Student-Run Recycling Plan (high school)

9, 10, 11, 12

Students organize and implement a school-based recycling plan based on research and interests of the group.

This adaptable one-period lesson plan includes a simple and powerful service project for Earth Day. The reflection brings learning and service impact together. 

Photo credit: Lunchroom by Rob Ireton is licensed under CC by 4.0 

PrintOne class period, plus time for a long-term project

The students will be able to

  • reduce, reuse, and recycle waste at school based on an audit of needs and available resources.
  • design a project related to Earth Day, NHS, or another school activity.
  • carry out a recycling plan that is good for the environment and teaches others to be responsible with waste. 
  • PowerPoint document in the handouts below
  • materials determined by student planning, such as recycle bins
  • Planning and Implementation handout below


  1. Anticipatory Set: 

    Ask the students to indicate on a scale of 1-10 (using fingers or standing on a line) how much they agree with these two statements:

    1. I know how recycling works in our community.
    2. I feel that reducing waste is an important practice for me, my family, and the school.

    After each time they show their level of agreement, ask further questions to bring out their knowledge or interest. 

    Show the Hank Green Scishow video about recycling. Discuss the purpose and practice of recycling. The 8-minute video is here: 

  2. Discuss what the school practices are related to recycling/waste reduction and how much students, teachers, staff, and others follow and care about the practices. 

    • Describe the recycling happening at our school. Are there efforts to use less (even more important than recycling)? Think about paper, lunchroom waste, and other materials that could be reduced or saved from going to the landfill. 
    • Do all people in the building follow the recycling practices carefully? Why or why not?
    • What else could we be doing to reduce waste? 
    • Ask several students to share why creating less garbage at school is important to them and to the community (however you define community). 
  3. Define philanthropy as “using our time, talent, or treasure and taking action for the common good.” Discuss how recycling and creating less waster is an act for the common good and how it uses each: time, talent, and treasure. Therefore recyclers are philanthropists! Talk about responsibility and benefits of acting for the common good, specifically in the form of recycling and waste reduction. 

  4. Go through the PowerPoint about recycling in the handouts below. Rally the students to lead an effort to improve recycling at school. Their efforts can follow this service-learning process:

    • Investigate: find out more about where there is waste at school, what items are recycled locally, and what other students know about buying less or practices that reduce waste.
    • Plan: make a plan to learn more, organize a project based on findings and interest. Get permission.
    • Act: take action to inform others about waste or get a recycling process in place. Teach others how to make it last successfully.
    • Reflect: stop periodically to see how we are doing and what else is needed.
    • Demonstrate: share findings, plan, and impact with an outside audience. 

Over time, monitor participation and measure the amount of recycled materials or waste going out. Assign students to look at the quality of participation. Are students using the bins correctly and participating with interest and thoughtfulness? Is more training or motivation needed to get better engagement?

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.