Recycling, Reusing, and Upcycling Activities Your School Can Do for Spring Cleanup
It's time for a fresh start!
Spring is here! It’s time to open the windows wide and get some fresh air—and a fresh start. Spring cleaning is an ideal time to take a look at your school’s commitment to being green, too. As you tidy things up and get ready for sunny days ahead, try incorporating some of these school recycling, reusing, and upcycling activities. There’s no better time than spring to commit to helping the planet!
School Recycling Activities
As you clean out lockers, empty out drawers, and dig into the back of cabinets, you’ll find plenty of stuff to get rid off. But don’t toss it all in the trash! School recycling can include glue sticks, old markers, electronics, ink cartridges, light bulbs… the list goes on and on. Start by joining the Recycle Rally for help recycling plastic, paper, and metal. Then, use these activities to get your students on board with recycling everything else they can.
Know what you can recycle
Encourage students to research what can be recycled, whether it’s locally or through mail-in return programs. Compile a handy list with locations for recycling every kind of item and share it with all staff and students. You can even send it home so families can step up their recycling efforts!
Set up a school recycling center
Make it easy for your students and teachers to recycle items while they’re spring cleaning by setting up a one-stop drop center.
- Provide one well-designed central location (here are some free printable labels) for everyone to drop off and sort their stuff. See how other schools do it here.
- Need more recycling bins? Convert an existing trash can, make one by upcycling aluminum cans, or build your own with this lesson plan.
- Don’t forget to make arrangements for everything to be delivered to the proper recycling centers.
Perform a waste audit
Spring cleaning is the perfect time to evaluate your school’s commitment to recycling. As you sanitize and organize, have your school Green Team (or any science class) perform a waste audit on your school. You’ll be surprised at how much more efficient this can make you! Get the free forms you need here.
Earn points at TerraCycle
TerraCycle offers points for recycling just about anything—from household cleaners and cosmetics to food wrappers and baby food packaging. Choose the programs that work for you and earn points you can redeem for cash for your school. Check out TerraCycle here.
Exchange used ink cartridges for cash
If your school uses Staples to buy ink or toner, you can participate in their Rewards program and get $2 back on each used ink or toner cartridge you return to the store. Other stores may offer similar programs, so be sure to ask.
Recycle electronics instead of sending them to the landfill
Got a stash of old broken printers, outdated tablets, unneeded keyboards, and so on? Don’t fill up the dumpster with them. Instead, find local organizations that will recycle them for you. Best Buy stores offer a trade-in and recycle program that could even earn your school a little cash!
Sing and dance while you work
Keep students motivated—spring cleaning is always more fun with music! Teach your kids to sing the Recycling Song (lyrics here) to help them remember to recycle every single day. Plus, encourage your class to dance along as Chaz Bruce, music teacher in Rochester, NY, shows off some of his favorite recycling dance moves!
School Reusing Activities
It takes a lot of energy to recycle materials, so it’s better to reuse and repurpose items when you can. Teachers are already the masters of reusing supplies and learning tools over and over again, but here are some clever (and easy) ideas you might not have tried yet. Use them while you’re spring cleaning to give new life to old stuff!
Soak old markers to make DIY paint
Before you recycle your old markers, soak them overnight in water to make DIY watercolor paints! This idea couldn’t be easier and ensures you get your money’s worth out of every last marker. Learn how it works here.
Make every scrap of paper count
Schools are using a lot less paper than they used to, but there’s still plenty of it floating around. Ensure every last bit gets used by designating a scrap paper box in each classroom. As you clean out filing cabinets or cupboards, save any pieces that are blank on the back for kids to reuse as scrap paper.
Refill your prize box with reused treats
Lots of teachers use small toys as rewards in the classroom. Save money (and the planet) by asking friends or parents to donate unwanted new or gently used toys, stickers, or other items that are still in good shape. Spring cleaning is the perfect time for everyone to keep an eye out for these items.
Save bottle caps for math manipulatives
Save the caps as you recycle plastic bottles, then reuse them as math manipulatives in the classroom. Try scooping up a handful and asking kids to estimate how many you have, or use them as counters on your 10 frames.
Arrange a pencil sharpening station with jars
As you clean out drawers, you’re likely to find plenty of old pencils that still have some life left in them. Create a pencil station made from reused jars labeled “Dull Pencils” and “Sharp Pencils,” and designate one student to spend a few minutes each day sharpening all the pencils at once. Kids who need sharp pencils can grab them and drop off their broken ones in exchange. Keep a jar of erasers on hand too, since the ones on the pencils themselves always seem to wear down before the pencil is finished.
Corral crayons or colored pencils in rainbow tin cans
Ready to tidy and organize your giant bin of crayons, markers, or colored pencils? First, pull out all the keepers and sort them by color. Then, wrap colorful washi tape around clean empty cans and fill them with matching colored pencils or crayons. Now it’s easy for kids to find exactly the hue they’re looking for.
Organize anchor charts with pant hangers
Got a big stack of anchor charts? Use clip hangers like the ones you get from dry cleaners or department stores to organize your collection of anchor charts. It’s an organizing hack that won’t cost you a penny, thanks to this brilliant idea from The Organized Classroom.
Hold a shoe drive
Kids regularly outgrow their shoes before they wear them out. That’s why a shoe drive is such a fantastic school reusing activity! The company Funds2Orgs can help you set up a successful drive and ensure all those old sneakers wind up in the right hands (and feet).
Replace paper towels with washable fabric scraps
Desks get sanitized pretty regularly these days, but what about bookshelves or the tops of filing cabinets? Spring cleaning is the time to make them shine! If you can, skip the paper towels and use old fabric scraps instead. Collect them in a trash bag and take them home at the end of the week for a quick wash.
School Upcycling Activities
School reusing and recycling are important, but upcycling is just plain fun! When you upcycle, you take an object that would otherwise be thrown out and turn it into something fabulous. Keep an eye out for certain items as you spring clean, then give a few of these projects a try.
Spell out an alphabet of upcycled letters
Don’t buy classroom décor when you can make it instead! As you clean out boxes and drawers, look for items that are shaped like letters, or can be used to make them. Then use your letters to spell out a sign or just post the alphabet around your room. Get more upcycled letter ideas here.
Give broken crayons new life
Every elementary school has a huge collection of less-than-perfect crayons. Don’t toss them out, though! There are so many cool things you can do with broken crayons. Find lots of ideas here.
Spark STEM learning with cardboard
We’ve all got more cardboard boxes than we know what to do with these days. Before you toss it all in the recycling bin during a cleaning spree, try using some pieces for STEM challenges first. Take a look at what happened when one school added cardboard to their STEM cart.
Turn a plastic bottle into a trophy
Try holding a recycling contest as your school tackles spring cleanup tasks! See which class or grade can produce the least trash or collect the most recyclable bottles or cans. Then upcycle a plastic bottle into a trophy to give the winners! Get the DIY here.
Convert an old t-shirt into a tote bag
Found a box of leftover outdated t-shirts from a school fundraiser or event shoved in the back of a closet? With a few snips and twists, those old tees can gain new life as tote bags! Here’s the how-to.
DIY a cardboard box into a recycling monster
This school upcycling activity encourages recycling activities too. Save a big cardboard box and convert it to a hungry recycle monster! Here’s the DIY.
Turn a broken mini-fridge into a Little Free Library
Finally ready to replace an old mini-fridge? Turn the old one into a Little Free Library! Learn more about the Little Free Library movement and how to set one up at your school here.
Refashion plastic bags into yarn
With a few simple snips, you can turn a plastic bag into yarn (or “plarn”) for classroom crafts. Visit Kitchen Table Classroom to see how to make it and what you can do with it.
Upcycle your old board games
If your board games are getting a little beat up, or you have some that never seem to get played anyway, upcycle them! Turn Connect Four into a sight word game, add dinosaurs to Guess Who?, or make the ultimate review game with Jenga. Find all those ideas and more here.