Denver Public School Partnership


Denver Recycles proudly provides more than 90,000 students in 170 Denver Public Schools with recycling service. More than 40 of these schools receive compost collection as well. Denver Recycles works extensively with DPS to educate students, staff and parents about the importance of waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting. 

Composting in Denver Public Schools

Kids learning about waste recycling in classroom

Recycling in Denver Public Schools

Students lined up near recycling bin outdoors putting in cardboard
Kids near recycling bin in classroom
staff and students in hallway of school posing near recycle bins

Recycle Cycle Videos

Recycle Cycle (English version)

Recycle Cycle (Spanish version)

Student and Teacher Resources:

Play Denver's Waste Sorting Game

Helpful Community Partners and Web Resources

Recycling in Denver Public Schools

To help schools maximize their waste reduction and give students a chance to create life-long recycling habits, Denver Recycles provides free resources to all Denver Public Schools.

  1. Planning and technical support: Comprehensive online training materials are available upon request as well as customizable classroom or staff professional development presentations covering a variety of waste reduction topics.
  2. Weekly collection: Each school has weekly purple cart recycling and/or purple dumpster collection. Purple recycling dumpsters are available to be delivered to collect overflow cardboard and save space in the purple recycling carts.
  3. Classroom recycling bins and posters: 18-gallon, purple recycle bins make collecting recyclables in classrooms and staff offices easy. Place a recycle bin immediately next to a trash can and display our “Classroom Recycle Station” poster above them to create an efficient recycling station. Order your bins and posters for free delivery through Denver Recycles. 
  4. Student Power Recycling champion: Harness your school’s student power by getting them involved! Motivated individuals and student environmental clubs can help lighten the load for facilities staff by helping with classroom recycling collections and creating a school recycling culture. Identify a staff recycling coordinator at your school to help guide your green students. Click here (LINK to green team page here) tips setting up your environmental team.

Helpful Community Partners and Web Resources


School Recycling FAQs

Cardboard Recycling and Overflow

How should we recycle cardboard at our school?  

  • Please flatten and break down cardboard boxes into pieces no larger than 2 ft. x 2 ft. before putting them in your recycling carts.  Breaking down your cardboard boxes will help maximize the space in your carts. Cardboard can be laid flat across the top of the cart and close the lid as long as it still closes to less than 45 degrees.

Our school has too much cardboard to fit in our carts - how should we recycle all the cardboard?

  • Denver Recycles can offer special collections for large amounts of cardboard. Please contact to arrange for a collection.

Our school consistently has overflow cardboard – can we get a bigger recycling container? 

  • Yes! We can provide your school with a purple recycling dumpster for cardboard and overflow. Please contact to arrange for a larger container.

Where to recycle the items that are not accepted in the purple cart?

  • Scrap Metal recycling: We can only accept aluminum and steel/tin cans (soda and soup), clean aluminum foil, and clean pie/food tins through your school’s recycling program. Scrap metal (such as broken metal shelving, old pipes, sink fixtures) of any size is not accepted in the Denver Recycles program. Please do no place scrap metal in your school’s recycling containers. These items can cause major damage to our trucks and equipment at the recycling center. DPS has an on-call service for handling scrap metal. Please contact to arrange for a collection.
  • Hazardous Materials (such as used batteries, CFLs and fluorescent tubs, cell phones, paint, chemicals/oil): Please do not put hazardous materials or liquids of any kind in your school’s trash or recycling. These items could potentially harm trash and recycling collectors and pollute the environment. DPS has an on-call service for handling these items. Please contact  to arrange for a collection.
  • Electronics: Electronic items are banned from disposal landfills and must be recycled by certified recyclers to ensure worker and environmental safety. Please do not put electronic devices (televisions, computers, cell phones, etc) in your school's trash and recycling, as such items could potentially harm trash and recycling collectors and pollute the environment. DPS has an on-call service for handling these materials.  Please contact to arrange for a collection.
  • Appliances: Items such as (microwaves, refrigerators of all sizes, washer/dryers) need to be recycled for scrap metal. Many appliances contain freon, a very harmful gas to the environment, and need to be handled and disposed of properly. DPS has an on-call service for handling these materials.  Please contact to arrange for a collection.

When are recycling carts collected? How should they be set out for collection?

How can we continue to encourage our students, staff, and parents to recycle correctly?

  1. Start or improve upon recycling in the lunchroom and kitchen.
  2. Include recycling at school events and sports competitions.
  3. Help after school care and clubs know how and where to recycle.
  4. Incorporate recycling messages, tips, and tricks in daily announcements. (Here’s a list of a recycling tip/trick/fact for every day of school)
  5. Include recycling in the school newspaper, on the school website, or send school recycling information in weekly folders home to parents.
  6. Have students make educational posters and post them all around the school. 
  7. Have a recycling contest by classroom or grade that rewards prizes for recycling the correct materials with the least amount of contamination.
  8. Create a Green Team (connect to green team page HERE) that can help monitor recycling bins and educate students as needed through classroom presentations or demonstrations at school assemblies.
  9. Put recycling on the agenda for staff meetings, or better yet schedule a free recycling presentation for your staff. Please contact
  10. Set recycling goals for the school and make them public through a tracking poster or pledge.
  11. Encourage students to create recycling songs, poems or videos to be shared at school.

What’s my school’s recycling rate?

  • You can determine your school’s waste diversion, or in other words the recycling rate, by conducting a waste assessment. Tracking, weighing, and sorting samples of both trash and recycling over a period of time will allow you to know how well your school is recycling and what areas need improvement. Denver Recycles can loan floor-scales and other equipment including step-by-step guidance for your project. Don’t forget to get the students involved!


Kitchen recycling improvements?

  1. Work with kitchen staff to ensure that cardboard and steel food cans from the school kitchen are getting recycled. Invite your kitchen staff to participate in the program and make sure they know what materials are accepted for recycling. Ask kitchen staff what would be easiest for them first and try to offer student and teacher support with time consuming tasks like breaking down boxes flat.
  2. Denver Recycles has DPS Kitchen Recycling posters available to help educate kitchen staff.  Please contact


How to recycle successfully at school events

  • When hosting an event at your school, you most likely will need to move some of your recycling carts from one area of the school to the area that will be in use. Always pair a recycling cart next to a trash can, so recycling is made easy for your visitors. Hang a poster on or above the recycling cart so visitors know what materials can be recycled. Or, consider having volunteers monitor the recycling carts during a large public event. Be creative when educating visitors on proper recycling helps avoid contamination in recycling carts. After the event do a quick check inside the purple cart and pull out anything that doesn’t belong. 



Will our school have recycling collections during summer break?

  • Denver Recycles will continue normal recycling collections throughout the summer break. As always, education is key to proper recycling and ensuring your recyclables are free of contamination. Please inform your summer students and visitors on the recycling guidelines. You may also want to relocate some of your recycling carts to accommodate areas (gyms, auditoriums) where students will be located. 

What student art projects are recyclable?

  • Projects that are made up of paper colored with markers, colored pencil, or watercolor paint can be recycled. Paper with rubber cement, oil-based paints, or clay on them are not accepted. Paper taped or glued together is okay to recycle as long as the adhesive is minimal. If there is more glue than paper, then throw it away.

Can we recycle shredded paper?

  • Please minimize shredded paper or contact facilities about a shredding services contract. Pro tip: the wrapping around a ream of office paper is not recyclable, make sure these go in the trash.

Recycling Cleanouts

Students and teachers accumulate A LOT of paper and other donatable, reusable, or recyclable items every year. An important part of reducing waste at your school is to host a winter break and summer break school recycling cleanout. Find tips for planning your cleanout and an instructional “School Cleanout Recycling Directory” below.

  1. Organize your cleanout date: the best times to do a school-wide recycling cleanout is just before winter and summer breaks.
  2. Donate: add to the giant pile of unclaimed lost-and-found items by collecting other items of clothing from students and teachers for donation during your school cleanout. After offering these items for reuse at school, choose a local clothing donation organization.
  3. Focus on paper: Paper is by far the most common item recycled during cleanouts. Schedule cleanouts systematically by classroom or grade and make sure purple recycling carts are placed in areas that can be easily accessed by students and teachers during their cleanout time.
  4. Expand on reuse: Find a central location at school where useful items can be collected for reuse, like classroom supplies or even larger classroom items like rugs, lamps, decorations, and furniture.

School Cleanout Recycling Directory(PDF, 135KB)

Tips for Success:

  • KEEP IT SIMPLE! Focus on paper first. Think about the easiest way for students to get all their paper waste to the purple carts. Student cleanout coordinators are a great asset to help move carts around and help organize the recycling.  
  • Use school-wide announcements and flyers to inform everyone about the cleanout in advance.
  • Instruct all classroom teachers to announce the cleanout day and time to their students.
  • Only donate items to outside organizations that are in good condition and are reusable.
  • Enlist parent volunteers or student leaders to act as sorting station captains during the cleanout and answer recycling questions. 
  • When in doubt about whether something can be recycled in your school’s purple carts, refer to the School Cleanout Recycling Directory or put it in the trash to ensure the “wrong things” don’t contaminate the recycling.
  • Items not accepted in the purple cart that can still be recycled or need special disposal (such as appliances, electronics, hazardous waste, lightbulbs, batteries, oil, chemicals) check out the “Recycling Beyond the Purple Cart” section in the School Recycling FAQs page and contact to arrange for a special collection. 

Carton Recycling

Milk cartons and juice boxes are fully recyclable. DPS encourages all schools to recycle cartons and if you are looking to start a carton recycling program or make improvements to and existing program, this page has the resources you need to save precious natural resources and contribute to a more sustainable future

Did you know?

  • The average US elementary school uses 53,200 cartons every year
  • Over 5 years, an average school can save 9300 pounds of paper—almost 5 tons—by recycling its cartons
  • That means an average school can save 45 trees by recycling cartons, and 13,000 gallons of water over five years!

What are cartons made of?

  • On average, standard school-sized milk cartons are made of 88% paper and 12% polyethylene.
  • On average, juice boxes are made of 74% paper, 22% polyethylene and 4% aluminum.

Posters to Download:

Drink, Empty, Recycle Poster(PDF, 589KB)

Carton Council Poster(PDF, 21MB)

Composting in Denver Public Schools

About 25% of all Denver Public Schools have composting programs, but ALL are eligible to receive this service – free of charge! Interested schools can sign up by contacting Denver Recycles to receive all the guidance and training needed to start composting. Participating schools collect their food scraps, which are then transported by Denver Solid Waste Management to a local composting facility where they are transformed into a beneficial soil amendment called compost. Not only does composting reuse food waste which frees up valuable space at the landfill, it prevents the creation of harmful greenhouse gases. Students and staff are empowered to help protect nature and reduce their lunchroom waste drastically by up to 90%!

If your school has a strong recycling program and would like to start composting, review the introductory information and contact Denver Recycles.

DPS composting Squares: To help schools maximize their waste reduction and give students a chance to create life-long sustainable habits, Denver Recycles provides free resources to all Denver Public Schools.

  1. Planning and tracking waste reduction: Denver Recycles staff will help your school implement a composting program that fits. Almost as important as reducing waste is tracking how much is saved! Resources to help assess waste before and after the addition of composting are available so you can share the amazing results at your school.
  2. Weekly collection: Participating schools receive free green compost carts and weekly collections. DPS Office of Sustainability will cover the hauling costs and provide compostable bags liners to keep the carts clean. No more heavy lifting of food waste! Just tie the bag, close the lid, and wheel the cart out to the curb for collection. Sign up here for weekly collection reminders or to print your school’s collection calendar.
  3. Complimentary posters and trainings: Large instructional banners showing accepted items for recycling, composting, and trash are available free of charge for common sorting areas like the lunchroom. Letter-sized printable posters are also available for smaller sorting station areas like classrooms. Online training materials are available upon request as well as customizable classroom or staff professional development presentations covering a variety of waste reduction topics. Additional training for kitchen staff, compost monitors, and parent volunteers is also offered. 
  4. Student Power Recycling champions: Harness your school’s student power by getting them involved! Motivated individuals and student environmental clubs can help lighten the load for facilities staff, reduce contamination, and create a sustainable school culture. Identify a staff composting coordinator at your school to help guide your green students. Check out resources to form a green team HERE (link to Student Power page).


Food Waste in Schools

An estimated 40% of food in the United States goes to waste, and this is the same (and most likely higher) in DPS lunchrooms. Composting is the best way to reuse food waste responsibly, but before composting it is important to first try to reduce food waste in the first place!

Reduce and Reuse First at School