

VT DEC School Composting Resources

Food Donation

The Universal Recycling Law's Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes donation of extra food--if properly handled and not previously served--to food rescue agencies or organizations that feed the hungry. The Guidance for Food Donation contains helpful information on safe food handling for kitchen and cafeteria staff.

Historically, a great deal of unused, high-quality food from school cafeterias has gone to waste, often because of fear of liability should donated food go bad. The federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (42 U.S.C. 1791) provides liability protection for food donors. Additional protections for schools exist; the University of Arkansas has a great poster for schools, with details: K-12 School Food Recovery Poster.

By donating excess food from your school, you meet your organics diversion goals, lower costs, and support Vermonters in need at the same time.

Case Studies

Frequently Asked Questions

When does my school have to divert food scraps from the trash?

Most schools will not be required to separate food scraps until 2020, although some of the largest may be required to begin in 2017. See the main UR page for details on the food diversion implementation timeline. Why wait until 2020? All schools are encouraged to get started with a food scraps diversion program today!

There’s so much to do! How do I get help?

Talk to others in your school community, including teachers, facilities and cafeteria staff, administrators, parents, and students.  A good place to start is your local solid waste management entity, which can provide assistance.  Find yours here.

Use the School Recycling Guide below, which provides detailed information on getting a recycling and composting program started in your school, to help guide your efforts. Or, call the ANR Solid Waste Program at 802-828-1138.

Can our school feed leftover food to farm animals?

Yes, but please follow the Guidance on Feeding Food Scraps to Pigs from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets. Do not feed meat or fish, or food scraps that have come in contact with meat or fish juices, to pigs.

Technical Assistance Resources

Classroom Resources and Lesson Plans





Additional Resources

  • Shelburne Farms provides environmental and sustainability education for children, adults, and educators, both through their website and at their farm.
  • Keep America Beautiful works to build and sustain communities through education and behavior change. Guidebooks available online are comprehensive, contain excellent overviews on waste-related topics, and have many well-designed classroom lessons. 
  • Institute for Humane Education (IHE). Online classes and workshops on waste reduction and sustainability.
  • Cornell Waste Management Institute. Research, outreach, training, and technical assistance, with a focus on organic residuals.  Many lesson plans available through their Trash Goes To School program.
  • Stop Waste. A California-based public agency responsible for reducing waste in Alameda County. Excellent information and curriculum materials. 
  • ReCommunity. Non-profit whose mission is to use recycling to build jobs, revenue, and a future for communities. Educational films, lesson plans and other resources for all ages. 
  • The Story of Stuff Project. Short films, lesson plans, podcasts about how we make, use, and throw away Stuff.

Agency of Natural Resources
Department of Environmental Conservation
Waste Management and Prevention Division

Davis Building - 1st Floor
One National Life Drive
Montpelier, VT 05620-3704