Each day we use resources and generate waste. Some of these resources are limited or are renewed slowly. Investigations into waste and materials can lead to reductions in waste generation and increased recycling.

Sustainability action process learning resources

The sustainability action process is a five step process that supports problem solving through active student participation. These resources provide a structured and consistent approach to teaching sustainability across the curriculum and support learning outcomes in science, technology, geography, mathematics and English.

Assess your situation

Schools can manage waste sustainably through product purchase choices and recycling programs. The waste streams managed by a school are:

  • general waste – non-recyclable
  • paper recycling – paper and cardboard products
  • co-mingled recycling – containers, drink bottles, cans
  • e-waste – toners, computers, batteries
  • organic waste – compostable.

School waste audit

A waste audit calculates the volumes and types of waste a school generates. It is a powerful tool to identify the main sources of waste in a school in order to implement change. Audit a representative sample of school waste, for example classroom and playground bins for one grade, directly after lunch. Download the Guide to conducting a school waste audit – Stages 2 to 5 (DOCX 1 MB).

To conduct a waste audit:

  1. Label large buckets or tubs with the waste categories of office white paper, compostable organic waste (fruit and vegetable scraps), recyclable paper and cardboard, recyclable containers (drink bottles and cans), and mixed waste (non-recyclable)
  2. Spread out a large plastic tarpaulin, placing the containers on the corners
  3. Allocate recorders to record weights and keep a tally of the number of tubs per category
  4. Equip the students with plastic gloves and tongs
  5. Tip the contents of the selected bins onto the tarpaulin
  6. Sort the waste into the waste stream categories
  7. Weigh the contents of each tub and record the weights
  8. Tally the number of tubs to calculate volumes of waste
  9. Calculate the percentages of each waste category based on weight and volume
  10. Analyse and evaluate the results and propose strategies for reducing waste.

Low waste lunches

Audit students' lunch boxes and food packaging in the school canteen to assess the impact of packaging on your school's waste stream. Discuss and propose low waste strategies to implement in the school such as ‘nude food’ and waste-free lunches.

Playground litter audit

Undertake a litter audit to determine the quantity, types and sources of litter in the school grounds. During the audit, identify the location of stormwater drains. On a map or satellite image, identify the local waterways that collect the school’s stormwater. Make correlations between playground litter, stormwater, waterways and marine debris.

Paper purchase and recycling audit

Investigate the consumption and life of the paper products used at school. Identify:

  • the variety of paper products used in the school on a daily basis, such as copy paper, art paper, paper towels and toilet paper
  • the percentage of recycled content in the school's paper products
  • the quantity of copy paper used by students and staff over a week
  • how paper is used in the school over a week
  • what happens to copy paper after it used. For instance, is the blank side re-used, does it go into a paper recycling bin?
  • behaviours and actions that could ‘close the paper loop’ such as improving paper recycling and increasing purchase of recycled content paper products.

Waste road maps

Waste road maps are illustrated flow-charts representing the journey of products in a particular waste stream. Use them as springboards for investigation into sustainability considerations for production, manufacturing, use, re-use and recycling of various products. Construct waste road maps for co-mingled recycling and e-waste.

Take action

Contribute to a sustainable future by taking actions to reduce personal waste and making waste re-use and recycling choices. Contribute as responsible and sustainable citizens by preventing littering and collecting litter in the environment.

Syllabus content

Waste audits provide opportunities for students to work mathematically in collecting, analysing and representing data.

Students use literacy skills in interviewing, collaborating and communicating proposed waste reduction strategies.

Investigations into managing waste sustainably uses geographical inquiry skills in support of the Geography K-10 Syllabus in:

  • Early Stage 1 People live in places – important places
  • Stage 1 Features of places – how a place can be cared for
  • Stage 2 The Earth’s environment – protection of environments
  • Stage 3 Factors that shape places – factors that change environments; humans shape places
  • Stage 4 Interconnections – production and consumption
  • Stage 5 Environmental change and management – environmental management.

Investigating sustainable resources in design and production processes supports learning in the Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus and Science 7-10 Syllabus in:

  • Stage 1 Earth and space – conservation of Earth’s resources
  • Stage 2 Material world – materials are used for a specific purpose
  • Stage 3 Material world – properties of materials determine their use
  • Stage 4 Earth and space – how scientific understandings influence choices.

Undertaking personal actions that reduce waste such as not littering, recycling, bringing low waste lunches and re-usable containers are actions that contribute to healthy and safe lifestyles and communities in support of the PDHPE syllabus.

Additional resources

Environmental sustainability – Schools involvement in the return and earn - container deposit scheme, by School Infrastructure NSW (staff only).

Reducing waste, provides suggestions by the Australian Government.

A guide to implementing waste as art and environmental art projects in schools (DOCX 92.02 KB) and Precious resources (DOCX 689 KB), by NSW Department of Education, provide learning sequences that explore waste reduction and resource use through visual arts.

War on waste – digibook, by ABC Education provides a series of clips from the ABC documentary War on Waste Series 1.

Litter free oceans, by Taronga Conservation Society provides an impact calculator and toolkit for schools.


  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
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