Pupils and a teacher in an IT lesson at secondary school in the UK.

Seven ways schools can reduce paper waste

Schools play a vital role in promoting responsible practices within local communities, yet many produce a shocking amount of waste.

Every primary school pupil in the UK produces an estimated 45kg of waste per academic year, while secondary school pupils generate 22kg.

Notably, 70% of the waste in school bins comprises food waste, paper, and card materials.

Despite the potential for recycling, just 20% of the food, paper, and card waste in schools is currently being recycled.

Let’s hit the books and explore how your school can reduce paper waste and increase recycling to boost its eco credentials and academic budget long-term.

1.      Upgrade your school’s website

You might not expect the suggestion to invest in your school’s website when reading about paper waste reduction.

However, creating a high-quality website can offer numerous opportunities to minimise paper use inside and outside the classroom.

Embrace the digital age for learning and homework

By implementing a pupil learning platform, you can effortlessly provide resources and homework tasks to each student, eliminating the need for paper.

It may seem like a small step in reducing paper use, but the impact can be significant.

If an entire class can access, complete, and submit their worksheets online, you could save around 26 sheets of paper every week of term. That’s 1,014 pages per academic year, substantially contributing to your school’s paper waste reduction efforts — and that’s just one class.

Your school may have already adopted a learning platform during the COVID-19 pandemic, only to revert to traditional homework routines as national restrictions lifted. However, now is the perfect time to make the switch permanently.

As well as reducing paper (and printer) use, teachers will benefit from marking assignments without the burden of carrying piles of paper around school or transporting them home.

Additionally, with paper-free assignments, students won’t be able to use the classic excuse of “the dog ate my homework” anymore.

A digital learning platform benefits the environment, the school budget, and the efficiency of the education process.

Create a parent hub

Establish a dedicated parent hub on your website to facilitate clear and seamless communication with your pupils’ parents. Use this platform to share newsletters, photos, videos, and essential updates effectively.

With most families having internet access at home, consider transitioning to emailing parent letters and posting newsletters directly to your website. However, for those families without internet access, create a mailing list to ensure they stay informed and don’t miss vital updates.

Creating a parent hub will save you a considerable amount of paper and ensure the information is readily accessible and doesn’t end up forgotten at the bottom of a child’s school bag.

Market your school

Boost your school’s visibility and reputation by leveraging your website as a powerful marketing tool. Take advantage of this platform to showcase your school’s strengths:

  • Share your prospectus to provide detailed information about your school’s offerings, values, and achievements. By sharing your prospectus online, you won’t need to print as many — saving paper.
  • Upload an engaging video tour highlighting your school’s facilities and showcasing the vibrant learning environment.
  • Display captivating photos of children actively participating in various educational activities, demonstrating their positive experiences at your school. Ensure you get written permission from parents and guardians before posting pictures of children online.
  • Enable parents to conveniently apply or make enquiries online, streamlining the enrolment process and encouraging more prospective families to get in touch.

2.      Ditch paper processes

Every headteacher knows of the constant exchange of forms between the school and parents.

Whether it’s admission or consent forms for school trips, this process generates significant paper waste, leading to inefficiency, expenses, and GDPR concerns.

The good news is that numerous tools are readily available for schools to replace paper forms with digital alternatives. By embracing these tools, parents can conveniently complete forms online, and teachers can receive responses instantly — streamlining the entire process.

These digital tools can be used for various purposes, including leave of absence requests, visit permissions, and medical consent.

Two popular free and easy school data collection options include Google Forms and Survey Monkey.

3.      Invest in technology

A pupil and teacher using tablets in a class
Pupils and a teacher using tablets in class

We understand that budget constraints pose a challenge for many schools. However, the benefits of reducing paper waste in schools by adopting laptops or tablets instead of exercise books and textbooks are significant.

Embracing technology opens up many teaching and learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom, eliminating the necessity for multiple exercise books for each taught subject.

The advantages of this transition extend beyond environmental conservation, as it can lead to enhanced educational experiences for students.

4.      Educate staff and pupils

You can initiate environmental action in school by prioritising education on the topic.

Educating your pupils, teachers, and staff about climate change and the significance of waste reduction is crucial.

Without proper education on environmental issues, people aren’t likely to take waste reduction seriously, as they may not fully comprehend why it matters.

However, with education, you’ll witness a spark of passion in many individuals to protect our planet and make a positive impact.

To drive this passion forward, leverage the help of particularly enthusiastic team members and pupils to lead the implementation of new processes and procedures to reduce paper waste.

They may even think up additional ways to use less paper in school.

5.      Use recycled paper

In situations where paper use is necessary, it’s crucial to prioritise eco-friendly practices.

Supply all teachers with recycled paper and ensure it’s recycled once the paper has fulfilled its purpose. Recycling should become a standard practice within the school.

In addition, explore alternative mediums whenever possible. For instance, for painting activities in art classes, consider using waste plastic bottles or egg boxes as canvases instead of traditional paper.

Creative approaches like this can reduce paper consumption and create a more sustainable and eco-conscious school environment.

6.      Set up recycling stations

To encourage a recycling-friendly environment, it’s essential to provide readily available recycling facilities for staff and students.

Take proactive steps to encourage paper recycling throughout the school grounds by strategically placing paper recycling bins.

Equip every classroom with designated bins for different waste types, and consider enhancing outdoor and shared areas with recycling stations in addition to general bins.

The key is to ensure that wherever paper is being used, there is a dedicated receptacle for its recycling.

7.      Reduce what you can’t eradicate

When printing something out is unavoidable, use both sides of each sheet to minimise paper use. Most modern printers have a duplex printing function for this.

Encourage everyone in the school to adopt double-sided printing, and you’ll witness an instant and remarkable reduction in paper consumption. In fact, with little effort, the school can cut its paper usage in half.


If you’d like to learn more about school waste management in and around the Yorkshire region, contact Forge Recycling for a free waste audit. Working with us, you can save money on waste management while boosting your recycling rate.

Published by

Lucy Ravenhall

Lucy is a long-standing editor of the Forge Recycling blog and loves writing about her environmental passions.