Waste & Recycling


Reaching the Kids

Outreach is among the preferred tools municipalities use in the development of their waste management communication plans, yet many struggle with how to make them effective for youth and school-aged children.

Outreach is among the preferred tools municipalities use in the development of their waste management communication plans, yet many struggle with how to make them effective for youth and school-aged children.

The “Promotion and Education for Recycling Planning” two-day course – developed by Waste Diversion Ontario and Stewardship Ontario – explains that outreach “is a good opportunity to reach out to students, who are key ‘influencers’ when it comes to changing behavior on environmental issues.”

Considerations you should take into account when planning your outreach program include: target audience, instructional delivery, promotion and evaluation.

Audience & curriculum

Just like a communications plan, your outreach program needs to target a specific audience. Targeting “children” is too broad; there’s a big difference between a three-year-old pre-schooler, a grade eight student, and a student completing high school.

You may find you can group ages together. At Halton Region, we tend to target programs to established grade divisions: pre-school, kindergarten, primary (grades 1 to 3), junior (grades 4 to 6), intermediate (grades 7 to 8) and secondary (grades 9 to 12).This grouping tends to work quite well, and lends itself to your planned instructional delivery.

It’s important to link your program to existing curriculum where possible. In Ontario, the education ministry’s “Environmental Education: Scope and Sequence of Expectations” lists all environmentally-related curriculum in all subject areas for elementary and secondary grades and subjects. The document is updated annually. There are a surprising number of references to waste management, recycling and 3Rs in almost every grade.

For example:

  • Kindergarten curriculum asks students to “identify ways in which they can care for and show respect for the environment (e.g., …reusing and recycling…).”
  • Grade 3 language arts encourages students to “express personal opinions about ideas presented in media texts (e.g., respond to the messages in a public service announcement about recycling).”
  • Grade 8 dance curriculum requires students to “create dance pieces to respond to issues that are personally meaningful to them (e.g., young people’s relationship to …recycling).”
  • Grade 11 business curriculum asks students to “describe the negative effects of computer use on the environment (e.g., creation of ewaste…).”


www.edu.gov.on.ca for more information. Recommended reading includes two reports: Shaping Our Schools, Shaping Our Future: Environmental Education in Ontario Schools, and Acting Today, Shaping Tomorrow: A Policy Framework for Environmental Education in Ontario. Ontario EcoSchools is an environmental education program for grades K-12 that helps students develop ecological literacy and environmental practices. Waste minimization is a major pillar. There are currently EcoSchools in 19 public boards and 16 Catholic boards across the province. Over 500 schools are certified.


www.ontarioecoschools.org for more information.

Delivery & content

Delivery is a key aspect of any outreach program planning. The most common format is a presentation/workshop.

Elementary schools tend to be very keen on the 3Rs, so reaching all students is vital. Elementary schools are accustomed to larger assemblies. For this reason, Halton Region usually delivers its elementary school outreach program as divisional assemblies. This ensures all students get to participate and content can be targeted to appropriate audiences. Delivering workshops to individual classes is rewarding, but can be very time consuming if an elementary school wants you to deliver to 10 different classes.

In secondary schools, you are more likely to deliver outreach programs to specific classes and grades (grade 9 geography, grade 11 environmental resources, etc.) as opposed to delivering whole-school presentations.

Presentations/workshops don’t have to be boring; they can incorporate many different instructional tools, including: audio/video, crafts, demonstrations, discussion, drama/storytelling, games, hands-on observation, songs and Q&A. They can also include KWL charts (start of presentation: Know, Wonder; end of presentation: Learned)

With so many different types of waste managed, it can be challenging to decide exactly what to include in an outreach program.

Blue Box and GreenCart are obvious topics, so you’ll want to cover acceptable materials and processing. (People want to know what happens to the materials collected). Also, explaining unacceptable materials is helpful, especially around problematic ones (or common school waste like construction paper). Remember to show and tell; hold up examples of acceptable materials, say each one, and have a slide with a photo and text description.

Elementary schools benefit from messaging about waste-free or “litterless lunches.” Students start to own their own electronics (usually cell phones) around grade 7 or 8, so you could probably start talking about e-waste recycling with the junior or intermediate grades.

Whenever possible, ask the audience to provide information. For example, if introducing the 3Rs, don’t say what the 3Rs stand for; instead, ask the audience for that information, and repeat the answers.

Remember to explain the “why” – why are we practicing the 3Rs? why are we trying to minimize waste? You could cover garbage disposal at the beginning of the presentation which provides a nice transition to “we want less garbage and we do that by practicing the 3Rs.” Or you could cover disposal at the end with a lead in of “after we’ve practiced the 3Rs, we should only have a small bit of garbage left.”


Elementary school workshops (or assemblies) should be no more than 30 minutes. Kindergarten classes can go about 15 to 20 minutes. Secondary school classes can go from 40 to 60 minutes. (Most secondary school classes are about 70 minutes in length.) Remember, it can take a long time for students to make their way down to the gymnasium or other presentation location (especially in the winter).Try to schedule about 10 minutes between presentations (this also gives you a chance to reset).


Identify what sort of resources you need. Will your program require props like bins and examples of acceptable materials? How will you get from place to place? Is a dedicated vehicle required? Do you need a laptop and LCD projector? Will you bring your own extension cord? Do you need a microphone, or can the school provide it?

Multiple intelligences

No two learners are the same. There’s a concept that there are eight different “multiple intelligences”: bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, inter-personal, intra-personal (“self smart”), linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, naturalist and visual-spatial. Ask yourself “What multiple intelligences am I supporting through this program?” For example, a program that offers a moment of self reflection supports someone with an intra-personal intelligence. Small group discussions complement inter-personal learners. Addressing more learning styles leads to richer experiences for all participants.


One of the easiest ways to promote your outreach program to schools is to meet with your local school board’s geography, science or environmental education curriculum coordinator. These officials can help distribute your information electronically through the board’s intranet or email lists. They can also offer advice on program delivery.

Evaluation & assessment

As with any tool employed in a communications plan, outreach programs need to be evaluated to determine their effectivenes


Be sure to measure all of your program’s outputs: number of workshops delivered, number of audience members reached. The school secretary can tell you how many students are in the grades to which you made presentations.

Provide teachers with a program evaluation. Ask questions about student engagement, length of workshop, suitability of content, etc. Offer a scale (1 to 5, or 1 to 10) to gather data. In Halton, we leave evaluation forms in the office to be placed in each of the teachers’ mailboxes. Teachers can mail or fax back their evaluation form. (We attempted to use an electronic survey, but found we weren’t getting back many responses.)

A municipality can assess the effectiveness of its outreach program via “before and after” waste audits. In 2009, a “before” waste audit of two schools in Halton Region found waste diversion rates of 31 per cent and 46 per cent. A second waste audit was conducted after outreach programs were delivered in the schools (and both schools started the GreenCart program). Both schools increased their diversion rates to 55 per cent and 57 per cent, respectively. It’s also interesting that in both schools, total waste decreased by 13 per cent and 10 per cent. This is likely due to increased environmental awareness.

It’s beneficial to write a short report following the delivery of each outreach programs. At Halton Region, a template is used to capture basic information such as attendance. The presenter can comment on how the program was received (was the audience attentive or distracted?), and helps develop a “profile” of the school. In the report, try to capture all the questions asked from the audience. Knowing consistent questions will help you to modify your program to ensure information is relevant.

Highly recommended is the NAAEE’s “Nonformal Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence.” These guidelines provide six key characteristics of high quality non-formal environmental education programs. Use these guidelines as a self assessment; how does your program meet the criteria for excellence?


Visit www.naaee.org for more information.

John Watson is the Waste Diversion Education Coordinator for the Regional Municipality of Halton. In the past five years, he’s delivered over 900 workshops to over 100,000 individuals. Halton Region’s outreach programs have been recognized by the Recycling Council of Ontario and Conservation Halton. Contact John at john.watson@halton.ca


SIDEBAR: Presentation Tips

  • Write your program’s script. “Memorize” it. This will help you be comfortable with content and transitions.
  • Don’t read the script aloud (in fact, don’t hold the script while presenting).
  • Develop a strong opening and closing (don’t be vague or abrupt). End on a positive.
  • Bring props of all acceptable materials and finished products (polar fleece jacket, Ziploc bag of finished compost, etc.)
  • Always give a comparison for weight (“that weighs one thousand kilograms, or one tonne, which is about the same weight as a small car”).
  • Don’t stand in one space and avoid podiums.
  • Decide ahead of time if you want questions at the end of the program, or throughout.
  • Repeat all questions and responses from the audience.
  • Ask students to ask questions in loud voices so that everyone can hear.

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