How To Create A Zero Waste Classroom

Austin Creative Reuse Paint

Sponsored Post – from Austin Creative Reuse 

This post was created to help teachers and parents reduce waste in the classroom. It was written by Bernadette Noll and Jessica Martinez.

Students need adult models and they need to be empowered to make the choices and ask the questions that help them find solutions. Start the conversation on day one and use it as a lens for all you do and use. Ask simply, “How can we consume less? Where and how can we reuse more?”

For students, the experience of a Zero Waste classroom is a real and empowering step towards approaching the greater environmental challenges of plastic pollution and climate change; students learn that their choices do matter. Use math to help them understand the compounded impact. i.e. One classroom uses 100 less pencils, there are 22 classrooms in our school, there are 30 schools in our district, etc.

Recycling is great but it’s not the answer. It is a last resort, not a first option. Change the known triad of REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE to REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, RECONSIDER, REPAIR, RECYCLE.


Classroom Challenge

  1. Remember why it’s important. Ask the kids for their own reasons of why it’s important to reduce and reuse.
    1. “I love the ocean and pounds of plastic end up in the ocean…”
    2. “Our landfills are filling up.”
  2. Refuse what you don’t need.
  3. Reduce what you do need.
  4. Reuse where you can. Share resources with other classrooms.
  5. Recycle minimally and view this as a last option, not first.
  6. Create classroom challenges such as the single pencil challenge wherein each child is given one pencil and encouraged to use that one for as long as they can or zero waste lunch challenges.
  7. Install a Creative Reuse cabinet in your school for teachers and staff to use.
  8. Collect compost.
  9. Before you buy, ask parents and teachers for items they may already have.


  • Pack reusable utensils for breakfast and lunch.
  • Use reusable lunch boxes or bags.
  • Use reusable water bottles instead of plastic water bottles.
  • Find reusable containers instead of baggies or foil.
  • Thrift stores are loaded with options for lunchbox vessels taking reuse to another level.
  • Discuss zero waste lunch options with the kids.

School supplies:

  • Ditch the plastic mechanical pencils and use wooden ones instead or buy one good mechanical pencil that can be refilled.
  • Avoid plastic binders and find cardboard ones or eco-friendly ones or find used ones at thrift stores or at Austin Creative Reuse.
  • Don’t buy new plastic pencil boxes. Use cardboard or canvas ones. Old makeup bags or cigar boxes make great pencil cases. Buy or find good quality cases that can be used year after year.
  • Many notebooks have only a few pages used. Rip these out and encourage reuse.
  • Encourage using both sides of a page.
  • Use recycling bin contents as scrap paper
  • Check Austin Creative Reuse for your back-to-school shopping needs where you can get great quality materials for less than cheap materials elsewhere.

For art projects:

  • View all waste as possible fodder for projects. What’s in the trash? The recycling bin? Ask the kids how they might use what is there. Pose the question to them, “what materials do we already have that can be used as an alternative to new supplies?” i.e. pencil shavings for collage, broken crayons and crayon wrappers for art projects, tissue boxes for dioramas, bottle caps for manipulatives or mosaic, etc.
  • Cardboard is a multi-faceted art material and is literally everywhere! Cut it, draw on it, peel off the top layer to expose the corrugation, or let kids rip it into shreds as a fidget.
  • Shred/cut any plastic or cardboard for confetti art.
  • Use plastic containers like yogurt or fruit cups to hold your paint.
  • Dried out markers can be used for collage or building projects.
  • Use the surplus that is all around us.
  • Put the reuse lens on everything you do.


  • Create a classroom party box with reusable plates, cups, utensils for class parties. Parent volunteers wash and return.
  • Use decorations and bulletin board decor that is or can be reused.
  • Use fabric table cloths or drop cloths that can be washed and reused.
  • Create a classroom compost.
  • Ask the custodians not to change the trash bag daily.
  • When assigning classroom jobs of the week, create a sustainability or green team.
  • Create share boxes of used crayons and markers for each table or group vs. individual boxes

What ways have you incorporated reuse into your classroom? What challenges do you face in regards to new vs. reuse. Email us! We want to know!

Interested in installing a Creative Reuse Center in your classroom? Email us for more info!

Interested in meeting other teachers passionate about reuse? Check out Austin Creative Reuse’s Educator’s Open House on August 13th from 4:30pm to 6:30pm. Can’t make it to that event? You can also sign up for Austin Creative Reuse’s Educator’s newsletter to stay connected. 

Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork.

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