Program Bank: Recycling and Waste Reduction

Recycling and Waste Reduction Programs

GreenFaith's resource page on Waste Reduction and Recycling

Recycling programs can involve people of all ages both within the congregation and by individuals in their own homes. The synagogue’s efforts can become a model to encourage congregants to recycle at home. In a growing number of locations, there are already government-sponsored recycling programs, and even in such cases, the synagogue can play a useful role in promoting recycling. In areas without such programs, the synagogue’s role can be even more critical. By reducing consumption, we can follow the law of bal tashchit (the Biblical ordinance of “do not destroy”), save money and resources, and limit further depletion of creation. 

Educating and Encouraging Congregants to Recycle

Congregations can support and encourage members to undertake recycling and reduce waste individually by disseminating to all congregants information about what items from their homes they may recycle, along with a list of collection services and/or locations that will accept different materials. Congregants would then be responsible for bringing their own materials to the recycling locations. Congregants could be organized to carry the synagogue’s recyclables to the appropriate locations. If there are city or county-wide recycling programs already in existence, this information could serve to publicize those recycling efforts and to encourage greater participation by congregants.

Synagogue Recycling

When a synagogue creates its own recycling program, it engages the leadership in planning facility use and assessing the proper budgetary and staffing needs, as well as the members who spend time within the building. By learning how to make such initiatives doable, members are likely to be inspired to follow suit within their own homes. 

Tips for starting a recycling program:

  • Decide how extensive the recycling program ought to be. Although many different items can be recycled, starting with office paper, newsprint, aluminum and glass are often the easiest items to collect at the beginning. Depending on your local market for recyclables, you may then be able to expand into items such as plastic containers, batteries and other items. 
  • Identify government agencies or commercial recycling businesses in your area that pick-up recyclable material. Check the Yellow Pages or call the waste disposal department of your local government to find further information.
  • Once you have identified possible recycling partners, contact them to work out pick-up arrangements. In most cases, in exchange for the materials themselves, they will pick-up the recyclables at little to no cost and may even let you use their large bins. (Note: If your synagogue has a trash pick-up contract based on the estimated tonnage, the contract should be re-negotiated once the recycling program is under way. The money the synagogue saves from reducing its garbage costs can be used to offset any costs of recycling.)
  • If there is no citywide or county-wide program in effect, congregants could also drop-off their recyclables into the synagogue bins, thus providing an additional benefit of membership.
  • If the company doing the pick-up does not lend you the bins, purchase or have donated large lidded trash receptacles into which the synagogue and congregants can place their items to be recycled. A parking lot is usually the best location for these containers. Decorating and maintaining these containers can be an excellent youth group or religious school project.
  • Inside the synagogue, place extra wastebaskets for recyclables in offices and classrooms. 
  • Publicize the recycling project in your synagogue bulletin or newsletter. 
  • If there is no citywide recycling program in your town, use the success of the synagogue’s effort to advocate for the establishment of such a program.
  • Engage the youth in the congregation in the recycling efforts. For example, have the children in your school or youth group survey all the congregants in the synagogue as to whether or not they recycle and approximately how much they recycle of different products each week. The students can then calculate how many trees and how much energy is being saved, as well as how much pollution is being prevented, by the recycling efforts of the synagogue community. Voluntary goals of increased recycling could be set for each New Year.

Reducing Waste

In addition to recycling, there are many ways individuals and congregations can reduce waste and minimize their impact on the environment. Click here to learn more about how your synagogue can move towards producing zero waste.


Some Recycling Facts from Earth Day, Inc.:

·      Most forms of recycling save energy, thus reducing air pollution and global warming.

·      Recycling aluminum uses 95% less energy than producing aluminum from raw materials.

·      Through recycling, it is possible to reduce our waste stream by 80%.

·      For every ton of 100% recycled paper used in place of non-recycled paper, 17 trees are saved, 64% less energy is used, and air pollution is cut by 74%.

·      Only 35% of newspapers in the United States are recycled, even though a single Sunday edition of a major newspaper, such as the New York Times, typically uses 75,000 trees in its production.

·      Recycling one glass jar saves enough energy to light a 100 watt bulb for four hours.


Hold a School or Youth Group “Paper Saving Day”

Paper makes up about 16% of all solid waste in U.S. landfills. Plan a day for your school, for example on Tu Bi'shvat, where the synagogue or youth group’s goal is to avoid throwing out as much paper as possible by reducing, reusing, and recycling paper. Students can start scrap-paper piles in their homes and collect paper bags to return to supermarkets for customers to use, reuse and recycle. Complete the recycling loop by purshasing recycled paper products! At the end of the day, have a discussion where students make commitments to start reducing their waste at home or school. 


RecycleMania is a friendly competition among university recycling programs in the United States that provides students with a fun, proactive activity in waste reduction. Over a ten-week period, schools compete in different contests to see which institution can collect the largest amount of recyclables, the least amount of trash, and have the highest recycling rate. All participating schools are required to report measurements on a weekly basis in pounds. The university that recycles the most wins. For more information on how your local campus can become part of this project, please visit,

Make your own “recycled paper”

As a kickoff to your recycling project at school or home, you can teach children how to make their own “recycled paper.” You will need the following: Scrap paper, a piece of screening (approximately 10” x 10”) with the edges taped over to prevent wounds (duct tape works best), washbasin, blender or food processor, old towels, rolling pin.

a.Tear scrap paper into small pieces. Soak it in hot water for one-half hour. Take a handful of the paper, put it into a blender or food processor, and add water until half-full. Blend until you no longer see pieces of paper.

b. Pour mixture over the screen (with basin to catch water). Shake the screen back and forth to get an even layer of fibers on the screen.  It may be necessary to lower the screen into the water in the basin in order to even out the layer. Lift the screen carefully out of the water.

c. Lay the screening between old towels. Roll with a rolling pin to get the fibers flat and even. Let dry for at least an hour.

d. Gently remove the paper from the screen by turning the screen upside down and peeling the paper away from the edges. The rest of the paper should fall away from the screen.

Environmental Art Projects

What a better way to learn about the environment than producing art made of recycled materials! Children in the religious school can make art projects representing the environment and how much we as individuals and human beings rely on it for survival. The religious school can involve students and parents in a collective session and learn together about the importance of the environment and the affects it has on us today. The school might have a ‘recycled art’ sale, with the proceeds donated to charitable organizations aimed at protecting and preserving the environment.

Waste-Free Lunches (

Much of the trash we generate comes from the packaging on the food we buy, and lunch foods are no exception. In fact, it has been estimated that on average a school-age child bringing a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school. A waste-free lunch program educates students, parents, and school staff about where our trash ends up and how we, as individuals, can reduce the amount of trash we generate. Waste-free lunch programs favor the use of reusable food containers, drink containers, utensils, and napkins. They discourage the use of disposable packaging, such as prepackaged foods, plastic bags, juice boxes and pouches, paper napkins, and disposable utensils. Many schools across the country have begun waste-free lunch programs and it is truly making a tremendous difference.

Water Conservation Programs

One important action we can take together is to reduce the amount of water wasted in our synagogues. Check our GreenFaith's tips for Water Conservation in Religous Institutions.