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Universal Recycling for Schools

elementary school kids walking their trays to a waste sorting station

Case Studies
VT DEC Resources
Technical Assistance Resources
Lesson Plans
Additional Resources

What does Universal Recycling mean for Vermont schools?

The Universal Recycling law ensures that all Vermonters have convenient and consistent services for recycling and composting; this includes at school. Schools play a critical role in waste reduction as producers of recyclables and food scraps, but most importantly as educators. Schools serve as models for their communities and can teach students why recycling and composting matter. Behaviors we learn as children become our habits as adults, and the systems schools make today will be second nature for tomorrow’s leaders.

If your school needs help improving your recycling or food scrap collection systems, call 802-828-1138. We will also connect you with your local solid waste management entity for further assistance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does my school need to do?

All schools need to recycle the required materials and keep food scraps out of the trash. Many schools get the scraps hauled to a compost site. Some schools compost on-site or give their scraps to a local chicken farmer. Schools also need to manage their hazardous materials properly.

How do we get help?

Ask around! There are most likely people in your school community, including teachers, facilities and cafeteria staff, administrators, and parents, that have experience with recycling, food scrap collection, and composting. Your local solid waste management entity can also help.  Find yours at

Use the School Recycling Guide, which provides information on recycling and composting programs in schools, or call DEC’s Solid Waste Program at 802-828-1138.

Can our school donate excess food?

The Universal Recycling Law encourages people to donate extra food--if properly handled and not previously served--to organizations that feed the hungry. Guidance for Food Donation contains information on safe food handling for kitchen staff. By donating excess food from schools, you keep food out of landfills, lower costs, and support Vermonters in need.

Historically, a great deal of unused, high-quality food from schools 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. In addition, a federal statute that is part of the National School Lunch act provides specific protection for schools:

Can our school feed leftover food to pigs or chickens?

Yes, but if feeding pigs, do not feed them meat, fish, or food scraps that have come in contact with meat or fish juices. Please follow the Guidance on Feeding Food Scraps to Pigs from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

Case Studies

VT DEC Resources

Technical Assistance Resources

Lesson Plans




Wasted Food


Additional Resources

  • Stop Waste. A California-based public agency responsible for reducing waste in Alameda County. Excellent information and curriculum materials.  
  • 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.
  • The Story of Stuff Project. Short films, lesson plans, podcasts about how we make, use, and throw away Stuff.
  • Vermont Building and General Service purchasing contracts, for recycling and food scrap collection containers and other supplies
  • Trash Contract Renegotiation Guide (Produced by Highfields Center for Composting): information for schools and businesses on waste hauling fees, to assist in contract negotiation and cost savings
  • New England Grassroots Environmental Fund (NEGF) supports community-based environmental projects throughout New England.  NEGF provides resources, tools, and trainings, as well as grants to groups and schools beginning or improving environmental projects.