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When studying the waste topic and waste minimisation it is important to think about resource efficiency. Waste or rubbish is what people throw away because they no longer need it or want it. Almost everything we do creates waste and as a society we are currently producing more waste than ever before. This is why we need to start thinking about resource efficiency.

Cookstown Textile Recyclers logo

This topic is sponsored by Cookstown Textile Recycling who run the highly successful Cash for Clobber scheme that so many schools throughout Northern Ireland are benefiting from. To celebrate this partnership, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful are proud to announce the Cash for Clobber competition. 

What is Resource efficiency?

Resource efficiency means using the Earth's limited resources in a sustainable manner while minimising impacts on the environment. It allows us to move away from simply managing the waste we produce in a more environmentally friendly manner to preventing waste and managing resources i.e. using resources in the most effective way while minimising the impact of their use on the environment

To be resource efficient, it is important to focus on waste prevention first i.e. reduce and reuse followed by increased recycling.  Recycling can help save materials and energy, but cutting down on the waste in the first place is even better.

To learn more about the waste hierarchy (i.e. how to prioritise the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and to get lots of fantastic ideas visit https://www.recyclenow.com/ni.


The first step in addressing your waste stream is to work towards a smaller one! Reducing your waste streams can be a really fun challenge. Once you start you will want to keep going!

Look at all the types of waste produced (both general and recyclable) and identify which items you could reduce. The majority of waste from schools is normally paper, card and food waste so by tackling these larger waste streams it will significantly reduce the amount of waste you are producing in the first place. This will result in greater financial savings too. Some ideas include:

Reducing cardboard and paper waste

To reduce cardboard, check with your suppliers if they can reduce packaging (this is a great way to encourage suppliers to also become more environmentally aware too).

To reduce paper usage, firstly think about whether you really need to print, if so, and then make sure you select double sided printing. To reduce the number of pages further reset the margins to narrow and reduce the font size and spacing which will allow you to fit more information on to one page. You can also select to print multiple pages on one sheet to save further and multiple slides on one sheet if printing a PowerPoint presentation. Try to email documents in an electronic format instead of printing out hardcopies to post.

Reducing food waste

You can access Love Food Hate Waste Resources and a lot of great ideas at their website.

Individually wrapped food products result in increased waste so to help encourage a move away from individually wrapped products it is a good idea is to incorporate Nude Food Days or Waste Free lunches into school life. Tupperware will ensure food stays fresh without the need for individual wrappers.

Eco-Schools have also worked closely with DAERA on a Rethink Waste project and we are pleased to have some teacher information sheets and classroom activities for Key Stage 1, 2 and 3.  These resources aim to encourage pupils and schools to think about reducing their usage of paper and plastic waste, therefore diverting the amount of waste going to landfill sites.  To download the teacher information and classroom activities, please go to our resources page.

In the UK, we produced more than 300million tonnes of waste in 2011. This includes waste from houses, businesses and industry and although less than in previous years, still works out at around 460kg of waste for each person in the UK. Councils in Northern Ireland collected almost 1 million tonnes of waste from households in 2011. Disposing of waste is difficult and costly. The majority of this ends up in holes in the ground (landfill sites) or is burnt in incinerators. Making things from recycled material often uses less energy and causes less pollution. This is important if we want to keep the earth a beautiful place to live in. If we recycle our rubbish, less rubbish will need to be buried in the ground or incinerated. Landfill sites are already becoming full and there are concerns about the impact on people’s health and pollution caused by landfill sites and incinerators. If we make new things by recycling old things, we will save resources. For example, plastic is made from oil. One day we will run out of oil but if we make plastic from old recycled plastic we don’t need to use as much oil!

What are the alternatives to throwing away rubbish? Increasingly, the Government is encouraging people to reduce the amount of rubbish they produce in the first place.
To contribute to minimising the waste we produce, government and environmental researchers advise us that, wherever it is practical and beneficial, people should take the following steps:

  • Reduce waste – change manufacturing processes so that less materials are used or change consumer habits so that less wasted material is bought.
  • Reuse – choose goods and products that can be used again.
  • Recycle – make sure that waste is processed and made into another product wherever possible. Composting is also recycling: the nutrients in organic waste are processed and returned to the soil to help more plants to grow.  

Waste and schools

Any building or environment where people live or work will produce a certain amount of waste, and schools are no exception. In general, most school waste is made up of food, paper and packaging waste such as sweet wrappers. It may also contain some glass, metals and plastics.

Minimising waste has a number of benefits for schools. Depending on the waste disposal system in your area, schools can save money on disposal costs by reducing the amount of waste they produce and may also be able to make money by selling materials to be recycled.

Paper is a good candidate for reuse. Are both sides of sheets of paper used before being thrown away? Reducing waste may involve reviewing the types of resources schools buy and considering ways of cutting down.

How easy or practical it is for you to recycle waste usually depends on local amenities. Some schools will have a service which picks up their recyclables whereas others may have to take their materials to recycling banks.

Further information

To see how other Eco-Schools reduce, reuse and recycle their waste visit the Case Studies section. The Links and Resources section also provides details of organisations that will be able to help your school tackle waste.

Teaching Resources