Back-to-school tips and tricks for recycling right

KGO logo
Friday, August 13, 2021
Back to school quiz: Trash or recycle?
Back to school quiz: Trash or recycle?

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- An average of 67 pounds of waste is generated per school year by a child bringing lunch to school, so it's important for everyone to do their part to reduce waste as kids go back to school.

When packing lunch, opt for reusable items like a lunch box, reusable water bottle, sandwich containers and metal silverware to prevent single use disposable waste. Students eating lunch provided by their school can reduce their impact on climate change by eating the food provided and properly sorting their waste when finished.

Rebecca Parnes, Senior Recycling Specialist with the City of Oakland and Cristian Aguilar, Schools Program Coordinator with StopWaste, share tips on recycling properly at school and at home.

Here is how to sort school provided or packed lunches:

  • Squishy plastic is trash - a helpful tip is if you can squeeze it in your hand and it retracts and gets smaller, that means it's garbage, like a food wrapper. If you have plastic that you squeeze and it pops back up to its normal shape, for example a water bottle or a yogurt tub, then that should go in the recycling.
  • Juice boxes can be recycled, in the City of Oakland - make sure it is empty, and the small straw goes in the trash - the same is true for large, plastic straws.
  • Single use utensils go to the trash - most hard plastics can be recyled but at the sorting facility, these utensils are too small to sortable.
  • Sealable, plastic bags, like for sandwiches, follow the same rule as above - if you can squeeze it in your hand and it retracts and gets smaller, that means it belongs in the trash. Consider reusing these by washing them over and over. There are a lot of new products on the market made of silicone which function as a sealable bag but can be used again and again - they are a great alternative.

When it comes to Reducing, Reusing and Recycling school supplies, here are 5 tips:

1. "Shop" for school supplies at home first since the most environmental thing you can buy is nothing at all.

2. Use a reusable water bottle instead of a disposable water bottle. If packing a lunch opt for reusable containers, lunch box, napkins, and utensils.

3. Purchase a durable backpack that your child can customize with patches that can be switched out year to year as your child's interest change.

4. Uniforms can be purchased second hand or shared or swapped with family and friends.

5. Purchase notebooks that makes writing on both sides of the paper easy and reuse binders from last year.

For more information from Oakland Recycles, visit their website here here.

StopWaste is a public agency that helps Alameda County's businesses, residents, and schools waste less, recycle properly, and use water, energy, and other resources efficiently.

Visit ReSource for your online guide for Reuse, Repair, Recycling, and Safe Disposal serving Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and the City of Palo Alto.

The 4Rs Action League and Allendale Elementary School students in Oakland, proudly educate other youth in their How to Sort Cafeteria Waste at School video. For more school related resources, activities, and curriculum, visit

Finally, here is a video that teaches students how to sort their lunchtime waste, filmed at Allendale Elementary School in Oakland.