Kids & Teachers

Eastside Elementary Students in Gouverneur Recycle in the Cafeteria

Schools in St. Lawrence County have the ability increase recycling and reduce waste in the cafeteria because the County now accepts recycling as single stream, also known as "Zero Sort".  This means that all recyclable materials can be mixed together in one bin---no need to separate.  With single stream, recycling centers are able to accept more materials for recycling. This includes milk cartons and other aseptic packaging such as juice boxes. Recent waste audits in local schools have shown that milk cartons are the largest source of cafeteria waste by volume. This causes trash dumpsters to fill up quickly. In addition to milk cartons, all plastics labeled with 1 through 7 symbols can be recycled as well.  This includes water bottles, yogurt cups, single serve plastic cups, pudding cups, "Lunchables" containers and other plasticware.  The recycling challenge that cafeterias face is ensuring that these items are relatively free of food residue.

Eastside Elementary cafeteria staff have developed a simple system to combat the problem of food residue.  Rinse it!  When students go to empty their trays after lunch, leftover milk is poured into a bucket.  The empty cartons are thrown in a "repurposed" garbage can.  Leftover food is dumped from other recyclable containers as best as it can be and placed in with the cartons.  When the collection bin is full, it is passed through to the dishwashing area, where cafeteria staff gives the items a quick rinse with a hand sprayer and then place them in an unlined garbage can.  The rinsed recyclables are then dumped loose into the Zero Sort recycling dumpster where they will be picked up for recycling.

Eastside Elementary Cafeteria Recycling

This simple process makes the items acceptable for recycling and eliminates the need to throw away these containers in the trash which goes to the landfill.  Rinsing also helps to eliminate sour milk odors typically associated with cafeteria dumpsters.

By increasing recycling and reducing trash, school officials will soon encounter a new problem, a good one.  They will need a larger recycling dumpster and a small trash dumpster or fewer pickups of their trash.  This may help the school save money on their trash bill as haulers generally charge more for trash than they do for recyclables.

If your school would like to set up or improve a recycling program or start a food waste composting program, contact:

Sayre Stevens, Recycling Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension at


Jan Oatman, Regional Recycling Coordinator, Development Authority of the North Country at







North Country Recycles

Additional Information:

Where Do I Discard...?

Find locations near you to recycle items.

North Country Recycles


Three County Recycling List:
This list identifies items accepted by transfer stations in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties.

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