The Waste We Create

One of universal way of decreasing the garbage we make is to recycle. Recycling not only removes material from the waste stream, but the material can be used again saving water, resources and energy. Because creating goods from recycled materials uses less energy and raw materials, it also creates significantly less pollution.

The Bethlehem Central School District has instituted a district-wide recycling program. Each building in the district is equipped with desk-side paper recycling containers for all offices and classrooms and has several co-mingled glass/plastic/metal containers. Each building also has single stream dumpsters for the co-mingled glass, plastic, metal and corrugated cardboard. The paper is collected by a separate recycling vendor.

In the school buildings, students work with the assistance of the custodial staff to pick up the large quantities of paper we recycle. The custodians also do a great job of collecting all the other co-mingled containers and corrugated cardboard. Various schools across the district are also engaged in terra-cycling (juice pouch recycling), bottle top recycling, ink-jet cartridge and cell phone recycling and composting.


A large portion of the garbage we create in America is biodegradable material. Food waste and yard waste from America’s homes makes up almost 25% of our overall garbage. Composting these materials not only removes them from the waste stream, and decreases the garbage we make, but actually creates a rich growing medium that is beneficial to all kinds of plants. Composting replicates the system that the earth uses for environmentally sustainable waste reduction. In order to model environmental stewardship, several schools across the district have kicked off composting programs.


Elementary: Students at the elementary level are actively involved in recycling. They realize that by recycling certain products, they are able to not only stop the overflow of trash but are able to make new products.

Middle School: Every classroom and office in the building has blue, desk-side paper recycling containers. Some locations like the library, auditorium, and art rooms have several containers for recycled paper.

Every Tuesday and Thursday are recycling days at Bethlehem Central Middle School. Large, flip-top totes are placed in various locations in the building each night before our recycling days. During the morning announcements every Tuesday and Thursday, the announcer says, “Today is a recycling day. One student from each homeroom should empty their blue recycling bucket at this time.” Teachers then send one student from each room to empty their class’s recycling bucket into one of the large totes closest to their room.

During recycling days, students pick up these large totes and weigh them to determine the amount of paper recycled during homeroom. This information is recorded on a monthly recycling data chart. A different group of students then wheel around additional large totes to empty recycling buckets from non-classroom locations (main office, copy room, nurse, etc.) When all the non-classroom locations are emptied of recycled paper, those totes are also weighed and the data recorded. At the end of each month, students use our school TV station to announce the amount of paper we recycled for the whole building. They also share the environmental benefit of our recycling; which includes the number of trees saved, air pollution reduced, gallons of oil not consumed and the amount of water we conserved. Our paper recycling motto at the middle school is, “Paper is not garbage!”

Paper items that can be recycled:

  • Windowed envelopes
  • Index cards
  • Manila folders
  • File folders
  • Lined paper
  • Colored paper
  • Post-it Notes
  • Newspapers
  • Paperback books
  • Marble Notebooks
  • Old Folders
  • Magazines
  • Construction Paper
  • Junk Mail
  • Thin Cardboard

Do not recycle:

  • Paper towels
  • Tissue paper
  • Napkins
  • Paper cups
  • Paper plates
  • Laminated paper
  • Gum/food wrappers
  • Waxed paper


Did you know that most bottle tops are completely recyclable, yet most get tossed out? The problem is that they need to be recycled separately from the plastic bottles. If bottle tops are left on the plastic bottles that get recycled, they are most likely cut off, and disposed of, during the recycling process. At our schools across the district, we ask that staff and students deposit their bottle caps into bins located in the staff room, cafeteria and in the hallways. We also encouraged community members to bring in bottle caps from home as well. Many types of commonly used bottle caps can be recycled into new products. Since the kick-off of our bottle cap recycling, thousands of bottle caps have been recycled.


A large portion of the waste we throw out each day is used to package our food. Several schools in the district including Glenmont Elementary, Eagle Elementary, and the middle school provide receptacles for many food packages and containers. Co-mingled plastic and metal containers are available for drink bottles, yogurt containers, aluminum foil, fruit tins or other recyclable plastic and metal. These schools also provided students the opportunity to “up cycle” by recycling their juice pouches, zip-lock bags, silver lined chip bags, granola bar wrappers and more. Different receptacles are made available to separate these items.


Thousands of disposable trays and plastic silverware are thrown away in public schools each day. This creates huge amounts of waste that head straight to a landfill or incinerator. Schools which generate this amount of cafeteria garbage clearly send the message that this practice is acceptable and sustainable. All schools need to model what environmental stewardship in the 21st century looks like, especially in our cafeterias. The BCMS cafeteria is working toward this end. Plastic and Styrofoam serving containers have been replaced with biodegradable paper products. The middle school uses washable trays that are re-used each day. We also replaced the use of disposable plastic silverware with re-usable metal flatware.